The Silent Siege

you wake up, stretch your toes out as far as you can, and give an over dramatic yawn. checking the clock, you see that it’s eight. “not too shabby,” you think. “it’s still pretty early.”


you reach over the side of your bed, find your phone, and scroll through facebook like it’s your own little local newspaper.


aw, Jenny got engaged! Winston is finally going on the trip he always wanted. Judy has the cutest kids.


wait. what is this?


Ten Reasons Getting up Before Six Will Change Your Life.


click. open. read.


you slowly begin to realize just how wrong you have been looking at this your whole life. you’ve been wasting so much time and you didn’t even know it. you are lazy. unmotivated. and did you know that people who get up earlier live a longer life?


you jump out of bed as quick as you can and rush into your morning routine. after getting out of the shower, making the bed, and folding a load of laundry you head to the kitchen and make yourself a cup of coffee while pouring a bowl of cereal.


as you sit down, your phone lights up with a notification, so you open facebook again, laugh at Tony’s comment, and do another quick scroll through your newsfeed.


Fifteen Things Your Breakfast Says About You.


wow. you never realized your breakfast said so much. you glance down at your fruit loops suddenly repelled and wish to goodness you had an avocado, whole wheat bread, free range chicken eggs, and sea salt. oh and maybe some mangos, spinach, and chia seeds for a smoothie. this kind of eating will lead to depression, obesity, probably death. this kind of eating points to immaturity and lack of willpower. another thing you need to change asap.


you run out to the store and buy some of the more exotic sounding foods that will change your life. these things aren’t cheap, but you certainly feel more mature and empowered. you check-out and a little while later, your husband shoots you a text.


“what on earth did you buy today? I went online to pay a bill and saw you spent over two hundred dollars at the store!”


you explain all the healthy things you plan on making with the rare items you found, but your husband is not impressed. in fact, he jokingly says he’ll be eating at his parents the next few days.


you fume angrily as you unload your expensive groceries. there are less bags than you thought. as you shove items into the back of your fridge, you collapse on the kitchen floor, you lean back against the cabinets, cross your legs, and see if there’s anything new online to take your mind off your ungrateful husband.


Twenty-One Ways You Know You have Found Mr. Right.


you scroll through the ways furiously.


“he respects your ideas.” hmpf! your husband didn’t seem so respectful of your ideas today! “he’s willing to try new things.” ha! you laugh bitterly. he would be fine staying the same forever, that old grump.


you get up off the kitchen floor feeling like you’ve been cheated out of Mr. Right and storm to the bathroom to fix your hair.


you carry on with your day in a mood. it seems like you can’t do anything right, and you’re feeling like it’s somebody’s fault. probably Mr. Not-Right’s.


a few hours later a Pinterest notification pops up. your sister sent you a picture of her dream outfit. you look at it for a moment and then glance at the suggested pictures and posts under it. there is a picture of a larger looking woman with the heading “Forget the Thigh Gap! Eleven Reasons Why I Want My Thighs Thick.”


almost automatically you click it. you read through it slowly and despairingly and learn that if only you had thicker thighs, you would be that much better and have so much more fun. you don’t even realize how absurd your feelings are or how absurd this article is. you simply think about the way that you have self-consciously been a tooth-pick your whole life with barely any figure at all.


by the evening, you feel completely worthless.  between instagram users with perfect pictures and links to their perfect lives, facebook articles telling you how to make your life or image better, pinterest to make you feel like your house and wardrobe should belong in a Goodwill ad, and the other countless internet plugs subtly showing you all that you’re not and all that you don’t have, you feel you will never be enough or have enough.


whether you relate to these particular examples or not, most of us have struggled with something on the internet before. if you just gave birth to your fourth child, you may be unconsciously envious when Sue posts a casual picture of her slim figure. if you’re a guy, you may wish you could buy a motorcycle as nice as the one Tim just bought or see as many amazing places as Jon or be tempted to stare at pictures of girls you wish were yours.


if you’re on a budget (and most people are) you will find yourself wishing you had just a little bit more to spend on furniture or clothes or your dream car or dieting pills or a gym membership or travel or food or a house.


