The Beautiful Worst Case

I carried my coughing 5-month old earlier at 3am. I was sleepy and tired, having gone to bed around 1am finishing a talk I was to give later on in the morning. I looked at the face of my Elijah, his also tired, snotty, crying face, and I couldn’t help but think how cute my son is. He really is the cutest baby in the whole world. “I love you so much.” I told him. “You have a cold, but you’re too strong to let a cold stop you. Look at you. You are standing.” He managed a weak smile. He loves it when people talk to him, especially when it is his mother. His smile erased whatever weariness I felt. The appreciation of someone you love is the greatest source of energy. Now I know why they say, “The Joy of the Lord is your strength.” When you know that who you love most, God, finds joy in you, you are filled with a different kind of power. You are filled with grace.

Later on, at the closing of the day, after some very exciting partnership meetings for Bridge, I thought about one of the questions a student asked me after my talk. He asked, “Not everyone has grown up like you with strong faith. How do we grow in faith?” As I thought about the question on stage, the first picture that came to my mind was the face of my son this morning, crying in my arms, wiping his snot and drool on my shirt, at 3am in the morning. Let me share with you my answer:

“There’s this myth that it is because we have great faith that we run to God. In truth, it is the opposite. It is those who admit their great need that run to God. Like my 5-month old who looks for his mom or father, who cries out to us for everything, those who need most cry out most. And I need most. I know myself too well to think I can handle life on my own. I know how evil I can be. I know how insecure I am. I know how weak I am, how limited I am. And I know how large the gap between who I am and who I must be is. And that’s why I call out to my Father. I, through prayer, wipe my snot and tears on the robe off His shoulder. I don’t pray and seek God because I have great faith or am a holy man. Contrary to that, I pray and seek God because I have great need.”

The crowd was quiet during my sharing, much like they usually are during other talks. I sometimes wonder if I’m boring them, but I hope that encouraged at least one person to run to God daily.

Life is unpredictable. Life is challenging. It can be complex and can seem difficult and unfair. I many times find myself limited in my abilities and knowledge, and I worry about how to meet all that life requires of me. But then I pause and remember that God is my Father, my perfect Father. I am His son. The beautiful worst case is Heaven with Him for eternity. I find that reassuring. My worst case is to be like Elijah, my baby, falling peacefully asleep in his father’s arms. My worst case is resting in God. And if I, an incredibly imperfect person would do all that I can to care for my son, how much more is a perfect Father caring for me.

And the best case? It’s infinite. That’s exciting. It could be anything. I could be anywhere. It could be something yet to be invented, something yet to be discovered. It could be with people I’ve never met. Just like when I make loving promises to my son, who doesn’t even know what the word “promise” means yet finds peace in my voice, I have faith that there are things I do not understand but are coming in my favor, simply because they come from my Father’s words in the Bible.

When your worst case is love you and your best case is infinite, you work extremely hard. The fear of failure, rejection, and death gives way to a Father’s reassurance, and the infinite possibilities of my Creator open up to me. If I can’t fail, should not I try more? If nothing is impossible, why should I not attempt greater?

I should and I shall. #DB

I Highly Recommend It

I’m going to make this quick. I need to be home in a few minutes. I just picked up some ciabatta to add to tonight’s dinner that Yasmin is preparing. She is probably exhausted by now, having had to watch Elijah all day. We don’t have any fulltime maids or nannies. It’s a lot of work but we like it that way.  I’m exhausted too, not to mention sick with a bad throat and a slight fever. It’s from the terrible naps that add up to only 3-4 hours a day that now makes up my “sleep”. But I’m taking this time to write this before I forget. I literally sat down from my walk back home to share one simple message:

Marriage and parenthood are highly tiring, expensive, and testing experiences, and I highly recommend them.

I highly recommend committing yourself to loving another more than yourself.

I highly recommend learning how to be selfless. 

I highly recommend spending the bulk of what you earn on others. 

I highly recommend undergoing the fire of early marriage, the paranoia of new parenthood, and the soul-altering process that one undergoes through with both.

I highly recommend the tightening of belts.

I highly recommend the loss of personal freedom for the gain of family unity.

I highly recommend pursuing internal scores more than externally impressive achievements.

I highly recommend the early mornings and late nights, the sleepless days, and the no-choice moments of calling out to God.

I highly recommend going to work exhausted, willing yourself to be excellent, and finding you have more capacity than you knew. 

I highly recommend saying yes to difficult commitments that force you to become mature and wise. 

I highly recommend them because through these experiences we undergo a wondeful metamorphosis. In the process of seeming breaking down, we find that we are actually being reshaped into something far more glorious than what we were originally.  In a world that seeks comfort and security most, choose ripening. It is not comfortable nor secure, but it is beautiful. Beauty is worth it. I highly recommend it. #db

The Freedom and Beauty of Worship Through Self-Control

A notification went off on my phone telling me I slept only 66% of my sleep goal of 6 hours a day. The same alarm pings my Apple Watch, iPad, and MacBook. (Am I really this dense that I need so many reminders?) None of these notifications are needed to inform me that I am tired. Exhausted is probably a better word. I would like nothing more than to be snoring loudly on this warm Sunday morning.

