Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Seventh Fruit: Trust (MNM 11)

Greetings, friends, and welcome back to our study.  I hope you survived the (many!) snow days, and that you're enjoying the hope of warmer temps and sunshine (yay!!!!).

And if you haven't already realized it, we are coming very close to completing our study on the fruits of the Spirit.  After this week's readings, we have only one fruit left.  Can you believe it?!  You've been so diligent!  And I hope you are ready to dive in to this week's materials.  If so . . . . let's get started.


Thanks again to Suzanne Stelling for this amazing image.


“Your eyes are windows into your body.
If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief,
your body fills up with light.
If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust,
your body is a dank cellar.
If you pull the blinds on your windows,
what a dark life you will have!”

Matthew 6:22-23, The Message


Soaking in the Scripture (Section 1)

Today, spend some time reflecting on Matthew 6:22-23.  Read it a few times, perhaps in different translations, or even aloud.  

Is there a word or phrase that strikes you as particularly relevant to your life during this season? 

Give yourself some time to think, journal, or talk with a friend about the thoughts that emerge from your time of reflection.

Also, try and find time to share this verse with each of your family members in ways that are meaningful to each of them, and see what kinds of conversations happen.


Digging Deeper (Section 2)

Begin by re-reading Matthew 6:22-23, and recall the ideas that came to mind when you spent time with it previously.

You’ve probably heard the saying “the eyes are the window to the soul.”  This, of course, means a friend’s face—often emphasized by the look in her eyes—can be an indication of her well-being.  Just as it’s difficult to disguise a sorrowful heart with a happy-looking face, it’s also hard to hide a joyful spirit, even if our friend isn’t grinning from ear to ear.  Most of the time, it only takes a glance at a loved one’s eyes to get a sense of how she is doing on the inside.  So our internal state can be reflected by something external—in this case, our eyes.

But Christ’s words here say something a little different:  He is saying that our internal state is impacted by how we choose to look at life.  In other words, the way we look at things, both with our eyes and with our heart, can impact the well-being of our very souls.

If you happened to have studied a different translation of this passage, you may have found the language a little vague.  For instance, the Amplified Bible translates Christ’s words in this way:  “If your eye is sound, your entire body will be full of light.  But if your eye is unsound, your whole body will be full of darkness.”   The NIV’s translation reads like this:  “If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

Obviously, Christ isn’t talking about eyes on a literal level—he’s not describing vision that is sound or healthy; otherwise, this passage wouldn’t have much relevance for those with good vision (although each day brings me disturbingly closer to a need for the ever-dreaded reading glasses!  J).    Here, Jesus uses metaphor, comparing a person’s eyes to something else.  And this, of course, raises a question:  to what is He comparing our eyes?

Fortunately, the footnotes in the NIV shed some helpful insight: “The Greek for healthy here implies generous.  The Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy.” 
Thanks, biblegateway!

In other words, Christ is comparing our eyes to something internal—our attitude, or our perspective.  When our attitude is one of generosity, our entire being is filled with light.  But when our perspective errs on the stingy side, it results in a sense of darkness. 

Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message, which serves as the opening scripture for this week, captures these ideas powerfully. 

As you consider these ideas, see if you can recall a time when you approached a person or situation from the perspective of greed (what can I get?) or mistrust (what bad thing is going to happen?).  Do you think your attitude might have had an impact on the actual experience?   Imagine what might have resulted if you’d been able to cultivate a perspective of generosity (what can I give?) or trust (what good thing is going to happen?).  The person or situation might not have changed; however, might have your experience been different? 

On the other hand, try to remember an example of when you approached a person or situation with a more generous and/or trusting outlook.  How did your attitude impact your soul’s well-being as you interacted with this person or walked through the experience?

Keep in mind these personal examples as you continue through this week’s material.


One Family’s Story (Section 3)

Caleb is a strapping 14-year-old with blonde hair, blue eyes, and an All-American smile.  You may have met him before.  He and his family, the Kuhns, live right here in Knoxville, and he is an 8th grader at Concord Christian Academy.  Caleb hit his growth spurt a little earlier than many of his friends, which has made him quite a leader on his school’s fledgling football team.  So when he broke his foot during gym one January day, it wasn’t great news, but he didn’t let it slow him down.  His doctor put him in a walking cast, which soon became more of a running cast, especially when the neighborhood kids were playing an impromptu game of yard-ball.  One afternoon, though, his doctor—who also happens to be his neighbor—caught sight of Caleb and his buddies running passes back and forth across the street. 

“Caleb,” the doctor said, “if you want to be ready for spring workouts in a few weeks, you’ve got to stay off that foot.  So, how about you don’t let me see you out here again until it’s all healed up, okay?”

“Yes sir,” Caleb replied.  He was embarrassed, but not worried.  His foot wasn’t hurting, and he only had a few days until it was time for the walking cast to come off.  When he went in for his follow-up appointment, though, he received an unpleasant surprise:  because of all that extra activity, Caleb’s foot didn’t heal properly.  Now, he had 6 more weeks, and this time, it would involve crutches and a real cast—the kind on which he couldn’t put any weight.

