Slandering Eeyore

I’ve been accused of ‘channelling’ A. A. Milne’s (or Disney’s) Eeyore. If something can Eeyore color1possibly go wrong, I expect it will. If I get a headache, I expect to die of a tumor. If there is an unusual noise coming form the microwave, I immediately calculate how we are going to afford the new one I know we are going to have to buy. And if things are going well, I worry about when they will fall apart.

I defend my identification by saying that people like Eeyore, or C. S. Lewis’s Puddleglum the marshwiggle (surprise! – my favorite Narnia character) are not pessimistic, just ‘realistic’. They don’t get caught up in unrealistic expectations from a fallen world. But that logic simply covers up my sin.Puddleglum

My love affair with Eeyore is really one of pride.

I, and perhaps Eeyore, are terribly proud and self-protective. If I say that things are going to get worse, and they don’t, everyone is happy, and no one cares what I said. If I say, though, that things are looking up and they go south, I look stupid. So, being negative is positive. See?

But this unfairly slanders Eeyore. I’m the one who is proud. The Eeyore I channel has lost his childlike faith and drinks deeply from a cynical well. I live on the down side of life because, at my most Eeyorish, I have lost hope that there is an up side.

I’m grateful to Paul Miller for shining an honest and penetrating light on my inner Eeyore. In his wonderfully helpful and practical book (A Praying Life) Miller strips my so-called “realism” down to its cynical core. My ‘realism’ is really cynicism which at heart is hopelessness, a hopelessness that suggests that one has lost touch with the reality that he is a son or daughter of a good and kind and gentle God.


When I first read Miller’s reflections on cynicism, I was deeply touched. I am so accustomed to things not working out that when things are going well I wonder where (as he puts it) the cloud is in that silver lining. I have forgotten that I have a compassionate heavenly father. Not even Eeyore or Puddleglum can be accused of that.

This does not mean that I do not still lie awake at night puzzling over problems I cannot fix, or ponder unhappiness at 5:00 AM Monday mornings. But it is good to know what I am doing, and to know why, and to remember that the God I’m having so much trouble trusting is one who did not spare his own Son, and therefore can be trusted to graciously give all things. (Romans 8:32)

Disney, though, is going to sue me before the day is out, I shouldn’t wonder.

Feeling Rotten?

When we feel rotten, we want to avoid happy people. Laughing hyenas travel in packs; the depressed ones probably travel alone. Sometimes we just want to be alone and church is not a place where that is easily accomplished.

Often those who feel the worst avoid worship because they are convinced that everyone else is happy and no one knows the misery they are experiencing. No one who is struggling wants to hang out with people who are going to inevitably ask, “How are you?” Maybe they care, maybe they don’t, but when we are upset, we don’t want to be asked.

And so, we stay home. We go to the beach. We watch TV. We feign illness. And we void the very thing that God has created for hurting people.

Hearts that are chewed up and in trouble provide fertile soil for the gospel. Overturned earth is most ready for the seed. Sorrow breaks the hardness of our hearts and brings the possibility of healing most in view. And our Enemy does not want us to find that healing. So he whispers insistently, if not persuasively, “Stay home; you don’t want to be there. Not with THEM.”

When you feel rotten is, in fact, when you most need to be in worship. Go. Be there. And pray that the renewing dew will fall upon your broken heart.

On Significance

Insignificance is the human nightmare. Being nothing and mattering to no one is our existential terror. My recurring fear is imagining myself a researcher who has invested 25 years in her lab following a once promising hypothesis only to lock the lab on a final day realizing that the pursuit was a dead end, her life work irrelevant. Others share such fears.

Florida has spectacular clouds. Towering and billowing and showy and beautiful, they ultimately leave no evidence of ever having been. We shudder to apply that as a metaphor to our lives. We want to matter for more than appearance. We want to leave something of substance in our wake. We fear we never will.

My son confronted extreme difficulty the other day and when I went to him, his first words out of his mouth were not “do you forgive me?” but rather “are you disappointed in me?” The ache of any child’s heart is to hear that he matters, that his daddy is proud of him. It’s the desire of all our hearts, really. If I could hear that, I think the fear of insignificance would simply drift away.

Parents who want to give that message to their children boast of their work. A child sketches and scribbles a picture on a piece of notebook paper, and the parent immediately pins it on the refrigerator. Judged by a purely objective standard, the picture lacks the quality of great art. But the child has significance as she is loved, and as her parent shows his pride in what he considers her well done works.Fridge

The word I long to hear from God is not “I forgive you.” I hear that every Sunday and know it to be true. The word I long to hear is “Well done.” The works I do, judged by a purely objective standard, certainly lack the quality of great works. But my significance lies not in the works, but in the love of my father. I like to think that he has pinned my works on his refrigerator door. He is a good father, proud of me, his son.