and you’ll find yourself comparing even the internal struggles. so and so looks so happy all the time... I wish I was always so cheerful. so and so’s husband bought them expensive jewelry… again… I wish my husband would buy me something nice every now and then. so and so’s wife always makes homemaking look so easy… I wish my wife would pay more attention to cleaning. so and so has a more fulfilling career… I’m just doing this to pay the bills but I wish it was fulfilling. so and so always gushes about how blessed they are… why doesn’t God send us so many blessings. so and so is so popular and outgoing… I wish I was somebody’s role model.


we are living in an age that hands us all sorts of ideals and opinions on the silver tray of television and magazines and radio and pictures and articles and internet and billboards and movies and advertisements.


we are surrounded and unless we come out with our hands up and stare this oppressor in the face, we will simply continue to sit in our homes unaware of the siege that is quietly starving us of true joy and thankfulness.


so how do we face comparison? we are surrounded by everybody’s lives and thoughts and agendas and propaganda. how are we not to be overcome by it?


some would say that we simply avoid it altogether. unplug the television. delete all the apps. no more movies. don’t pick up that magazine. shut out the world, both the good and the bad.


I don’t know if you’ve ever seen “The Village” but it tells the story of those who tried taking that approach. set in what would appear to be the sixteen or seventeen hundreds, a small group of people live in a very simple village surrounded by woods, living very simple lives. the parents only teach goodness and kindness in their homes but warn their children of the danger beyond. as the story progresses, you begin to realize that the fathers and mothers of this little village are trying to protect their children by telling them of a monster who lives just outside their town, lurking in the woods. soon enough though, even with being protected from the outside world, even with strong morals, sin creeps in and causes havoc in the hearts of the whole village. in one of the last scenes, a younger girl goes for help from what she thinks is a neighboring village, climbs a wall, and stumbles onto a paved road and a ranger dressed in the garb of modern America.


the point of the movie was obvious. shutting out the whole world will not solve the problem of the heart.


and closing your eyes to everyone and everything that you feel is better than you, will not solve the comparison factor.


that’s not to say that taking those things in moderation or taking breaks from them or not having them at all is a bad thing. it’s just not the answer to solving the heart of the matter. sooner or later you will come into contact with humanity. and there will always be someone you feel is better than you. something that is nicer than what you have.


so how do we stop comparing ourselves to others? how do we not read articles and feel disappointed with ourselves? how do we not look at other’s lives and wish ours was more like theirs?


well one way is to be thankful.


Ann Voskamp, in her book “One Thousand Gifts” writes, “our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. we hunger for something more, something other.”


what if we took everything we have, everything we are insecure about and considered it a gift? a gift given to us directly from God.


the messy house you can’t seem to keep up with? who was that mess made by? your kids? are you thankful for them? are they a gift? give thanks.


the clothing that you want but don’t have? do you have any clothing? (I hope so.) didn’t the God who clothes the lilies of the field clothe you with exactly what you need? isn’t that a gift? give thanks.


even the fact that you don’t have the brown hair you always wanted or the chiseled body that you think you need… didn’t God knit you together in your mother’s womb? didn’t He know you before the foundations of the world were laid? aren’t you made in His image? isn’t that a gift? give thanks.


if you are unhappy, it might not be because of the circumstances you hold responsible for your feelings. It might, in truth, be the way you are viewing those circumstances.


let’s face it, it’s not usually our actual circumstances that are the root of the problem. it’s how we feel about those circumstances.


you live in a house. that’s a good circumstance. but you feel like your sister has a bigger, better house and you feel like you need one too.


you have a face. that’s a good circumstance. but you feel like so and so’s is better looking and you feel depressed every time you pass a mirror.


hopefully you have a good spouse or parents or friends. not perfect, but good. that’s a good circumstance. but you feel like they just don’t understand. you feel like they should be better, care more, fit in better with that “Top Ten Ways to Know You have a True Friend” list.


you feel like you should be giving more, doing more, growing more, loving more, working more, relaxing more, saving more, spending more, exercising more, cooking more, communicating more, encouraging more.


and not all of those are bad feelings or things to do.


but they are when you don’t give them to God. and they are when you don’t give thanks.


