Fighting for Peace When Everyone Else is at the Pool

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I would sell my soul for a body of blue, chlorinated water right now. And really, that’s about what I’ve done on any given day recently.

We think it’s usually the big stuff that challenges our faith and wreaks havoc on our contentment. But we’re only a few weeks into summer and I’m learning that anything — anything — can shove you down the slippery slope of woe is me. Even a pool.

Envy, self-pity, discontentment — they can lurk low and unchecked. And then all crazy breaks loose when you least expect it, like a sweet, sleeping mama bear hibernating through the winter and emerging from the cave, mean and ravenous.

I’ve been fighting against gratitude for a while now. To embrace all things, to count the gifts, to see the glass half-full — it feels like I’m waving the white flag of surrender and signing the treaty of acceptance. There have been things, important things and superficial things, that I’ve refused to accept.

Every day there’s this war. I know what I need to do and I see the yuck that’s floating in my soul and flitting about my mind. But my stubborn will keeps fighting. So I stew over it and stay mad about it. Internally I’m flailing and railing because I want someone to give me what I don’t have and someone to blame when they don’t.

From a theological and intellectual standpoint, I understand that no thing or circumstance or person can fulfill my deepest longings. I really do know that. But I don’t always experience that. And I definitely don’t want to embrace that. Embracing and accepting — they feel like giving up and letting go of desires, of the things I must have if I’m going to uncross my arms and unfurrow my brow and get on with living. Giving up feels like making friends with disappointment and failure.

I don’t want to let go of what I want in order to receive what I have.

And I am writing this as someone who is not so much on the other side of this battle but as someone who is still slogging through it.

The objects of my desire change with my season of life and the challenges I face. Essentially, I always have “a list.” A list of the things I don’t have but “need” to have, a list of the circumstances that “need” to change so that I can be content and free and fulfilled.

Right now, there are several items on the list. Some of them are deeply personal and actually important. And then there are the one or five that will just make me sound like a brat. Let’s just go with one of those, shall we?

Marian wants a pool.

I’m not asking for a pool at my house, though that would be fabulous. I just want a convenient and accessible pool for my kids to swim in. A pool with kids for my kids to play with. A pool that’s not plastic and 12 inches deep and sitting in my driveway, bringing down the neighborhood. {See the Exhibit A photo at the top of this post.}

We live in a weird locale that’s 15 miles away from the YMCA pool and 15 miles away from the co-op pool. For various reasons, neither of those are workable for us. Hardly any neighborhoods here have pools, ours included, which is bizarre since it’s warm enough to swim nine months out of the year. And there are no public pools in my entire county. Zero. It’s unlike any place I’ve every lived. It’s like a pool poverty zone. We have several friends or relatives with pools but you obviously need to arrange swims ahead of time and I always feel a little bit like I’m imposing, even if I’m not.

So every day I wake up and think about how I just want to go to the make-believe pool that sparkles in my head and how this pool will carry me away on a cloud of bliss.

With a frozen, fruity drink in my hand.

As Ingrid Michaelson sings all day in the sunshiney background.

And I read in the sun without sunscreen until suppertime because I possess special superpowers against sun damage.

And the bank keeps calling and interrupting my lounge time to say that our checking account is overflowing. Again. And would we like to open up another savings account for the overflow and set up automatic bank drafts to sponsor for 100 more children through Compassion?

The reality is, there are bigger obstacles to my happiness and ease than not having a pool. I promise you that. If my chief worry was not having a pool, I really would be the biggest brat in the universe and someone should burn my blog. I’m a normal person with actual struggles. The pool is just my ridiculous example.

You have your list too, don’t you? We all have our lists. The myriad things that are not okay and pushing us down and keeping us from the wonderfulness we think we should have. Also, my list could sound like a spoiled, dumb, baby problems list compared to your list. I don’t pretend for a second that my list even matters compared to the many other lists out there.

But back to the pool.

I’ve got this theory that maybe we fixate on one thing {or three} that would whisk us away from the legitimate issues on the list. It’s easy to focus on the little saviors in order to distract us from the real issues. For me, right now, it’s the pool. I’m fixing my eyes on the pool and how awesome that would make our summers instead of fixing my eyes on the bedrock truths of what I believe.

This isn’t the part of the post where I tell you and tell myself that I just need to suck it up and look to Jesus because all of my needs are met in Him. Even though that’s true.

