what is reality, really?

There’s this thing called sensory adaptation that I think is a really important psychological concept to understand as Christ-followers (if you are one). This phenomenon has a lot to do with one’s threshold to a certain stimuli.

AP Psychology was one of my favorite classes in high school, and for the purposes of faith and pondering how to deepen my faith, one of my favorite lessons [in hindsight] was on the related concept of the threshold effect. What we did to demonstrate this effect is hand someone an empty canvas bag and ask them to hold it out over the four fingers of one hand, palm-up, and with the arm straight out in front. This someone (which I’ll refer to as the subject for the rest of this little opening blurb), would keep his/her arm straight out and close his/her eyes or be blindfolded by someone else. The subject is then asked to note when there is a change in the weight of the bag by speaking up.

The way the subject was set to hold the bag left it open and made it pretty easy to put things in. We started with unsharpened pencils, one by one, very meticulously placing them in the bag as not to disturb it. The subject said nothing almost two boxes of pencils in.

Then we had a rock.

Theoretically, if you placed the rock in slowly and carefully enough, you could get it in the bag without the subject noticing the weight change, but if the subject wears a shirt or blouse with anything fluffed or hanging from it that (upon contact with the subject’s side) would alert him/her to his/her arm having moved, the change in stimuli will register in the brain— both the unrealized movement of the arm, and the added weight to the previously empty bag.

I think prayer is a lot like this for us. The pencils are the things we ask for, meanwhile the rocks and bricks and heavier things are the praise and worship we bring. When you hesitate to put the heavier things in, the results will hesitate to occur or be realized. When you throw all you have into that bag, you’ll see a lot more a lot quicker what God has already blessed you with and how to glorify Him in that blessing.

And this isn’t to say that the metaphorical pencil cannot do the same. For most, throwing a pencil rather than painstakingly placing it into the bag won’t cause one’s arm to be yanked to their side, but the brain will recognize that there is now something in the bag even without seeing what it is. All has its own affect. What the affect is [whether it feels more like a pencil or a stone] is more a matter of the heart behind the prayer and/or the recipient of God’s subsequent action.

But here’s where my mention of sensory adaptation comes in: a consistent stimulus will, to the brain, become like white noise if we do not intentionally call attention to it. Likewise, prayer and its impact becomes like white noise after a while when we do it just to rant to God, when we do it just because we should do it every day, or when we fail to intentionally recognize that as much as prayer is for you, it’s also not about you. I mean think about it, God already knows everything… He literally just wants to hear it from you and engage with you. He doesn’t need to know it, but you need to spend time conversing with Him to truly get to know Him. He won’t force you to engage, but He freely gave us easy access into this conversation with Him through prayer.

So when we are selfishly asking for things we want, that’s us trying to mask the weight of the pencil. When you sing your heart out in “worship” because you think you sound good, you’re masking the weight of that stone. When we are “half-in” for Jesus or not “in” at all, we are putting on a facade; we deny ourselves by what the world considers to be “accepting” ourselves.

But to boldly throw all these things into “the bag” (which I hope is kind of clear by now is metaphor for the foot of the cross), we see the impact. There is no doubt of God’s working even in the midst of our doubt when it’s all boldly thrown at the foot of the cross.

I often wonder how many people needed healing in the days of Jesus’s earthly ministry and yet passed up the opportunity to ask Jesus for help because they doubted He could do what so many had seen Him do. How many doubted His intentions in performing all these miracles? How many didn’t honestly say to Him, “I’m not sure You can, but I’m at my end”? How many didn’t admit “I believe, but help my unbelief”?

There’s something else about prayer though that I haven’t heard said enough. Most people (especially people of different or no faith) tend think of prayer as placing oneself in a different world that may or may not exist to talk to some distant, far-off creature that we just decided one day was our source for everything we have and need in this world. Even Christians too often seem to think prayer is this set time we try to carve out of our reality to talk at God.

If either of these are the case for you, it would be remiss of me not to tell you that you’re getting it all wrong.

In its broadest secular meanings and also in a more specific reference to religious life, the word “faith” is profoundly important to all of us… It is obvious that my having kept faith with the citizens when I was in office and the faith that I have in my Creator and moral values are not the same.

Faith: A journey for all, Jimmy Carter

See, we were created to live in constant communion with God. Go back to Eden before the fall and you’ll find this to be true of Adam and Eve’s lives until they decided to step outside of that relationship. God walked among them in the garden, no matter where in the garden they went. That’s reality— the world we were created to live and abide in— but we were born into a world that does not have this as a result of the fall.