All we do we do under the watchful eye of a loving and understanding father. Our works are weak and our production spotty. But this heavenly Father loves us. He puts our pictures on his refrigerator. There is no insignificant child of God.

Dr. Jeremiah, Reprise

Thoughts this week have been driven by a desire to see the hope of Christ rekindled in those for whom it has burned dimly, that as we come to the celebration of Easter we might indeed be renewed in the joy of life given by the life of Him raised from the grave.

These thoughts lead me to a post made a couple of years ago. I repost it here for the sake of those who struggle. Some have found it helpful. I trust others might as well.


Prone to self-pity, I told my wife the other day that I must like despair like some like ice cream since I indulge so often. But though our thoughts may be trained to flow down well-worn channels, we are never meant to stay there.

My Bible reading plan for the other morning had me reading the book of Lamentations. This is by no means the first place I’d go to or recommend going to when one is feeling the weight of life, and I had little hope of the morning’s reading bringing much comfort.

But the prophet Jeremiah, the book’s reluctant author, has been nicknamed ‘the weeping prophet’ not because he curled up in a useless puddle in the face of the affairs of life, but because he gave expression to the frustrations that life brought to him. He took those frustrations to the One whom he believed to be the source of life.

He wrote as the city of Jerusalem fell apart around him under a Babylonian siege. That siege, Jeremiah had repeatedly pointed out, was the judgment of God upon the squishy, superficial spirituality of Israel. God had had enough and was bringing his promised judgment.

As I sat in “Dr. Jeremiah’s” couch, he showed me that affliction and sin all mixed up and confounded can drag one from freedom to bondage.

“She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.” (1:1)

He showed me as well that it is okay to trace this to its source.

“…because the LORD has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions.” (1:5)

The cause may be my sin, but the source of the affliction is and always will be God. It does not help to try to sidestep God’s sovereignty when we are suffering. In fact, it is appropriate to give full vent to how this makes us feel.

“The Lord has swallowed up without mercy all the habitations of Jacob….” (2:2)

It seems wrong to accuse God of acting “without mercy”, but when that is the way it feels, that is what we need to say. But in Jeremiah I see as well one who, giving vent to bitter honesty, cannot remain at the place of bitter honesty. That is the case with any who truly know God. Yes speaking with such honesty is good, but we must at some point emerge elsewhere.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:22, 23)

I want to live in that verse, but I often don’t. I think that one of the reasons public worship is so important is that being with God’s people under the ministry of God’s word is a place where, if even for a brief moment, God can move us from the despair of 2:2 to the affirmation of 3:22, 23.

But we want to be there always, not just for a brief moment, we protest from Dr. Jeremiah’s couch. He knows that. But he also knows that in God’s wisdom there is ordained a time for everything under heaven, and for some times we must wait.

“The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (3:25, 26)

Waiting is something foreign to me and to many others. Waiting is not what spoiled and soft children are prone to practice. But waiting, nevertheless, is what God demands.

It does not take one long to realize that the afflictions facing the Israelites and observed and experienced by Jeremiah were far worse than those faced by the readers of this blog (both of us). Nevertheless, ours FEEL as real and as painful and the hard place for all of us is to wait quietly. Quiet waiting is a far better place than quiet (or noisy) desperation.

And so Dr. Jeremiah dismisses us from his office with a prayer purged of complaint and focused as it ought to be.

“Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old….” (5:21)

The ellipses can be used to hide things to make the text say what I want it to say. Many writers hide behind abbreviated texts. Here note that I have dropped an important qualifier from the text.

“…unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.’

What Jeremiah could only sense is what we know to be fact – that we may trust in one who was utterly rejected for us, so that we might know that God would never remain exceedingly angry with us.

With that hope we leave our appointment with this soul doctor. And the good thing is that his consultation was free.

Real Missionaries

It must be hard to be a missionary and to have to write reports home detailing your life and ministry. I’m sure all want to be honest, but many must find it hard to be honest when those to whom they are writing control the dollars which enable them to stay where they are. So, rare is the prayer letter which says “the strain of ministry here has put a great strain on our family” or “we find that after four years here, we have not seen any conversions” or “sometimes I feel like quitting”. Such things are often felt, but rarely written. I understand.

But that can give us a false image of the brokenness that can often be a part of cross-cultural ministry. When a missionary is able to crack a window on his or her broken heart, it not only helps us appreciate what they confront, which can inform our prayers, but it as well can encourage us in our own brokeness.