It’s the part of the post where I tell you that honestly, I want the set my mind on a pool and more space in our house and less of a commute and other silly stuff on the list more than I want to set my mind on real truth. It’s the part where I tell you that Jesus will probably not buy me the superficial things I want like a community pool or more space in our house. At least not right now. And He may not choose to fix the soul stuff and the relational stuff in the way I wish He would either. Certain broken things may remain broken. Certain insufficiencies may remain insufficient.

And I fight that. Because having the unhaveable and fixing the unfixable — those are really the things I believe will save me right now.

The point is, my saviors are all out of whack.

And this post is mostly my confession of that. And maybe in the confessing, we’ll all find community and consolation, honesty and hope.

The life I have now — the one that’s not measuring up with its kiddie pool and cramped-ness — much of it was at one time the life I dreamed of. The husband, the kids, the house, the fulfilling work, the minivan {well, not the minivan} — these are all gifts that I couldn’t wait to have. Good things that I fixated on at one time in history and just knew that once these good things were in my life, all would be swell.

You know where I’m going with this, right?

There will always be a list. Even if I have a pool or a basement or a van that’s not accessorized with popcorn kernels and fossilized french fries from last year’s summer trip.

And there will always be Truth. For me, that Truth also a Person.

We have to choose. Hold fast to the list? Or hold fast to Jesus?

And lately, I’ve been choosing badly, fixing my eyes on the wrong savior. I love how The Message puts Colossians 3:1-2, the verse that talks about setting our minds on things above.

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

I’ve got this wadded up list in my clenched hand and it’s yielded nothing but misery, resentment, and envy. It most definitely has not yielded a pool. And I can actually admit that it’s a good thing because if it had, all of this junk in my soul would be flying under the radar and my sanctification would be vacationing in Aruba. And I’ve needed to do business with this junk.

I don’t want to become more like Marian. She’s a bit of a mess. I want to become more like Jesus.

God’s Word is true when it says we can’t serve two masters. Though this passage specifically applies to money, it still begs us to ask the question, What or whom is taking up the most space in my mind and heart? Personally, I’ve been paying lip-service to Jesus but bowing my knees on the hot concrete of the pretend pool and the other pretend saviors on the list.

The real Savior loves me too much to let me worship false gods.

Preoccupation with the the list is idolatry. It’s lovely, even needful, to dream and to wish. It’s wonderful to love beauty. It’s sheer joy to receive the bounty He gives us and to embrace the good things with wild gratitude. It’s hopeful to work toward goals and to say yes to the pursuits that make us come alive. This world is a foretaste of the unimaginable beauty and gifts that will one day be ours in abundance.

The problem is when we reverse the now and the not yet, when we try to live the perfect not yet in the broken now and we neglect the good we’re to pursue now in light of the not yet.

So where do we go from here?

Honestly, I’m reluctant to offer any actionable “steps” because I’m still fighting through this. I’m not an expert and I don’t feel wise enough or steady enough to speak with authority. But these are the practices I’m giving myself to right now so it seems fit to share them.

First, let’s be honest about where we are. Confession is really just honesty, baring the truth within your heart instead of ignoring or hiding or numbing. It’s hard but there’s freedom on the other side and hope that we don’t have to stay stuck in this place.

Let’s ask for new vision to see the junk in our soul for what it is and to see a holy God for who He is and how the two can’t coexist without the mediation and cleansing power of Jesus.

And speaking of Him, let’s ask for new thought patterns that help us fix our eyes on Jesus, the One who meets us wherever we are and shows us that the Gospel applies to everything, even the pool we don’t have. We need new patterns that point us to Jesus, the Real Jesus, the One who may feel like a long-ago abstraction but who is actually so very near and knows all about our misplaced worship and still loves us anyway. But He also loves us too much to allow us to stay mired in misery and idolatry.

For me it looks a little bit like this. When I have visions of blue water and resin lawn chairs, it means running to Jesus for fresh trust and renewed gratitude. When I’m feeling angsty about more space for my family, it means running to Jesus and telling him that I trust his timing and asking Him to please provide what’s best. When I’m tangled up in the knots of the unfixable life and twisting in soul-level stuff that may never be totally unknotted, it means handing it over Jesus, the One who is always beckoning and loving and cleansing and writing straight with crooked lines.

But I’ve lived long enough and failed big enough to realize that sheer discipline falls woefully short, that just writing those words about running to Jesus won’t make me actually do it in the particularly hard moments. Heart-change is not something we can manufacture. But it is something we can yield ourselves to. It means giving up the fight. It means waving the white flag of surrender. I get how painful this can be. It means letting go of the stuff you want but that you don’t have…which really isn’t letting go of anything when you think about it. You know, since you don’t actually have it. It means humility.

It means repentance.

