summertime reflections

It’s mid-July already, and I find myself lost in a rather reflective mood. These long summer days have been sticky and temperamental, a shower here and a sunburst there; I strained my lower back doing too many burpees and so I’m relegated now to long daily walks and short core-strengthening sessions, and in a way, I’m glad - glad to have been pushed to enjoy the out-of-doors more intentionally while the weather is mild and the world is green. I love to go outside and say hello to my flowers and walk barefoot in the yard and pick raspberries and marionberries straight off the vines. I love to find new trails and routes to explore, places where I can feel small under the towering firs or the vast sky. Summer, somehow, always serves to jolt me out of step with the rest of the world’s clip and strip away the superfluous and remind me of who God says I am.

I am seen. “Then [Hagar] called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’” (Genesis 16:13a). I’ve joked before (all too seriously) that invisibility is my superpower. I’ve always been the kind of person to think carefully before I speak, and to speak only if I had something truly valuable to say - which is a trait quickly passed off as quietness or shyness, and makes it spectacularly easy to fly under the radar. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to do something worthy of notice with my life, but I am learning - slowly - that I am already seen. There is never a time when I am out of God’s sight - the recognition that I crave, He generously gives, and I need not do anything to gain or deserve it.

I am significant. “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16). The loudest voices tell us that significance can be quantified in numbers - the number of people reached, the number of dollars made, the number of successes won, etc. But the Bible says true significance is sourced from a much humbler place, because it is a gift, not an achievement. I try to imagine God, as He was creating the masterpiece we call the Universe, painstakingly writing every one of my life’s days into His script. Somehow, while He was placing stars into position and setting planets into orbit, the tiny detail of Hallie’s life on July 16, 2019 did not escape Him - nor did the 9,312 days before it, or the unknown number that may come after it. For some reason He wanted me here, now. For some reason I’m a piece of His story, called into His family. For some reason - known and quantifiable only by Him - I am significant.

I am cared for. “Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable” (Isaiah 40:27-28). The same God who sees me and declares me significant proves these things true with His tireless love and care for me. Even when I’m complaining and blind to the work He’s doing, like the nation of Israel in this passage, God is not wearied in the pursuit of ultimate justice and goodness for the child He loves. I can rest in Him because He never rests; He keeps fighting for me, loving me, and winning the victory for me regardless of my failure, discouragement, or forgetfulness.

These are the truths He keeps reminding me of during these slow, but rapidly slipping, days of summer. Life is such a paradox - it’s small as well as important, simultaneously fleeting and everlasting. Like the flowers in my front garden, I may occupy only a small space for a short time, never to be celebrated by the masses, but I still have the opportunity to beautify the lives of a few passersby with the Truth for a moment. Perhaps that is enough.

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

rhythm and chaos

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It has been one of my persistent struggles to understand my testimony and share it well. I get frustrated, because if anyone should know this story, it should be me; I’m the one who has lived it, who has benefited on a daily basis from the blessing of walking with Jesus since I was three years old. I should be able to bear witness to His work in my life. I should be able to see clearly, at least in hindsight, where He has done His greatest work in me.

In some ways, I can: I can look back and see the shifts and the weather patterns that have colored my years, and some of the purposes they’ve played out. I know these are all parts of the testimony God is writing in me, but whenever I try to sum it up in so many words, I’m frustrated by the attempt to “arrive” somewhere. I want to be able to draw a line clearly from the shift that happened one year ago, or eighteen months ago, or the day I got the phone call, or that undefined span of time as a newlywed, or on my wedding day, or when I moved to Bible school all the way to now and say, “This is it. This is exactly where God has brought me. Here’s how and here’s why.”

But I can’t.

Much as it sometimes feels like there must have been one moment in which everything changed, in which God ultimately revealed Himself and brought my testimony to its climax, the truth of the matter is that God works slowly. He works in processes, in moments, across years. He’s a farmer, not a magician.