For a number of years we have been friends with a couple who have been serving in a difficult, predominantly Muslim, part of the world. They find themselves now in a situation which demands that they leave that place which has become their home. They may never be able to go back. And so it is with a profound sense of sadness and grief that they face this move.

Perhaps reading the wife’s reflections on their impending move will give you a greater appreciation for the missionaries you know and the struggles that the tenderness of their hearts cause them to face.

This is a long quote, but worth reading and pondering. It is quoted with permission.

But the harder thing is that we’re telling our friends. And this is the point where I always get emotional. I can talk about the facts of the move ok, but when I start to talk about our friends, I break down. From the first, we have always been here in _____ for the people. Simply put, we love them. God called us to this amazing country to share His love with such wonderful, warm, giving people, all of them made in His image, and He has blessed us with a lot of really special relationships. So, it is really hard to give them up. We’ve learned that, while sure there are sacrifices made in coming to the field, the real sacrifice is when God takes you off that field. When you decide to come, you are making the choice to serve God in the way He has called. And, you still have connections that withstand the distance, especially as you are able to phone, email, and visit home occasionally. But when you have to leave and you don’t know that you will ever be able to visit and many of your friends don’t have email and it is really hard to type Arabic with English letters anyway… 😦 We have to remind ourselves that these precious people will remain in our hearts, even if we aren’t able to stay in touch. That they are a blessing we would never have experienced if we hadn’t come here – and oh, how much richer our lives are because of them! And, I realize that I can trust God to leave them in His hands. Even though many of them have no other believer in their lives, that is not an obstacle for God. We are not their Savior, Jesus is. So, I have to give them over to Him, one by one, in my prayers. Often repeatedly.

And here’s where another big reason I haven’t written comes into play. I haven’t wanted to talk about it. I’ve been mourning, but I’ve realized that I’ve also been really rebellious in my attitude. It took me a while to dissect it, but I found that the emotions I’m feeling were really familiar. I was experiencing the same sense of loss, of betrayal, of things happening beyond my control that have a huge impact on my life as I did when my parents divorced when I was in high school. And that discovery make me understand that I was handling things in the same way that I did when I was 16 – basically feeling bitter and unhappy and passively rebellious.

Soooo. Well, I’ve been praying about it. And God reminded me that I once told Him that I wanted Him to control my life and, as a result, He started changing things up in really startling ways. I had certainly never expected to be a worker overseas and yet that was what God had in store for me. Such a blessing it turned out to be! And now He is changing things up again because He is still the One in control. That comforted me to be reminded of that. Another thing He has reminded me is that I am called to be thankful, to bless the Lord in all circumstances. And I’ve begun doing that again. Two years ago, when we were ordered out of the country, praising God even in the midst of my tears was my immediate reaction and I had so much peace about it all. It’s so crazy that I didn’t start there again this time, but I was too busy being upset about it all… Anyway, I’m not saying that I’m done mourning because I’m sure that will continue, but I am asking the Holy Spirit to change my heart – not that I would ever stop loving our friends here, but that I would rejoice despite our departure.

Turtle Life

On the theme of ‘doing less‘, and ‘doing other‘, comes this E. B. White (of Charlotte’s Web fame) New Yorker column, published on January 31, 1953.

Enjoy. Reflect. Preferably relaxing in the sun on a partly submerged log.

We strolled up to Hunter College the other evening for a meeting of the New York Zoological Society. Saw movies of grizzly cubs, learned the four methods of locomotion of snakes, and were told that the Society has established a turtle blood bank. Medical men, it seems, are interested in turtle blood, because turtles don’t suffer from arteriosclerosis in old age. The doctors are wondering whether there is some special property of turtle blood that prevents the arteries from hardening. It could be, of course. But there is also the possibility that a turtle’s blood vessels stay in nice shape because of the way turtles conduct their lives. Turtles rarely pass up a chance to relax in the sun on a partly submerged log. No two turtles ever lunched together with the idea of promoting anything. No turtle ever went around complaining that there is no profit in book publishing except from subsidiary rights. Turtles do not work day and night to perfect explosive devices that wipe out Pacific islands and eventually render turtles sterile. Turtles never use the word ‘implementation’ or the phrases ‘hard core’ and ‘in the last analysis’. No turtle ever rang another turtle back on the phone. In the last analysis, a turtle, although lacking know-how, knows how to live. A turtle, by its admirable habits, gets to the hard core of life. That may be why its arteries are so soft.

“A turtle, although lacking know-how, knows how to live.” Something to be said for that.

Resolving To Do Other

The need to do less is clear.