Our “reality” is this sin-ridden world and although God is still omnipresent, He doesn’t quite walk among us in the same way He once did, except for the 33 years of Jesus’s life. Our “reality” is that life ends. Our “reality” is that we need to go to school, have a job, a solid career, and a lot of money to be successful. Our “reality” is that Jesus is some guy the lived about 2000 years ago and for whatever reason flipped the years from B.C. to A.D. (or B.C.E. to C.E. if you use more recent textbooks that attempt to push Christ out of the picture).

One of the great sorrows which came to human beings when Adam and Eve left the Garden was the loss of memory, memory of all that God’s children are meant to be.

Walking on Water: Reflections on faith & art, Madeline L’Engle

But prayer grounds us in the reality that God may not walk among us as He did in Eden right now, but He will in heaven and in the new earth when we hear “well done, good and faithful servant.” Prayer reminds us of the reality that yes this life ends, but with Jesus that’s not the end of the sentence. Prayer grounds us in the reality that we need Jesus above everything else to not only have success in any sense of the word (not just monetary or career success) but have joy in the midst of it. Prayer is a chance for us to reflect on the fact that yes, Jesus physically lived 2000 years ago, but He lives on today having changed the course of history and the eternity of countless souls that He doesn’t need but loves anyway.

Prayer is not an escape from reality, but rather an escape into it. As real as everything we see and feel and experience right now is, it isn’t steadfast or eternally true. It’s nothing to build a house on. Prayer is our active diving into the reality of God— that He is our home and our eternal foundation and our peace and our comfort… nothing else that may beg for those titles in our lives could ever live up to that.

This all said, what we pray is not indicative of who we are or what believe, no matter how pure and holy it may sound. What matters is the heart.

I admit, I wanted to tie this whole thing together with a pretty little bow, maybe try to make this whole thing come full circle to the whole psychology lesson I just dished out, but I couldn’t. I spent some time in prayer that didn’t include writing and found this clip that I think really sums up the distinction between prayer as a moment cut out of our days and prayer as a lifestyle and a mindset we have that helps us better live by the reality it helps us access.

Colby had me thinking of the moment I would go back to and say “that’s the moment I was saved.” I confessed in tears among a sea of then-strangers, without a word or a specifically formatted prayer. I’d almost lean towards saying that momentary rush of tears was the beginning of my prayer that hasn’t ended– the beginning of my recognizing and being reminded “the control isn’t mine anyway, so whom else have I to trust but You?” Has that perfectly been the case? Of course not. I am no less human than any of you. I have also had moments or entire seasons where I did not take the time to simply be. Prayer is a conversation, after all, and we are given the wisdom in James 1 of the value in not simply speaking (as Proverbs 18:21 reminds us) but of listening– or as Madeline L’Engle puts it:

When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening. I will never understand the dying of the green pie-apple tree if I do not slow down and listen to what the Spirit is telling me…

Walking on Water: Reflections on faith & art, Madeline L’Engle

When we are busiest, we tend to find it much harder to truly spend time with God.

I do this thing a lot when I go out with friends late in the day where I check my watch a lot. My reasons aren’t that I don’t want to spend time with them– of course I do– but rather that I don’t want to get home so late that I might wake up my parents once they go to bed. While my reasons aren’t bad, sometimes I start to wonder whether or not I’m really spending time with my friends at that point or not. Even though the issue has become progressively less pressing as of late, on occasion I still scratch my head over it.

Spending time with God should not be us checking a watch every few minutes asking ourselves when is this going to end? Even though in my example above this doesn’t exactly fit, we should be able to simply bask in His presence, hear Him out, and bring Him along for the journey of whatever He directs us to. Prayer is giving God our input, but listening and trusting His action and guidance despite our own confirmation biases. It’s interacting and paying attention because you care enough about the One who cares for you beyond measure.

So what is reality, really?

It’s God.

It’s His presence.

It’s abiding in Him. That’s the reality we were separated from when sin came into our human condition.

Reality is that that does not have to be the end of the story.

Reality is that the bridge between us right now and eternity with God has been built by the blood of Jesus, and it’s a narrow road.

Reality is that as long as you’re breathing, you are loved more than enough and given abundant grace for all of your mistakes and percieved imperfections because you’re therefore given another moment to realize His mercy and love for you along with all the other parts of who He is.

Reality is that when you live a life saturated in prayer and true conversation with God, when you act according to what He’s said, He transforms you from what either you think you made yourself to be, or what you think others have made you out to be.

Reality is that this conversation with God to the earnestly believing heart, though you cannot see Him, brings more Truth to one’s life than anything we consider “reality” here on earth. Though God can certainly use things in this world to speak to us, the things He uses are not Him, nor will the things He says to us through them ever go against His Word.