“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18


“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6


another way to face the comparison factor is to stop comparing yourself and your life to others, and instead compare it to Christ.


did Christ wear the latest fashion, live in the cutest house, drive the fastest car… er… chariot?


was Christ the most popular person on the planet? did everything He say make everyone love Him? did He care what others thought about Him? did He compare Himself to everyone else?


did He withhold grace from others? did He only heal those who were in a social or political position that could be advantageous to Him? did He only love those who first loved Him? did He only do God’s will because He expected physical blessings here on earth?


doesn’t Christ give thanks and glory to God? doesn’t everything He does and says point back to God? didn’t He sacrifice His life, His comfort, His glory for that of God?

He didn't even have a top-whatever-number of reasons to tell Him to do so.

what if we did the same? what if we gave thanks for this gift called life? what if instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we focus on what we do? what if even what we do have we give back to God with thanksgiving in our hearts?


God doesn’t ask us to be like everyone else. He asks us to be like His Son.  “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” 1 Peter 2:21-25


 God doesn’t promise us we’ll be like everyone else. He promises that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” Philippians 1:6 and  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” Romans 8:18-21


the temptation to compare and be discouraged is real and in your face twenty-four-seven. and even when we remember to give thanks and set Christ as our example, day to day, minute to minute life has a way of shoving good intentions to the furthest dusty corner of our minds.


so that is why the third way to face the comparison factor is simply to pray. pray that you will be thankful. pray that you will set Christ as your example.


and pray for others. for the one who pops into your mind as you’re reading an article. for the friend you know who is struggling with the same insecurities you are. even for the people behind the seemingly flawless accounts and pictures.


give thanks. look above. pray continually.


these aren’t new struggles. these aren't new ideas.


if facebook was around two thousand years ago, underneath articles like "Ten Life-changing Ways to Make Your Donkey Less Stubborn" and "Five Sandals You Must Have This Season" you might have found an article called “The Top Three Ways to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others.”

 it's an age-old struggle, and it's more accessible than ever. but we serve a God who loves us through His Son right where we are for who we are in Him. messy houses, messy hearts, messy thoughts and all.
now that's something to be thankful for.


The Vulnerability of Being Human

The thought struck me while staring out the window. My hands dipped in soapy, crummy water. Scraping away the remains of an earlier meal consumed and already forgotten. My head slightly ached from thinking, but I breathed in the spring air coming through my open kitchen window and stared at the fence marking the edge of our yard.


We are so vulnerable.


I first remember feeling the weight of vulnerability in second grade. My passion for Jesus and missions was flying high as I approached the desk of my teacher with hand-written salvation tract in hand. If my heart was banging a little faster than normal, I didn’t know why. It wasn’t until she glanced at it and dismissed it with a “that’s nice” that I felt that beating organ drop a little further in my chest. In less than a second, my whole life’s passion had been waved aside by a “that’s nice” I knew she didn’t mean. I felt silly. I felt like a failure. I felt… something that I couldn’t put a name to. We are so vulnerable.


I felt that way while walking through Chicago in the dead of winter, passing thousands of unknown faces, all hunkered down into their jackets, scarves, and hats, staring at the sidewalk, letting the bitter wind whistle over, around, and past their layered clothes. Knowing that deep down they were cold, but still they pressed on. Behind the wind-reddened faces were countless stories I hadn’t and may never hear. We are so vulnerable.


I remember the time I watched my dad outside the living room window. He was doing yardwork, and in a few seconds, the fate of my life would hang in his branch-trimming hands. What would he say about the boy who had told me he liked me? Would he be mad? Would he be okay? Stepping through the front door with hands in my pockets, I told him as awkwardly as possible. And he grinned a silly smile, and I began to grin as well. We are so vulnerable.


I remember how that crush wasn’t only a crush. It was love. And how my parents’ thought we weren’t ready for that yet. How for a season, I didn’t talk with the boy who loved me. How for a season I couldn’t be sure if he even still did. How I spent every other minute wondering what he was doing and how he felt about me. Wondering if it would ever work out. How I felt sick and depressed and angry at God. We are so vulnerable.