But I am awake and typing this. Why? Am I really some sort of blogging addict? Nope. It’s because I scheduled to post an article today, meaning, I committed to myself that I would sit down, process my thoughts, and share them with others, hoping that they may encourage and empower others. The ability to do things not because it feels good, or feels right, or is popular, fun, or respectable, and despite being opposite all those things,but following through simply because you made an invisible commitment to yourself, is what is known as self-control. Self-Control, the ability to respond to life, not merely react like little babies do, is a key indicator of maturity. What about ourselves should we control? This often-shared quote encapsulates things nicely:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;

watch your words, they become actions;

watch your actions, they become habits;

watch your habits, they become character;

watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Self-Control means controlling our thoughts, words, actions, habits, character, and ultimately our destiny (our destination, where our lives go).

When we don’t control our thoughts, when we let circumstances, the opinions of others, our worries and fears, our lusts, our anger, our impatience, our unprocessed thoughts, and unrefined ideas dictate what we think, we exhibit a lack of self-control. We are reacting to things outside of us, instead of doing what the Bible says:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things

– Philippians 4:8

This is not so easy during a stressful situation, like trying to make your finances work while calming a wailing baby at 3am. But it is possible and very beneficial. For this specific example, a true example from my own life, I CHOOSE to go beyond the surface suffering and look at the profound privilege of the activity. I am not merely struggling to pay the bills and calm my son. I am participating in the amazing process of raising a godly man. If being up at this time is part of it, it’s worth it. If having to tighten our belts and move funds around is part of it, it’s worth it. If feeling very tired is part of it, it’s worth it. And it’s extra worth it because I know that not only am I part of such a meaningful activity, but that if I set my eyes on Jesus, if I trust Him and obey Him in all circumstances, not only will things work out, but I’ll be transformed to be more like Him. Sometimes, I forget that God’s main goal is not to give me the life I want or a life with no struggles, but to make me more like Christ, which means, that my thoughts words, actions, habits, and character reflect those of Christs because the spiritual virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and, here it comes again, self-control, are so evident in my life. I have born fruit. The pleasure of having a son, and the privilege to be able to become more like my Jesus, makes everything worth it. Of course I find it worth it because I have activated the self-control required to reject society’s values of success and the good life but determined for myself that I want to please God and love my family. My success is based on how well I do the latter two. I think most people simply live by recommendation and convention, not by conviction, so actually live others-controlled and wonder why they don’t feel free. Is it not logical to understand that to be others-controlled means you’re not truly choosing for yourself?

Cultivate self-control. Be free.

Last Friday morning, my son, Elijah, was circumcised. While I won’t go through the reasoning of why we chose to have him circumcised, I want to share a simple story from it. Inside the operating room, after preparing Elijah for the procedure, the doctor warned me that the babies usually cry when they’re injected but that after that they’d be fine. Right before they injected him, the doctor said, “Ok, here we go. 1-2-3…” And proceeded to inject him, only to marvel, “Oh. He didn’t cry.” Elijah had only made a slight grunt and went back to sleep. Throughout the whole procedure, he did not cry at all. He’d whine a bit, but then relax again. The anaesthesia must have taken over at some point. I was so proud to watch how my 3-week old son handled what is a painful situation. He took it, winced, and let it go. “That’s my son.” I thought to myself. The nurses told me that he was very brave. I don’t know how much of that is true or them being nice, but I’ll take it. Haha!

Anyway, the next day, I was still so proud of how tough my son was when I had a thought: Maybe this is how God the Father feels when He sees me win over my anger, surrender my pride, defeat lust, or choose kindness and godliness under pressure. Maybe this is how He felt watching Job take hit after hit yet remain faithful. Maybe this is how He felt when the disciples worshipped until death. Maybe this is how He felt when His Son chose the Father’s will. More than enjoying freedom as we become self-determining when we are self-controlled, the beauty of self-control is that we are able to worship God in our own special way, responding to our own individual circumstances in our own unique acts of worship. For me and Yasmin, one of the songs we sing to God looks more like ass-wiping with a smile at 2am. For me, the melody I send to Heaven, is the sincere gratefulness in my heart at working in Bridge on such an awesome mission, even though I haven’t slept. The chorus I repeat is my recurring repentance of my many sins and constant trusting in His goodness, even as I face consequences.

This, I believe, is true worship as Romans 12:1 explains it:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.“

Just as there is good singing and bad singing, there is beautiful and pointless worship. Pointless worship is lip service. Beautiful worship comes from our self-controlled choosing to please God in all that we do, knowing that He is pleased when we walk in faith, obey His word, and love others as ourselves.

#db