I grew up watching (and sometimes helping) my dad farm, and I’m not sure anything has taught me as much about how God operates as that experience. Farming, a metaphor the Bible uses again and again to describe God’s work, is change and same, reward with disappointment; it’s past and now and future, all bound together somehow. There’s a rhythm in it, but also chaos - unpredictability. It is down-to-earth and touching heaven at the same time, in the most humbling possible way; a momentary glimpse of the Edenic vision in which God and Man and Creation coexist in harmonious relationship with each other.

And it doesn’t ever “arrive.” A year of abundant harvest is followed rhythmically by winter’s rest, only to try it all again when spring arrives. No two years will yield the very same, and the story is never over. There is progress and process, joy and frustration, years of fallow and change, but the work doesn’t reach an end-point or get wrapped up in a bow. The testimony is never quite complete.

Nor is mine. It can make for a frustrating story to tell, but also an exciting and comforting one. In moments and across years, in a way that will never be completed in this life, God is cultivating me. His work is hard, long, and emotional, but also calming, grounding, and restful. I can’t necessarily draw lines between the seasons and say “This is what, this is how, and this is why,” but I can point to the One who is constant through it all and say, “He is always near, and He is doing something in me.”

We are a culture that only puts the big, earth-shattering events on display. The trips to Europe, the births, the deaths; the times we audibly heard God’s voice or saw Him move in a tangible way. But I’m convicted that it’s in the in-between where the real work and growth is done. The mundane middle is what life is made of - the rhythm and the chaos, and the too-boring-to-be-documented. I don’t know if I’ll ever “get there,” or even know where “there” is in this life, but I know that if I’m walking with Jesus, it will be good.

don't believe everything you think

There’s a bumper sticker out there that says, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

I had an anxiety attack last week - something unlike anything I’ve experienced before, despite having more than my share of chronic anxiety in my lifetime. This was the first time it really felt like that long-unwanted companion was actually attacking me.

It came with the shakes, nausea, and a sense of terror and impending doom - my mind screaming at me, “RUN! FIGHT! SOMETHING TERRIBLE IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN!”

The irony was, of course, that it was those very thoughts that kept me frozen, paralyzed, capable only of crumpling up on my bed and trying to remember how to breathe. Something terrible was about to happen, but I was utterly helpless to stop it or to save myself.

There’s no fear quite like that one.

And yet, ten minutes later, nothing terrible had happened. My raging adrenaline began to recede and my mind began to clear and before too long, the whole episode seemed almost silly somehow, even though the panic had been all too real.

My mind had lied to me.

This is not the first time I’ve been faced by my brain’s pathological dishonesty, and it won’t be the last, but it was a stark reminder of how much fear and freedom come with the discovery that our brains can be liars. Fear - because it suddenly feels like the enemy himself holds territory inside us, and so he does in a way; Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) and any lie that takes us into its grip must be a victory for him. And freedom - because at last we realize that we don’t have to be helplessly battered by every cruel, critical, or anxious thought. At last we can build a strategy for our defense.

But as anyone who has ever been lied to from within can tell you (and that’s all of us), it’s rarely as simple as it would seem.

Jesus said, only a couple of paragraphs before the words I just quoted from John 8, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Clearly the strategy to get free from the choking grip of falsehood is the same one Jesus Himself used when He was tested by Satan in the wilderness: We must cut through the lies’ noose using the sharp blade of Truth.

But there’s a step that comes before that. Before we can do any heroic sword-wielding, we must know the truth.

And this, I think, is where so many of us get stuck.

Jesus said, only a couple of paragraphs before the words I just quoted from John 8, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Clearly the strategy to get free from the choking grip of falsehood is the same one Jesus Himself used when He was tested by Satan in the wilderness: We must cut through the lies’ noose using the sharp blade of Truth.

In our age of technology where almost every claim can be backed up by measurable evidence, it seems we’ve developed an assumption that believing what is true instead of what is false will be easy. Truth is objectively confirmed, and stands resolute regardless of subjective measures like individual feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. So it shouldn’t be that hard to identify and take hold of. A sword looks much different from a noose.