So yes, carve out that time just for prayer, but don’t limit your prayers to that. Make prayer all that you do.

on future seasons.

I’m very much the type to look forward to the future. It’s not a bad thing to look forward to the next seasons of life or the next step in a business plan… until it is. I often have to check myself and whether I’m living right now or stuck in the future I’ve idealized.

I know I want a man in my life that pursues– if he wants to, he will, after all (something I learned the hard way and still fight myself often not to take on that role myself).

I know I want a family of three or four kids. I’d love to have at least two be my own, Lord willing, and to adopt at least one.

I know I want to be a published author of a full-length memoir or collection one day, and to maybe even have my own business somehow that somehow combines two of my favorite things– growing flowers and making art of all mediums.

I know I want…

The list goes on, but the list is not the point.

The point is that all these things start right now.

This morning (as I’m writing this, at least) I was talking with a couple of friends, and somehow the conversation shifted to how many kids they wanted. One gets to occasionally take care of her nephew, and the other joked about his nervousness about holding and handling such a delicate, small human being. I didn’t think too much of it in the moment, but tonight on my drive home I was thinking about it for some reason. I posed the question to the Lord in my mind, and immediately He reminded me of my biggest fear.

My biggest fear is ironically my biggest dream on this side of eternity: to be a mother. My response? Though I’m certainly not perfect in doing so, I often hold that lower part of my stomach during worship where my womb is. It wasn’t a conscious decision I made, or something I realized I did much of until recently. I think someone asked me why a few weeks ago and I just… didn’t have an answer. I wanted to know that answer. Why do I do this?

It starts now, that’s why.

Abraham and Sarah did not have Issac until they were so old there was no other reason but God that they were able to conceive. Noah did not build the ark in a day. King David did not become a man after God’s own heart in one day. Jesus did not die on the cross the same day He was born.

The same is true of the seasons we long for. Living in the idealized versions of these seasons right now does not get you to the actual season ahead. Listing out the kind of decor I want for my wedding will not get me out there to meet my future husband. It will not exercise the wisdom and discernment of the dating process for me.

What will get me there is the very command from God that has stuck with me in my recent study of Zechariah:

Just as you, Judah and Israel, have been a curse among the nations, so I will save you, and you will be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.

Zechariah 8:13 (NIV)

There’s also so much wisdom in Proverbs 31, and nowhere in it does it say or suggest that the “Proverbs 31 woman” is merely a daydreamer. In fact, one of the few things this proverb tells us this woman does not do is “eat the bread of idleness” (31:27). The proverb does not say when this active lifestyle starts, but simply states she is active by the repeated simple sentence structures of “She [insert present tense verb] …”

And I think some part of me has know this since the moment I recalled in this short personal essay. I knew that regardless of whether or not there was a little human growing in me (though I doubt there was, the possibility still haunts me), God’s promise was and is as good as done. Who He says I am is who I am, even if I’m not presently being that. Just like Jesus is coming back to claim His bride– that is Truth, and there is no changing the fact that He will come back no matter what else happens.

And by no means am I saying that any desire placed in you is of God. Of course the heart is deceitful above all things, but we should also remember that God does plant desires in our hearts (or allow them) for a reason. So with every desire or goal or aspiration I have now, I’m learning to ask first and foremost, How will this bring glory to Him?

Rather, what I’m getting at is that desire my be fulfilled in ways you wouldn’t have previously imagined. There are men out there who long to be fathers, but are not biologically fathers. Those that have regardless decided to prepare themselves for the possibility of one day being so often become some of the greatest father figures in youth groups and children’s ministries. There are women out there who are barren, and yet have devoted themselves to maintaining motherly disciplines and have thus prepared themselves for an arguably greater love of taking other children in as her own through adoption or fostering.

So if what you want is to be a parent one day, start now.

If what you want is to get married one day, be that person’s suppose now, even if you don’t know who your spouse might be yet.

If you want to start that business, do the research– start now– even if that means finding a full-time night shift at Walmart to save up the money to start it.

I don’t say this as someone who’s applied all of this perfectly to my life. Quite the contrary, actually. I write this as someone who is wholly convicted, who is probably just as scared to handle a small child on my own as my friend I mentioned. I write this as someone who is praying for some accountability on these things as I navigate how to apply this to my life– navigate how do I be that wife, that mother, that writer, that business owner now without tangibly being those things just yet. I write this as someone praying this reaches the right eyes in need of such a message as I needed tonight, because Lord knows I am far from the only one.

So again I ask myself, and I invite you to ask yourself too:

How can you start glorifying God in your dreams, goals, passions, and desires today?