Those of us for whom “production = personal value” are compelled to be busy not necessarily by the inherent good in the thing we do, but by the fear of a perceived disvalue arising from our inactivity. Driven by a need for approval, by a lust for attention, by an insatiable interest in everything, or by a deeply ingrained ethic equating godliness and hard work, we apply ourselves to excel, or at least do more than the next guy.

So, for those of us so driven, the need to do less is clear. But the issue is not simply that we are doing too much. It may be that we are doing too much of the wrong thing and not enough of the right thing.

I’m a huge fan of (New College of Florida alum!) David Allen‘s Getting Things Done. (My first introduction to this came through this article.) More than anything else, Allen’s common sense approach to work flow and modern life has enabled me to keep whatever grip I have on my fractured life. I commend it highly.

Allen’s principle thesis is that we can reduce stress by getting all that clamors for our attention out of our heads and into some kind of orderly system. He’s right. Even though his promise of ‘stress-free productivity’ may seem an illusion, it is true that there is value in systematizing all of those competing commitments creating an undefined noise in our heads.

When we systematize all of our commitments, and carve away the fantastic which we know we’ll never accomplish (it’s too late for me to learn Greek well enough to read it without helps, you know), we begin to see two things clearly. First, we begin to see all that we are not getting done, which is a traumatic revelation. And secondly, we see that among those items on the list of tasks not being accomplished are some very, very important things. That can be very jarring.

The reality is that we may not need to simply do LESS in our lives, but OTHER. We may need to reorder what we do, striking from our plates some commitments which overly drain us or otherwise keep us from the important things. Allen commends making such assessments, and the end/beginning of the year is a good time to do so.

I labor (interesting choice of words) then to do less in order to find simplicity, and to do other, because it is important.

Resolving To Do Less

The end of a year is met with regret over resolutions never met and with hope in anticipation of resolutions yet to be made. But like it or not, this time of year is met with our minds tilting in the direction of those things we might (try again to) change.

Most of the time, resolutions commit us to doing more. More exercise, more financial frugality, and so forth. I need to find a way to resolve to do less. To do less, that is, of the things which distract and make life hectic so that I might do more of that which really matters. How to dissect my life in such a way that those distinctions become clear is the challenge.

J. B. Phillips in his insightful little book Your God Is Too Small challenges my constant anxious activity, as others have done in the past.

“If there is one thing which should be quite plain to those who accept the revelation of God in Nature and the Bible it is that He is never in a hurry. Long preparation, careful planning, and slow growth, would seem to be leading characteristics of spiritual life.

“Yet there are many people whose religious tempo is feverish. With a fine disregard for its context they flourish like a banner the text ‘The King’s business requireth haste,’ and proceed to drive themselves and their followers nearly mad with tension and anxiety!

“It is refreshing and salutary, to study the poise and quietness of Christ. His task and responsibility might well have driven a man out of his mind. But He was never in a hurry, need impressed by numbers, never a slave of the clock. He was acting, He said, as He observed God to act—never in a hurry.” (pages 55, 56)

Hmmm. And of course there IS that thing about his yoke being easy. I need to resolve to do less.

The Most Brilliant Observation

Sometimes the most brilliant observations are the most obvious. Like the day I realized that my children’s fears though irrational, were nevertheless fears, and should be approached as such, and not brushed off.

Recently, I’ve seen this principle at work in my study of the Bible, and in my wrestling through life. The other day, for example, I realized that Matthew 6:34 followed – are you ready for this? – Matthew 6:33. It was that obvious. It hit me over the head like an apple from a tree.

Anxiety wants to be my best friend, my constant companion. But, really, he’s not very much fun to have around. But somehow, I tolerate and, at times, welcome him. But frankly, I’d like him to leave.

Jesus tells us that Anxiety is not good company in Matthew 6:34.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Read in isolation, this is an exhortation to simply show Anxiety the door. But like the battered wife, mysteriously, I often lack the will to walk away from my abuser.

But read in context, while Anxiety still finds plenty of access to my heart, I find that there is a way to minimize his appeal.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (

The question is always the attachment of my heart. With my eyes longing for the glory of the kingdom of God, with my arms hanging on to the shepherd for my sheepish life, Anxiety’s influence dims.

But I can’t do this alone. It was a friend in my church who spoke to me about the impact of Matthew 6:33 in his life which reminded me of Matthew 6:34. It is the weekly worship with God’s people that redirects my attention and hunger to Jesus. It is the woman whom God gave me whose hugs and acceptance reminds me that God gives what I need even when I’m unworthy.

In the pantheon of brilliant observations, this is near the top.