Beliefnet
Doing Life Together

AnghiaririIf you’ve never visited Tuscany in Italy, there is much to love–beautiful hills flowing with vineyards, olive trees and sunflowers. The landscape looks like a painted picture. But what is so captivating about Tuscany is the way people live. It is simple, uncomplicated by modern life.

In the 12th century town that became my home for 2 weeks, I awakened to the sound of a rooster. By 7:15 a.m., I walked to the bakery where I found warm, freshly baked croissants filled with apricot jam to accompany my morning coffee. Surprisingly, there is no take out coffee in Tuscany. Coffee is served in a ceramic cup and to be enjoyed with people.

People work hard in this land of agriculture, medieval castles and cathedrals. But when it is time for meals, food is an experience. Meals are slow, deliberate, multiple courses and presented like a work of art. Nothing was processed. All was homemade using garden herbs and homegrown olive oil. I drank water from a tap on the old wall of the city.

My allergies were nonexistent and I went to bed tired from all the walking I did during the day. There was no gym, no pilates, just natural movement in a town with stairs and hills. Several times during the day, I made my way down the mountain, up the mountain, into town and around the wall.

I watched no TV, only the sun rise. I lingered over doorsteps surrounded by flowers bursting from pots. The smell of fresh lavender was released whenever I would run my fingers through the flower. The ordinary became extraordinary. Life slowed down.

As I gazed at the pregnant Madonna in Monterchi and  the della Robbias of Laverna, I felt gratitude for the beauty of art to capture sacred moments.

For two weeks, Tuscany allowed me to live in the moment, enjoy the beauty of creation, slow down,  savor meals and the company of good friends. And I was reminded that this is what I need to build in my life–times of rest, spiritual refreshment and enjoyment of others. Tuscany taught me to rest-a lesson I desperately needed.

4july_20120519-01Like so many Americans, I don’t like what is happening to my religious freedom. I often feel attacked and misunderstood by those ignorant of the faith. Bible believers are regularly accused of being judgmental and haters. This is such a perverse accusation from people who don’t take the time to understand the Christian faith.

It is grievous to read the vicious attacks on people of faith on social media. They are often mean-spirited and evidence the worse side of humanity. With no accountability, people say horrible things they would never say to anyone in person.

Christianity is repeatedly portrayed incorrectly in our culture by a few disenfranchised groups and a liberal elite. Examples of the misapplication of Christianity are held up as examples of the whole. Accusations are made without Christian apologists allowed to respond. There is no desire to accurately understand Christianity, rather a frontal assault to eliminate it.

Why the hate? It is in our hearts unless it is transformed by the love of Christ. Jesus himself told us this Gospel will offend because it challenges the sin nature in us.

This Independence Day I urge you to pray. Religious freedom is under attack by those who twist the teachings of Christ and try to make Christianity look scary, discriminatory and judgmental. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But this attack on faith is growing and allowed to go uncensored. And the voices that accurately represent Christianity are being silenced and marginalized.

Christianity is a positive force in our culture. The teachings of Jesus include loving others as ourselves. It is not based on hate or hurting those who oppose it. True followers of Christ don’t come after people who oppose their beliefs. Rather we love bless those who curse us, pray for those who despitefully use us, and love our enemies.

Jesus is not a hater, judgmental to the sinner, nor a discriminator of people. He is love. To understand Christianity, you have to understand Jesus and not take the Old Testament out of context.

A book I would encourage every person to read is Philip Yancey’s, The Jesus I Never Knew. If you want a true picture of how Jesus influences a person and what imitating Christ really means, read this book. Then read the Bible with the understanding that Jesus represents the new covenant under which we live.

May God help us to respond to our opposition like Christ. May  religious freedom continue to ring in America.

Happy Fourth of July!

stressed momMary is very close to her mom. So close, she can’t make a decision without checking with mom first. In fact, she worries that if something happens to mom, she would not know how to function.

Is Mary’s tight relationship with her mom too much?

Yes. This closeness doesn’t push Mary to develop an individual sense of self apart from her mom. While it is important for Mary to have a strong connection to her mom,  she also needs separation. She is too fused with her mom.

Fusion is not the same as intimacy. It moves beyond a desire for intimacy and is an extreme desire for completeness. In other words, mom needs to complete the insecure parts of Mary. This creates an unhealthy dependence.

When you are fused or too close, you don’t trust your own thinking and allow others to think for you. The other person becomes responsible for your happiness. Too much closeness gives the other person power over your well-being.

Too much closeness can be emotional bondage. It prevents you from defining who you are apart from someone else. Fusion is based on the idea that someone else must complete you. No other person can do that. Only God can. His perfect love helps define who you are as a unique created person. Dependency on Him is the only healthy dependency.

So if you find yourself answering YES to these questions, work on  developing a better sense of self.

  • I can’t make a decision without first checking with another person
  • I  don’t know how I feel or think about specific things
  • I avoid tension for fear of how it will make another person feel
  • I am afraid to be on my own
  • I don’t speak out for fear of that others will think
  • I do what others say and regret it later

ID-100424164Jared does not live a purpose driven life. He regularly complains that life is meaningless. He doesn’t see how anything he does makes a difference and wonders why he even exists. “It all seems to random, so hopeless. I could die tomorrow. Would my life make a difference?”

Jared has no belief system to give direction to his life. This lack of a belief system could impact his health.

When the book, The Purpose Driven Life, was released by Pastor Rick Warren 10 years ago, it struck a chord with millions of people. The books remains popular for many reasons. It has a simple but powerful message-every person has dignity. Every life is created with purpose. According to Warren, what you believe has everything to do with finding that purposeful life.

Now science provides additional information regarding the importance of having purpose.  A five-year study involving 1200 elderly people  was recently published in Psychosomatic Medicine. Results indicate that those with high purpose in life lived longer than those without purpose.

Purpose was defined as “the tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and be focused and intentional.” It is tied to successful aging and is a contributor to health. For example, cardiovascular health has been associated with purpose, as well as other factors related to resiliency. Having a sense of purpose may lower stress hormones and fight against other negative biological processes.

In addition, purpose is associated with a positive outlook on life and improves self-esteem. People tend to be happy and more satisfied with life. This translates to better health.

The prophet Jeremiah reminds us in 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” The verse speaks to a plan, a hope, a future–a belief that gives each person value and purpose. Believe it and it may lengthen your life!