It especially means that. The more I learn about repentance, the more I understand that it means rest. Scripture tells us that in repentance and rest is our salvation. Repentance isn’t what I used to think it meant. It’s not a bootstrapped about-face. It’s not steely resolution. And it’s not because you will only get it right from here to forever. It’s humble acknowledgement that you are a mess and entrusting that mess to the only One who can clean it up and being willing to let Him do it. And this is the sweetest kind of rest for your soul. It’s grace and it’s trust and it changes everything.

Sometimes you to have to sink to a rather pathetic and embarrassing state of misery before you realize that this is no good way for anyone to live. Sometimes it’s misery that brings you to repentance.

And sometimes you realize that you need this kind of rest and freedom more than you need the temporary bliss of the sparkling pool.

Gratitude, acceptance, trust, contentment — these are gifts and graces that more firmly take root and actually bear fruit because of the dreaded “d” word that I am loathe to embrace. Discipline. Renewed thought patterns don’t usually just show up. If I’m going to walk in Truth, I have to stay steeped in Truth. That means I can’t neglect time in the Word and in prayer and in worship and fellowship.

I’m coming to see discipline in a gentler sense rather than in a graceless, military sort of sense. Over time, practicing Truth by meditating on it and pursuing it becomes a familiar pathway to peace, a well-worn daily path instead of an overgrown, uphill trail.

For me, the prize is freedom, the freedom to receive with joy the life that I’ve been given. Yes, the life with all of its ostensible shortcomings and imperfections and unfixable parts. The one with the plastic pool. The one that is making me more resourceful in the art of squinting and searching and scraping for the hidden gifts that are ours to find and unwrap.

I don’t know what’s on your list, what’s keeping you in the fight instead of waving the white flag of surrender. But I’m learning to see the white flag as a different sort of symbol, as the white flag of freedom.

It’s when we finally give up so that we can really live.

Life may not be what you’d envisioned. You’ll likely still struggle with the list. That’s okay. The dailyness of the struggle is the thing that invites discipline. {Though my word-sensitive self still prefers “practice” instead of discipline.}

Though your pathway may not lead to a pool, it can lead you to the place of receiving your own life. And this kind of acceptance is a sweeter thing than simply crossing something off the list and resting in a pretend savior.

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Just this week, I’m made a new list. A list with frugal and free ideas and pursuits that can create a meaningful summer for the kids and me. Acceptance and repentance have renewed my resourcefulness and I’m actually looking forward to some of our simple plans. We’ll see how that plays out and maybe in a few weeks that will be a post all its own.

So do you have a list? And is there anything as embarrassing as a pool?

Also, just when I think I can’t get any more random — blue water and Ingrid Michaelson and fruity drinks and Jesus, all swimming around in the same post. I’m not sure how that happened.

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Comments

  1. says

    Just yes to all of this. I hope you’ll share your list! We’ve been taking advantage of pool invites (not members either) and I’ve got a little list of local free hikes(ish…you know it’s mostly just small hills here). This was my number one reason for wanting a bike. I was looking for something to do with my kiddos that was low on cost and potentially high on quality time. Anyway, it’s VBS week and I’m probably rambly. But. I really hope you share YOUR list!

  2. FancyNancy says

    This post is like a meal, all the courses, that satisfies in a way fast food never can. Maybe that’s your point, too. Jesus is our satisfaction, not the quick fixes like pools and basements. Although, I am ALL FOR pools and basements. Anyway, this is the 2nd or 3rd time some of these points have crossed my path this week. I know I needed to hear them each time for direction (looking to Jesus) and for reassurance (He gives us all we need). We visited a small church this weekend while on a short family vacation and a young RUF pastor was preaching. His text was in Judges and he spoke of keeping our eyes on Jesus and that repentance is not a one time thing, but rather a life-time of turning around. Even though I should know that, I found it liberating and an impetus for me to recognize that those around me will have to continually turn, too. Thanks!

  3. says

    oh thank you thank you thank you! my soul needed those words! I too struggle with the list. don’t we all? *sigh*
    especially love these words: “Repentance isn’t what I used to think it meant. It’s not a bootstrapped about-face. It’s not steely resolution. And it’s not because you will only get it right from here to forever. It’s humble acknowledgement that you are a mess and entrusting that mess to the only One who can clean it up and being willing to let Him do it. And this is the sweetest kind of rest for your soul. It’s grace and it’s trust and it changes everything.”
    blessings,
    em

  4. Momof3Boys says

    Your willingness to share so transparently encourages, uplifts, and strengthens. From one list-maker to another, thank you…

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