And yet Jesus also said, “But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe Me” (John 8:45).

We may think ourselves to be rational and objective and intelligent beings, but when there’s a voice inside our heads that says “You are worthless” and a voice outside of ourselves saying “You are inestimably valuable,” we will invariably choose to believe the subjective voice within us. It doesn’t matter that all evidence points the other way - that every other human being is clearly inestimably valuable, or that God Himself is the one who says it, or that Jesus Christ shed His blood for us. We still trust our own minds above all.

So we will catch a glimpse of the very sword that could set us free, but then decide that we’d rather remain suffocated by the noose than risk falling on a sword. It’s not that we want to believe lies - it’s that we can’t even identify which is the method of execution and which is the way of escape: the noose, or the sword? The long-held beliefs of the mind, or the objectively-validated statements of God’s Word? The Father of Lies, or the One who is called Faithful and True?

Yes, the truth has the power to set us free. But first we have to know the truth. We have to be able to identify it when we hear it, to differentiate between what is familiar and what is freedom.

Huge leaps have been made in the last few decades in the understanding of the human brain. We know that the brain is highly malleable, especially when we are young (which is when most of us first accept lies into our patterns of thinking). We also know that the brain is made to be efficient to the point of laziness. It will always choose the path of least resistance - it will always choose what is familiar, even when what’s familiar is harmful.

It will always follow the same old pathways that the lies have entrenched in it unless we make the daily, concerted effort to alter those pathways.

For me, it takes only a small trigger to set off a chain reaction of anxiety in my brain, following the lead of very familiar lies such as, “It’s your fault.” “You’re not safe.” “God can’t be trusted.” “If you don’t fix it, no one will.” “This happened because you’re not good enough.”

These statements sound very, very true to me even though they’re very, very false. They are so deeply wired into my brain that even when I manage to recognize the tightening of the noose, it still takes immense effort for me to grab hold of the sword and cut myself free. But I am, at least, beginning to recognize the sword as my weapon of defense, not as another threat to my safety.

Let’s do away with the assumption that the truth is easy to believe. Even when we can see all the evidence before us, it’s nearly always easier to trust the comfortable lies. Rebuking Satan is hard. Reaching for freedom is hard. Allowing Jesus Christ, the Word of God, to define our reality is hard.

But God put the most magnificent piece of all His creation right between your ears. The human brain is not static. It molds and shapes and responds to the input it receives and the habits it forms, and it is empowered even further by the Holy Spirit who lives within us. We do not have to live in captivity to lies - our minds can be made new!

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

The first step is to know the truth.

And then the truth can set you free.


But what do I do if I don’t know the truth?

Most of us formulated a mix of truth and lies as the basis of our understanding of the world when we were growing up. The exact recipe is different for each of us, depending on what our parents taught us, patterns of emphasis in our homes, our unique personalities, and our encounters with God.

The first thing we can do to find out what is true is, of course, to know God’s Word. The Bible is our ultimate source for truth, and it speaks directly to questions of human value, responsibility, shame, worthiness, love, sin, and the character of God. This will be your foundation.

But many of the lies we believe are highly specific to ourselves and difficult to rebuke with a generalized verse alone. Often, one of the keys to rejecting the lies we’ve held close is understanding where they came from and why we believe them in the first place. This is where the community of believers can be a vital resource in the battle. It’s usually much easier for someone else to see the falsehoods in your mind’s narrative than it is for you, and an outside party can often help you work through some of the experiences and relationships that have reinforced those beliefs. I love this saying: “You were wounded in community and you must be healed in community.” We don’t get hurt in a vacuum - usually, someone else hurts us. But we don’t get healed in a vacuum either. We need each other.

So get in the Word (I’ve got a reading plan for you right here). And get in community - whether you seek out a small group, a friend, a family member, a counselor, a mentor, or a psychotherapist, don’t try to do this work by yourself. The lion always preys on the one who walks alone.

2 Comments

Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.