I remember how during that time, I got physically sick. How the hospital couldn’t tell us why. How my mom sat near my head, held my hand, and prepared herself for calling the family to say goodbye. How my heart rate soared and my fever worsened and I couldn’t hold my own weight. How my heart rate and fever just as suddenly went back to normal. How a nurse taking me to my MRI told me he would pray for me. How my dad bought me a Snoopy stuffed animal. How I ordered hummus and couldn’t eat it for feeling nauseas. How I told my mom while I lay in a white bed how much I loved the boy I hadn’t spoken to in so long. How the doctor’s told me I couldn’t go on my mission’s trip to Papua New Guinea. And how much I didn’t understand God. We are so vulnerable.


I remember the time I watched a young man sing his heart and soul out for God at a little talent show in a small wooden tabernacle on a hill beside Lake Michigan. The young man had a disability and didn’t hit a single note, but I cried my heart out and realized that even in the brokenness, God is good. A little girl who had been through more than I ever had sat on my lap and wiped away my tears and we talked about heaven and how nice it would be to see each other there one day. A man who could barely use his arms or legs made an effort to reach out his hand to me, squeeze my own ever so faintly, and smile a smile that only angels could fully appreciate. We are so vulnerable.


I remember loving a boy. A boy who had turned into a man, not by accident, but by choice. And how this kind of love was new and how it was thrilling and how it was scary all at once. We talked about the future and what that could look like and how we wanted it to be with each other no matter what else may come. I waited for a ring. And I said to myself, “What will next year at this time look like? Will we be married? Will we have kids? Or does God have something completely unexpected planned? Something that I won’t like at all?” And I cried at the thought of not being able to control the future. But I also remembered how God had controlled the past. We are so vulnerable.


A ring came. And with it joy. And with joy, work. And with joy and work, change. I held my baby sister longer and my five year old sister and I had picnics in the play-fort and I gave my sixteen year old sister my special ring and we both cried. My mom and I sat on the kitchen floor often, and dad would look at me with a mixture of sadness and pride, and I felt like my heart would burst from the change. I took more pictures. I wrote more words. I absorbed more memories and looks and dialogue than I knew how to process, and so the excess often came out in tears or laying in my grandpa’s fields. I was happy. I was sad. We are so vulnerable.


A wedding day came and for the first time ever, I got to play the bride. At five a.m. I sat in the bathroom and my sister did my make-up. At eight, as I got ready to walk out the door, my mom reminded me that this was my last time being a Smock at the house I had spent the majority of my life living and growing and breathing and maturing in. At the church, I got into my dress and my best friend buttoned it up. I stood for portraits. I smiled til my cheeks ached. I didn’t know how I could bear so many last moments and so many firsts all at once. But then I saw him through the window. Standing with his hands shoved deep in his pockets. His dark head slightly bowed and his dark eyes looking steadily, evenly forward. My head pounded and my eyes were wet. I loved him so much. I would give up all I had known if only I could be with him. We are so vulnerable.


A year of marriage went by in a flash. Every season and what it brought. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, and back to Winter again. “Here we go round the mulberry bush…”  We put our whole selves out there for the other to see, and our love became deeper. Not without misunderstandings. Not without embarrassment. Not without humbling ourselves and saying sorry. But with much grace, understanding, and a love deeper than good days only. I wasn’t only in love with him, I was proud of him. Beyond what I could have imagined. And knowing that he felt the same about me… how could I feel so much joy? How could God be so good? We are so vulnerable.


But there were other changes that were harder. And most of those involved the changes happening inside of me. Those involved the day to day grind that every human is faced with; feeling alone in your friends, feeling not good enough, hearing unkind things said and taking them to heart. Messy house, messy thoughts. Rushing here, rushing there. Always wondering about the future. Always wanting to be better. We are so vulnerable.