After Caleb hobbled to the car on his newly acquired crutches, he and his mom, Wendy, made the drive home and talked about the situation. 

He was definitely upset about additional time in a cast, but he was even more unhappy about how this would limit his spring training for football.  In a couple of weeks, his teammates would start practicing, but Caleb realized tearfully that he wouldn’t be able to participate.   The doctor had made that very clear.

“Caleb, I know you’re disappointed about how this has turned out, and I’m sure you aren’t necessarily looking forward to the next six weeks.  But you have a choice about how you think about the situation.”

“You can focus on how uncomfortable those crutches are, on how you can’t run around outside with your friends, and on how much you wish you could start football practice with your teammates.”

“Or you can focus on the good things that come out of this situation.  You can enjoy the unexpected chance to relax a little bit.  You can get stronger on your crutches.  And you can go to your football practices and participate by encouraging them.”

Wendy paused and looked over at Caleb, who was gazing out the window quietly. 

“You definitely have some things to complain about over the next six weeks, Buddy. If you choose to do that, you’re probably going to make yourself, and everyone around you, miserable.  But if you decide to look for the good things, the next six weeks are going to be completely different for you, and for others.  Ultimately, you have a choice about how you look at this situation.”

Before I share the next part of this story, I must say this:  I’d be lying if I led you to believe that good parenting always results in our children’s good choices.  The truth is that even the most wonderful children don’t always heed wise advice. (Click here for reminders about the importance of continuing to do the “good hard” thing.)  http://shadowwonder.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-sixth-fruit-goodness-mnm-10.html

However, in this instance, Caleb took his mom’s words to heart.

A few weeks later, Caleb was asked to speak at his school’s chapel.  Unbeknownst to his mom, he based his presentation on Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice.”  This seventh grade young man challenged his classmates with these words:  “Before I broke my foot, I took walking and running for granted but this verse showed me that I should be thankful for everything. . . . What are you thankful for?  Don’t take this lightly.  Actually think and consider it . . . Make sure to thank God for everything in your life.”

One reason Caleb can be thankful even during difficult experiences is because Wendy has coached him to be expectant, and to watch for the blessings in the midst of unpleasantness.  He can do this because she is helping him learn and practice trusting in God’s provision on a day-to-day basis.  He is learning to open his eyes wide in wonder and belief.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One of the things I admire and appreciate about my friend Wendy is her ability to remain positive in just about any difficulty.  Part of that comes from her temperament, but part of it is a matter of choice.  Remember our study of James 1:17during the readings on joy? Despite what comes into my friend’s life, she is committed to keeping an eye out for the good and perfect gifts.  And my instinct is that her ability to keep this perspective has to do with two things:  her generosity towards others—wanting to be sure that her words and actions give good things to those around her; and her tenacious trust in God’s goodness both right now and in the future—regardless of whether circumstances seem desirable.

But—true confessions here—although I have tremendous admiration (and maybe even a little envy!  J) for the strengths that my friend and her son possess, their natural bent towards being positive takes more effort on my part.  Here’s what I mean.

If I were Caleb in this story, I’m pretty sure I would’ve had a hard time feeling anything other than upset—mad at myself for playing on an injured foot; angry at having to continue time in a cast; sad and worried about whether my standing on the team would change as a result of my decisions.

And if I’d been Wendy in this story?  Well, I probably would’ve been in serious “blame” mode: mad at myself for letting my son play so hard on a broken foot; mad at Caleb for doing it in the first place. 

Perhaps most importantly:  Regardless of whether I’d been in Caleb’s or Wendy’s shoes, I also would have been inclined stay “stuck” in the current experience.   My strongest instinct would be to focus all my energy on pointing out the frustration and negative consequences this situation was creating.  This means I would not have been inclined to look towards the future and the good things that could come as a part of this unwanted (and completely avoidable) situation.

What about you?  If you’d been Caleb in this story, how might you have responded to the doctor’s news of more time in a cast?   To the decision you made to play on an injured foot?  What might have been your thoughts and feelings in this kind of circumstance?  

If you’d been in Wendy’s shoes, how do you think you would have responded?  What thoughts and feelings would have been part of your experience?

Maybe you are facing a hardship in your own life.  If you’re a mama with even one child at home, I’m guessing each day brings its own less-than-desirable moments.   That was certainly true for me!  Close your time today by honestly and prayerfully examining your perspective.  Invite God to help you as you consider these questions.

·      * Are there places where you tend towards mistrust or (I know it’s an ugly word) greed? 

·      * Do you tend to give your energy and attention to staying focused on frustrating circumstances in the here-and-now, rather than looking ahead?

·      * In what ways are you approaching unwanted or difficult circumstances with trust and generosity? 

·      * Where are you able to find wonder in your circumstances?  In what areas are you trusting God?


Your Family’s Story (Section 4)

Today, spend a few minutes remembering the things you’ve read and thought of so far this week. 