Back in January, I chose a word and a corresponding passage for the year. BOLD, Acts 4:23-31 (though I’ve hyperlinked the beginning of the chapter here as well for context).

I admit, I feel like I’ve done anything but live up to that or at least work on that boldness I was so keen on developing seven months ago. I feel like I’ve actually slipped away from where I was. It feels like anxiety has overtaken all of my decisions, as if there’s such a lack of confidence that I can do what I’m setting out to do. It’s like I’m stuck, though I know I’m not.

I’m not stuck, I’m just being held still as I’m trying to keep myself from squirming my way out of the Almighty’s grasp. He is holding me still for a reason, and frankly I’m a bit frustrated at that fact. I don’t know what the reason is. Every bone in my body wants to keep trying and trying and trying to get things moving in my post-grad life; I want to dive head-first into the career I’ve been working towards for the past few years of my life, to start supporting myself more, and to maybe find a place twenty minutes drive from my parents. I want to get to all those milestones and every bone in me wants to skip the process because I’m stubborn and impatient.

Being stubborn, impatient, and a bit frustrated, I took a step back for a week or so from being in the Word. Anxiety and depression hit me more and more until I at least opened myself back up to seeing Him in nature and in the people of Bermuda I was so blessed to meet along with my parents. It was all hitting me so hard until I took time to just be.

I realized how much I was striving, no matter how much I denied that I was. And though I admit that I’ve still had limited time spent reading my Bible since I got back, there’s one word that continues to come back:


Until a few days ago when Psalm 42 was on my heart (a psalm that I don’t think I could’ve recalled even the main idea of because I hadn’t gotten to read it myself yet), I didn’t see how often that word has been coming up in the past few months. So, in a time when I can explain how I feel no better than the descendants of Korah did, and understand that I could be responding better for my own sake–

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

my salvation and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;

therefore I will REMEMBER you

from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,

from Mount Mizar.

Psalm 42:5-6 (ESV), emphasis added

– I went back to some of what I wrote when He did fulfill a promise… when He did get me across another “finish” line.

And as I was looking back to my last post trying to remind myself that God fulfills His promises and there is joy to be found in every bit of the process [that is much clearer to my human eyes in hindsight], I realized how much I’d (sort of prophetically, I suppose) called myself out when I said

[My degree] was not handed to me on a silver platter, and that— rather than it simply being bestowed upon me— is how I know God cares not only about our goals and dreams, but also how the process forms us into someone that reflects Him more as a painting reflects the person that painted it.

It’s about the process. It’s about understanding that wherever you are, so long as you trust and have faith in the very God that took on the form of a servant to care for people, love them, show them how to really love, and to die for them the worst possible death so that He could pass into death and defeat it on the third day, there is hope. (Cue to some of you probably whipping out your Bibles to Jeremiah 29:11). And there’s nothing wrong with that verse (it’s just a really common reference), but I personally think it’s so much more weighty with some of its context.

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Jeremiah 29:10-14 (ESV)

Some takeaways from Jeremiah

seventy years

I’m not great with numbers, but I do often find their symbolism fascinating. Take the seventy years the Lord says will pass before the promise to Babylon is fulfilled, for example. Seventy is also a rather significant number when it comes to Gideon’s seventy sons, particularly Abimelech.

Being the product of 7 and 10, let’s break down what this number means symbolically, accordingly.

Seven is most often considered symbolic of God’s perfection. This goes back to the completion of creation, which took six days and one day (which He consecrated as holy) because it was the day that even God decided to simply be. And it’s that seventh day that God set apart that we should rest in Him too. It’s that seventh day that has given us space to just be as we were created to be, even if we don’t always use it accordingly since the Fall in the garden.

Ten is also symbolic of completion, though mostly emphasized in a different capacity: God’s Law. Think of the Ten Commandments given to Moses in Exodus. The fullness of the Law is summed up in the ten statements God gives us not so He can simply tell us what to do, but as a blueprint of how we were designed. Stepping outside of the boundaries the Law sets is what makes us incomplete because we are sacrificing some part of the whole being that God created us to be. When we envy, we sacrifice the satisfaction there is in being content in God, who reveals Himself generously to those who earnestly seek Him first. When we hate, we give up our once pure ability to love. The list goes on, but I think you get the point here.

He will _______ His good promise.

What God says is as good as done. How fulfillment comes about will often not make sense to us or come on what we might think is an “ideal” schedule, but what God says will happen, will happen.

I was in a Bible study once, and we were discussing the book of Jonah in its entirety. Many people know Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and spit out three days later, but I want to focus on why Jonah is actually significant to this particular point of God’s fulfillment.