These were the thoughts that I found myself thinking while staring out the window with soap on my hands and vulnerability in my heart and in the hearts of every human on the planet. Sometimes, life is just a lot to handle. The good, the bad. The emotions, the facts. We are human. We are affected by our surroundings, by other’s opinions, by the cold, by the rain, by the amount of dishes stacked up in our sinks, by politics, by our hopes for the future, by our haunts of the past, by our possessions and our peers and our friends.


There are so many “Top Ten Ways to Get the Man of Your Dreams” articles out there. Along with “How You Know You’ve Found the One” opinions. There are suggestions for healthy diets. Warnings against vaccines. Thoughts on parenting. Pinterest solutions for a messy house, capsule wardrobes, and do-it-yourself’s.


There are so many people out there to please and with opinions on how to do that. So many people with opinions of you. Some that may think better of you than you think you deserve. And some that, no matter how hard you may bend over backwards, just don’t like you at all. There are situations to handle that feel impossible. People, circumstances, and things that will drag you down.


There is so much pressure to fit in with the system. To have your college education, a career, the home of your dreams, the distinguished business husband, the two Gap kids model children.


We are so vulnerable, but we try so hard to hide it.


How often do you find Instagram accounts where every post is a picture of cobwebs in the corners, several-day-old pancake batter splattered on the counter, children screaming their heads off? When do you find captions like "I thought I was content until Becky posted about her new house," or "I can't seem to get on top of things and really don't know what to do?" How often do you find the really vulnerable moments that can make or break your character?


How often do you ask someone “how are you doing?” and they say, “honestly, I feel so fat compared to the girls I see on tv and I’ve been skipping meals just to try to be something I’m not.”


You don’t find articles listing the “Top Twenty Ways to be Vulnerable.” Vulnerability is what we do best. But it’s something we don’t usually acknowledge.


What is my point? My point is only this. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t feel you add up to the perfect blogger mom who has a recipe and hair product and child-rearing answer for everything. Don’t beat yourself up when a circumstance leaves you feeling hurt and unworthy. Don’t beat yourself up when you feel strongly or care deeply or love unconditionally. We are all so vulnerable.


The world, and even Christians, portray their standard as perfection, but God portrays Himself as perfection, and the only perfect one out there is Jesus Christ.


So be vulnerable. But be vulnerable in Jesus.


What does that look like? It looks like praying. Giving Him your cares and concerns. Your insecurities and your failures. Your joys and your strengths. Your future and your past and your present. It means telling Him, “I know I am not enough, but I also know that you are. I know I am like the flower of the grass which today is alive and confident and happy, but tomorrow will be blown by a fowl wind and begin to doubt and shrink and wither. But I also know you are the gentle rain that gives me life and sustains me through every season. I know I may feel countless feelings, but I also know that you are always with me through each and every one. I know I am vulnerable, but I also know that you are more than enough for my emotions and my beating, trembling heart.”


We live in a time when vulnerability is weakness. But it doesn’t have to be weakness. It can also be strength. Strength to reach out to the one in a similar circumstance as us. Strength to love even when it hurts. Strength to come along side another and work through trials and tribulations together. Strength to say “not anything that I have done, but only you Jesus.” Strength to admit fault or love firmly or discipline the rascal child. Strength to be humble and wash the feet of those around you.


“Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow…”


If I had waited twenty years to write this, who knows what I could have added to my list of vulnerabilities. Only God knows what my life and heart and soul will hold.


But for now, I will wash dishes. I will use the rawness and reality of life not as something to place behind a wall and put a flowery wallpaper over, nor to shout it obscenely from the mountain top. It isn’t something that has to be covered, but it also isn’t something that needs to be a showcase. It is something that needs to be recognized and utilized for the glory of God. Use it to bless those around you. To say “I have been there too, brother. You are not alone. You are never alone.” Use it as an encouragement even to your own heart. We are all in this together.


We are all so vulnerable. And those who believe are all so forgiven, known, loved by the God who made Himself vulnerable for us by becoming a vulnerable man, having vulnerable words spoken about and against Him, dying a vulnerable death, and rising again in a tangible way in which the vulnerable holes in his hands and feet could still be felt and touched.

Vulnerability is not weakness. It is finding strength in the Lord.
"For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

1 Corinthians 1: 26-31