As God’s beloved and uniquely created daughter, and because He is living in and through you, it’s likely that you are already living out a perspective of trust in your life.  Ask God to help you identify places in your life where this is occurring, and celebrate His work in your life.  Here are some questions that might help:

*     What are some simple ways you’re finding to cultivate wonder and trust in your own heart, especially during your season of mothering young children?

*     What are some everyday ways you’ve encouraged your children’s wonder about and trust in God’s provision during all circumstances?

Also, ask God to help you think of a few ways you might continue to cultivate this trait in your own heart as well as your other family members’.  As you jot down ideas, pray for the discernment to recognize those that are good fits for your family members’ unique, God-created personalities.  Then, as time allows, talk about your ideas with them, and continue to pray for wisdom.

Wisdom for the Journey (Section 5)

The spiritual fruit we’re focusing on this week is faithfulness.  The original Greek for this word is pistis (πίστις), and this word is often translated as “trust.”  Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words provides a lengthy definition of this word, which I’d summarize in this way:  A strong and welcome trust in Christ as the source for our eternal salvation and the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler over all things—including every circumstance which occurs in our lives.

In other words, pistis has to do with a ruthless, tenacious trust in God’s ever-abiding presence in our lives, regardless of what our days look like.  To me, trust pistis looks a little bit like surrender—accepting the circumstances in our lives as God-given, trusting Him to provide all that we need to navigate those circumstances, and looking with hope for how He will do that.

Perhaps my understanding of pistis/trust is why I see this spiritual fruit as an integral part of non-cognitive traits like spirituality, humility, gratitude, hope, and optimism.

*     When we are encouraging our children to trust in God’s provision (and practicing that discipline ourselves), that looks like spirituality (the Christian variation).

*     When that pistis/trust allows us to accept our God-given circumstances rather than struggle against them, that might look like humility.

*     When our pistis/trust prompts us to find the things for which we can give thanks, that looks like gratitude.

*     When our pistis/trust equips us to look expectantly to the future (rather than staying “stuck” in the present), this looks like hope and optimism.

In our family—especially when things get tough—we tend to focus on the present moment, talking about who or what might be to “blame” for the circumstances, and how we can “solve” the unpleasantness we’re experiencing.  Early on in my parenting, I began referring to this kind of thought process as “stinkin’ thinkin’”—focusing only on the negative, rather than anticipating the good things God might bring.  I can’t even begin to tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with my children about the importance of avoiding “stinkin’ thinkin.’”  (In fact, we’ve had so many talks about it that I’ve developed some “stinkin’ thinkin’” about whether or not we’d every remedy this habit of mind. J)  Recently, though, one of my children acknowledged that he was engaging in “stinkin’ thinkin’” about an issue we were processing.  Even though it was a decade in coming, my son’s realization was powerful for him . . . and for me.  {Here's a quirky little song that picks up on these ideas, recorded by none other than Willie Nelson.}

Researcher Carol Dweck, an educational researcher, uses a different term for “stinkin’ thinkin’” when she describes a “fixed mindset,” which occurs when an individual believes s/he is not capable of improving his/her intellectual ability.  A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, occurs when an individual begins to believe s/he can improve his/her academic capacity.  In her book, Mindset as well as this TEDTalk, Dweck shows how vital it is for teachers to cultivate this “growth mindset” in their students.  My sense is that this is an important emphasis for parents too.  If you’re interested in learning more, here are links to an article about Dweck’s work: 





You may also be interested in One Thousand Gifts, in which Ann Voskamp graciously and honestly invites readers into a daily practice of living expectantly and gratefully.

One other thought:  In recent weeks, Jeremiah 17:5-8 (see below) has been a meaningful reminder to me about the importance of continuing to cultivate a tenacious trust in God.  I’ll close with a prayer I’ve written that’s built on the truths of that passage. 

Lord, your word reminds me that when my heart gets its strength from the things of this world, I become like a bush struggling to stay alive in a land with nothing to offer. 
I don’t want to dwell in the desert. 
It’s a lonely place, a hopeless place. 
Oh how I long for eyes that are able to see prosperity when it comes.
I need this.  My family needs this.

So, Lord, I will put my confidence in You, 
and I will encourage my loved ones to do the same. 
Together, we will trust in Your provision—
what You choose to give,
and when You choose to give it. 
Help us to sink the roots of our hearts into the nourishing, well-watered soil of Your waters, so that when the dry, hot seasons come (and I know they will), we won’t be inclined to fear . . .
. . . but instead will be able to look ahead with hope,
knowing You will sustain us,
trusting that You'll allow us to blossom at the right time.

Maybe you (and possibly your family) would like to end this week’s readings by reflecting on that scripture (or Matthew 6:22-23) and writing a prayer of your own.


 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes."
Jeremiah 17:5-8
New International Version

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We have come so far together in this study!  I'm so glad you are continuing along.  If you are ready for the post about gentleness (the eighth fruit), click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment