Matthew Curious: McDonaldization

For most of my life, I thought waiting was about killing time. A passive way to spend the interim between here and there. Twiddling thumbs in the line at the post office. Rocking in a chair on the porch ‘til a waitress calls your name for a table at Cracker Barrel. Those things frustrate me, though. It’s just delaying my preferred outcome.

I read a book for a sociology class once in college called the McDonaldization of Society. It was about how our culture has basically trained us to expect efficiency to the point that it robs us of experience. The emergence of fast-food restaurants has taught us to replace tradition, values, and emotions. We sacrifice interaction with calculated outcomes for behavior. In the midst of all of this, we have trained ourselves to operate impatiently.

Over time, we have taught ourselves that waiting is bad.

But as it turns out, waiting with God is something else entirely.

Waiting is courageous. Waiting is brave. Waiting is active. Waiting is full of experience along the way. It’s not a void that we’re stuck in until something new happens. It doesn’t make us victims of circumstances we can’t change. Waiting is growing, and is pursuit. Waiting cultivates strength and rich experience.

Waiting can be hard but waiting can be joyful.

And waiting can only be joyful when my heart is filled with thanks.

And thankfulness multiplies when I chronicle the goodness of the Father in my life. When I notice it. When I write it down. When I look for all the blessings all around me.

Time can feel so slow when I’m waiting for answers and outcomes. When all I can see is a certain end in mind, will I trust that what God has for me in between is good? Will I believe that He really does desire to bring me a hope and a future?

Can we look outside of our plans enough to find thankfulness and gratitude in the wait? That thankfulness will produce a new joy, which converts to strength that we are going to need if we are to be courageous and wait. To wait on the Lord is to renew it all. Soak in His goodness, and know that the hope I carry is rooted in the truth of heaven, not the fruition of earthly hopes. Are we willing to be curious enough while we wait to wonder what God may be up to? Curious enough to wonder what He may be preparing us for?

Waiting is not a delay of the thing we have in our mind’s eye. It is about being present in the now, and placing a longing hope in God. It is the space in which we root ourselves in truth and learn to want God more than our own desires.

Matthew Curious: Learned Optimists

Worry limits possibility, because in order to move forward, everything has to fall into place or make perfect sense. So if you’re worried all the time, you won’t make a move unless it seems as thought the stars have all aligned in your favor. Worry is a stutter of faith. Faith is trust. People who worry won’t do the trust fall with God. A faith defined by worry is an immobile one.

As long as we allow worry to define our perspective, then we will always be prisoner to small possibilities. We will never see what God could do in our lives if we allow fear to determine where we go. Possibility becomes grossly limited because in order to move forward everything has to fall into place or make perfect sense to us. Gates don’t always fling wide, and the stars of our perfectly laid plans don’t always align. God wants us to follow him, whether we can see the path before us or not. We can trust that He will clothe and bless us much more than even the flowers He speckles with a detailed brush.

All that worry, though, mostly comes down to me just being afraid. Afraid to hurt. Afraid to feel broken. Afraid to lose. Afraid to fail. Afraid of rejection. Afraid to die. I worry about what if … what if I do get hurt? Feel broken? Lose? Fail? Get rejected? Die? Do I believe that God can redeem those things or not? Do I believe that He will paint with beautiful intentional on my life just like He does on the flowers?

What are you worried about? What keeps you up at night? Do you believe that God is big enough to address your worries? Your fears? Do you believe that He can overcome them? Do you believe that with Him, you can? What false stories are you telling yourself, or nebulous futures do you imagine? How does your life end when your worries take over?

Martin Seligman, a social psychologist and author of the book “Learned Optimism,” says that optimists are defined as people who come back stronger after defeat.

If you believe that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and resurrected to bring new life to you, then my friend, you subscribe to a theology that hinges on coming back stronger. Which means that worry is nothing more than a lie that gets in your way, slows you down, and prevents you from living out the redemption, possibility, and blessing that God has for you. Root yourself deep in the truth that God promises to never leave you or forsake you (Jos. 1:5). Remember, God is good, and He is for you. Claim the optimism and hope that was given to you in resurrection and redemption. Don’t waste your life in fear and worry when you have a God who is in the business of renewal, rescue, hope, and possibility.

Matthew Curious: Preconceived Resentments

When I was in college, I’ll never forget my friend, Trisha, once saying, “Expectations are preconceived resentments.” I think we were talking about something relatively unimportant when she dropped that little nugget into the middle of a thought. But, that one thought has stuck with me for a long time, and I had to think about it for awhile.

That our expectations could be preconceived resentments.

Because really, so often, when things don’t go the way that we want or expect, we get upset. We have an idea about what we want or where we’re going and when that doesn’t come to pass, we feel disappointed, discouraged, maybe even rejected or angry.

Paramount maturity, right?