See, Jonah didn’t want to warn Nineveh of their impending destruction because he knew God to be merciful. Jonah was anything but with this city– he hated them and their sin and simply saw that they deserved the wrath of God throughout the entirety of this book. Jonah went to every length to not have to warn them, but God ensured His command was carried out by Jonah. So Jonah (after the big fish and all), prophesied Nineveh’s destruction which he did not see come.

Instead, some 120,000 Ninevites (plus whatever number of men were on the boat with Jonah in the beginning) turned to God and were shown mercy. This enraged Jonah, and the book ends with God making the point of “why do you care more about your own shade from some plant I provided you than the 120,000 souls you just helped me save?”

So you might be wondering, where is God fulfilling this word He gave Jonah to pass on to the Ninevites?

Flip your Bible just a few pages past Jonah, past Micah, and look at the first section header of Nahum (if your Bible has section titles). There’s the fulfillment. It just wasn’t when Jonah imagined it would be– when he wanted it to be. But had it been Jonah’s timing, Heaven would be down well over 120,000.

big, big plans

This sort of goes off of the last point I made about Jonah. God’s ways are always better. Yes, there’s that factor of how many souls God saves, but ultimately it’s not about numbers.

God cares more about the journey than anything we accomplish. Sure, He wants us to reach all the cool milestones and all, but I truly believe God is more concerned with the journey for two reasons:

  1. His plan to develop your character
  2. On this side of eternity, we never really “make it,” even as we achieve great things like finishing college, getting engaged/married, having kids, etc.
This one’s a story for another blog post (or several… most likely several).

our response

Going back to Jonah 4 for a moment, we see this closing conversation between this minor prophet being the opposite of what God said our response ought to be through Jeremiah in the above passage. Though Jonah calls on God, he calls to complain and to make all these situations about Himself, to which the question is posed:

But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Jonah‬ ‭4‬:‭9-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Will we pout over a plant simply because it was helping us, or will we rejoice in knowing that the Lord has used us to save people from eternal death? Will we long only for ourselves and our perceived needs, or will we rest in knowing our every need is provided for even when it might not seem like it?

My point is, if you are loved and cared for beyond any human reason (which you are loved by God in such a way), shouldn’t your first and only response be to thank Him and praise Him that He loves you in more than just word? Jesus proclaimed to the whole world that you– even if only you were saved by the cross and resurrection– are so loved by God that He saw you were to die for. He proclaimed this without really saying it. He proclaimed it in willingly getting up on that cross, giving up His Spirit, and rising again on the third day. What other response is there than gratitude that He took on once what we deserved to take on for eternity out of sheer mercy and grace? What other response is there to that than gratitude and praise?

Where will He be?

The interesting part about this passage is that God doesn’t say where He will be. All we are given is that we’ll find Him when we earnestly seek Him. We know that God is in Heaven from several other passages. We know that God is omnipresent– He is all-present and ever-existing. But where is Heaven?

See, the thing is that our finite minds can’t quite fully wrap around the fact that Heaven isn’t necessarily over our heads or somewhere in the sky that we can’t see. Heaven isn’t a place, it’s a presence. That’s how God is able to be omnipresent and still in Heaven (other than His omnipotence giving Him that power even if Heaven was a place). Heaven is not a place, but it is His very presence. And I think that this ties back to my big, big plans point. He doesn’t care so much about a destination because Heaven is the only destination that matters, and that’s not even a place to get to but a presence to be in… exist in… abide in.

Where does that leave us?

Gratitude and praise are more bold than we might realize, and I think that’s where I’ve been going with this whole thing (as I wrote this piece by piece throughout the summer). I tend to be pretty hard on myself, and feeling like I’m not measuring up as a Christ follower or achieving my personal goals doesn’t sit well. As I write this last section now, I’ve been struggling not to give up on myself as much as give up on God because it’s been so difficult to find a full time job. The whole thing feels more and more like an uphill battle with every rejection letter or missing response.

There’s a lyric from this song that sticks with me a lot though:

Sometimes it takes a valley
To find an Everest of faith

So Help me God, Benjamin William Hastings

And as I pictured above (and post some other pictures below), I hiked up and down Mt. Washington in New Hampshire with my dad over the summer. It’s a long story that I’ll have to post another fe blogs to tell you about, but there is no way that I personally would have made it to the summit without my mustard seed of faith; let alone back to the bottom without God burying, watering, and pruning that mustard bush until it became a full, large tree. The point is, it may not make your circumstances any better or brighter– in fact, they may seem to become a bit darker– but the reward is not in your circumstances or responding to them. The reward is in responding to Jesus first, despite your circumstances.