Maybe you planned to get married right out of college because it’s what your parents did. Now, it’s spring term senior year, and you’ve not so much as gone on a single date with anyone. Shoot! What now? Maybe you expected the job you landed would turn out to climb you up the corporate ladder into glowing success? Perhaps the family you’ve been planning since getting your first Cabbage Patch doll would supposed to come easily? Hello miscarriage and infertility. Enter subsequent longstanding depression and a bad attitude. Why me God? Why not me? Things aren’t exactly going according to plan here and I am ticked.

But, when expectations of this life don’t turn out as imagined, we take offense with God. We recall past disappointments and determine sometimes that maybe God doesn’t want what is good for us after all. We forget His bigness, goodness, and possibility.

Instead of believing that God is good and is for us, we begin to believe perhaps He is punishing us, or teaching us a lesson as a strict and harsh disciplinarian. Distrust and broken hope hold our hands and lead us into a place of believing we are out of favor with God. We spend what can even be years wandering around in a place we don’t know and never wanted to be. And God is just a big, fat jerk. Welcome to the wilderness … where you feel alone, forgotten, hopeless, and angry.

When we are facing disappointment, unmet expectations, or even seasons of prolonged wilderness, could it be that what the Lord has for us is training? In the wilderness, when we are lost, discouraged, and can’t find our way, the only thing we are supposed to find is The Way. In the place we are lost, can we realize it’s there that we are found? In the wilderness, when all else is gone, can we find fresh curiosity for God? In our isolation, can we have renewed hope in all that God could have for us?

A gift of the wilderness is the clarity we gain when all else is stripped away. When life feels bare, it is easier to see what is truly important. Priorities align, distractions fade away, and we find ourselves in an environment where we can dig deeper into our faith.

Matthew Curious: Zig Zag or Rat Race?

Do you always take the same route home? Or do you switch it up? Are you so afraid of getting lost, or taking longer to get where you’re going, that you’re unwilling to see what could be in store for you along the way? I wonder how often we get stuck in the same ruts because of our unwillingness to trust God enough to walk into the unknown. How often does our need to control rob us of delights that God desires us to experience? I bet a whole lot of the time, we miss out on seeing ways He longs to shepherd us in as we explore life.

Why don’t we trust Him when he says, You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11).

When He says, that He leads the humble in what is right, and reaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies (Ps. 25:9-10).

On the other hand, a whole lot of the time, instead of zigging and zagging to explore new pathways, we get caught up in what feels like a rat race. One minute we may be fine meandering this way and that in life, trusting God at each turn, but then maybe we catch a glimpse of where we think He might be taking us. Suddenly, we are hardly following God anymore as we are focused on what lies at the end of the journey. We become practically obsessed with obtaining what appears to lie within our reach that we veer off of the lovely backroads of life where God wants to reveal the peaceful landscape to us. Before we even know what’s happening, we are speeding up an on-ramp to a busy interstate and find ourselves stuck in endless traffic jamming up our purpose and plan. The goal appears to lie ahead, but the journey to get there becomes more about safely navigating the insanity around us than it does enjoying the route. We try to control the journey to get where we are going the most direct and expedient way, and so often miss out on the gifts that God wants to reveal to us when we zig and zag and follow Him.

How often do we turn our eyes from following God, and instead follow other people? Instead of journeying the road that God has for us, we focus on someone else’s destination and find ourselves on a pathway we were never meant to travel?

What if the greatest story of your life is waiting to happen on a zig zag outside of your control? Are you curious enough? Do you trust Him enough to believe that the road He leads you on doesn’t end where sand meets water, but instead makes a way where there wouldn’t have been one without Him?

Matthew Curious: The Value of a Masterpiece

Recently, I came across a Dove soap video produced in France that reduced me to tears. In the clip, women had been asked to record all of the thoughts that they had heard about themselves throughout the day in a journal. Dove then turned the women’s thoughts into a dialogue that played out in a street café within earshot of several other tables, including the original women who wrote the words in the journals.

“You have a big chest and short legs. Some women can make that work. But, you … you’ve got no charm. You’re just fat and ordinary. Every time you smile, those baby teeth you have, they make you look like a mouse. Sit straight up so your belly doesn’t look so big.”

People overhearing the conversation were horrified to hear the way that the women spoke to one another.

“That’s so violent, what you’re saying to her! You should stop. Your words are so unkind.” Strangers interrupted the horrendous exchange.

Upon the realization that the words being played out were their own, the women who had journaled the original thoughts were mortified.

“It’s so horrifying. I hope my daughter never speaks to herself like that,” one woman marveled.

I cried my way through the video, realizing that it wasn’t just those women, I do it too. So many of us do.Over and over we devalue ourselves. But, we cannot walk into our full potential in Christ when we believe that who He created us to be falls woefully short.

But we forget! How often do we all forget our value?! How often do we believe the lies of the world instead of the words of our Creator about us? We set aside the truth that Jesus came and lived and died to prove to us our value to the God of the Heavens. Even Dove soap sees our value. Our value lies inherent in a renowned creator. Yet still, call ugly what God calls a “masterpiece.” And then, we operate out of belief of those lies and lose capacity to follow curiously.

How we minimize that ultimate price paid when we insist that more is still due to redeem our messy lives. We make Satan’s job so simple. He plants one tiny lie somewhere along the way, and we take it from there all the way to our own crippling self destruction.

We all have them; the lies we believe. Yet we try to replace them with new ideas or things that we think will cover them. But, eventually, the new thing’s façade cracks and the old lie is still there … still digging deep into our beliefs about everything. Instead of moving forward in curiosity after God, we get stuck on lies about ourselves. It matters so much that we learn to uncover the lies. Let’s name them. Let’s call them out … Let’s just STOP believing them, and replace them instead with the truth of Christ.

Matthew Curious: Rock Bottom Faith

“It’s going to be so cool when I grow up and get fired from my job.”

“One day when I’m big, I’m going to get a divorce and declare bankruptcy!”

“I can’t wait to get married and be widowed when I’m 30.

Things no child has said EVER.

We don’t dream dreams about living at low points. When we drink of life, no one wants to spend it at the bottom of the barrel, at the end of the road, the place where everything sinks and seems to come to a halt. No person ever longs to hit rock bottom. But, if we are rethinking the movement of our faith and curiosity for more of God, then we need to also consider how far our theology will allow us to sink.

And for all the efforts we make to keep from sinking low, somehow, it seems that within each of our own lives, we still do.

What is “rock bottom?” It’s the core of the earth, the depths of a soul, seemingly the farthest point we can fall from grace. It’s the moment in life when a meth addict realizes that he hasn’t eaten in two weeks and is sleeping on the dirty floor of a cheap motel surrounded by 10 other people in the same mess. It’s the businessman who makes a few bad investments and declares bankruptcy, sells his house and cars, loses his family, and moves into an apartment on the other side of town. It’s the state of a soul after fighting for the life of a loved one, draining a bank account seeking medical solutions, and spending night after night on bent knees in desperate prayer for healing. But, only to kiss comatose lips goodbye one last time as a final breath exhales in this world.

But if we want to really live, then getting to the end of ourselves is really just the beginning.

So we define the bottom to shore up our theology, to give us space to move in curiosity. The end of the beginning is that our great God is good, and He is for us. He hung the moon and stars in the heavens, paints hills in afternoon sunlight, makes dying babies breathe, and absorbs brokenness on a cross so that we may become a new creation. If the lowest we ever allow ourselves to sink still proclaims a story of redemption, then even the deepest deep is a springboard for forward movement again.

The depths of emotional oceans, the end of ourselves, the roads that seem to lead nowhere, they all finish at the foot of a cross sunk deep into the bottom of a rock called Golgotha. And the man who met his end on that rock, Jesus, is the reason that we can all have a new beginning.

When that vantage point becomes the lowest we can ever sink, everything else will always look up. In dying to ourselves, we truly find life.

Matthew Curious: My Tidy God

The brokenness and devastation on this planet doesn’t fit into a tidy, manmade box any more than a powerful God does. The good and evil and the battle that rages between simply feels bad. And, we can’t fix it. So, the question becomes, if He can, then why doesn’t He?

It’s interesting how we neuter God of His power when He doesn’t always apply it to what we believe is best … to what we believe is good. And, if He doesn’t apply His capabilities in ways that we want, I think over time, we forget that He still carries that power.

When we see enough hard things in this world, maybe some piece of us decides that maybe God just can’t handle things. So, we lose our curiosity about Him. We lose our hope. Eventually, we don’t really believe that “all things are possible” like the Bible says. A curious faith in a limitless God we might have had as children is replaced with an explainable faith bound by limited possibility as adults.

If God’s power doesn’t address what we want, then somewhere along the line, we decide that maybe it just isn’t actually real. Before long, life gets lived out from a place where everything can be expected. And, the things that can’t are often beyond repair. Marriages break, cancer steals life, children suffer disease, finances drain, and our spirits are crushed. The God who could do something must not really be able to fix those things, after all. Worry, fear, wandering, waiting, and pain become staples that cripple us from living a hopeful life full of anticipation. Sure, there are still good things along the way, but the hallmark of our faith becomes more about managed survival than hope-filled thriving. We are content to live status quo instead of a life on the edge of limitless possibility. Life is a predictable journey that very rarely surprises anyone, least of all ourselves.

If God really is powerful, if He really is good, then why can’t I see it? Maybe we miss what could be right in front of us.

Perhaps, it was that I had already lost so much and was looking for hope? I don’t know. What I do know is that once the thought occurred to me that God was presently arranging the cosmos before me, I wanted to know what else He could do. My curiosity about Him began to grow, and I was hungry for the God who moves planets and mends broken hearts. Because, if He can cover the moon, then the brokenness of this world pales in comparison.