Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Heather Caliri

Answering the Unanswerable Question

Lindsey Smallwood

Heather Caliri is a gracious writer and editor - and now an online friend. (You may remember her wise words here this summer - Peace is a Tough Britches Choice.) I'm writing at her place today on finding grace in an unexpected place: a professional development seminar. 

Image Credit:  Peter Belch

Image Credit: Peter Belch

I’ve always enjoyed thought experiments, riddles that cause you to stop and consider life in a new way. My Grandad and I once spent a long car ride reasoning out the age-old “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” argument. You know, ‘cause on the one hand, who would have sat on that first egg but on the other, how could a chicken just appear? Deep thoughts.

After making a decision to follow Jesus as a college student, the question of whether humans have total free will or if God acts sovereignly in a way that makes the outcome of our lives predetermined was one of these thought experiments. It was fun to turn around in my head, interesting to consider how Scripture could be used to support both arguments, but at the end of the day, it seemed an unanswerable question and one that didn’t affect my everyday life very deeply.

The thing I didn’t fully understand was that the Christian ministries and churches I was a part of were squarely in the first camp, holding tightly to the idea that the total responsibility for our salvation rests with us, that we must exert our free wills to respond to God lest we miss His grace. In my own heart, this belief system resulted in a deep uncertainty about my worthiness. Had I repented of sin enough to receive God’s mercy? Was I as faithful as I should be with my gifts and talents or would Jesus find my efforts lacking when my life was over? Would someone I knew go to hell because I hadn’t told them about God?

I lived with these quiet questions constantly, even as I worked in full-time ministry and assured other people of the gracious welcome of a loving God. Because I had implicitly accepted the idea that our salvation is based on our response, I never felt truly certain of God’s love for me.

One fall, a well-known theologian and seminary professor came to a nearby church to give a two-day seminar on the Old Testament. I had heard him preach on a podcast and appreciated his way of making academic theological knowledge understandable. I was in the middle of a dry season spiritually, wrestling with doubt and wondering if ministry was the right place for me.

In four sessions over two days, he told stories from Old Testament heroes like Moses and David. I saw these passages afresh, gaining new insight about my own walk with God. But more than anything else, as I listened I began to feel warm waves of grace wash over me. For in his telling, I heard, perhaps for the first time, a theology grounded in the idea that God is sovereign, that it is He who calls and saves and keeps, that He upholds us even when we falter and fail. This wasn’t pre-destination as a cop-out for bad behavior, this was a serious view that God acts to redeem and sustain the creation He loves, regardless of our sinfulness.

It was a transformative weekend for me, an offer of an easy yoke. I had been keeping a record of my own wrongs in my head, always wondering if I was one sin away from losing God’s favor. Though I loved my ministry work and the people in my church and Christian community, my faith was always coupled with fear. After eight hours of theology seminars, I found myself crying tears of gratitude that, as He had done for the greats of Biblical history like Abraham and Daniel, God chose me. He picked me, He called me, and He loves me because He has already redeemed me and made me his own.

I think the answer to the question of whether the world is ordered according to human free-will or God’s sovereignty is likely a both/and. Either extreme misses something important about the nature of God and humanity. And yet, in wrestling, in taking steps toward an answer and hearing new perspectives, there is the opportunity to know God in new ways.

For me, that new way of seeing God brought both healing and change. It was part of what lead me to leave full-time ministry. As I started over in a new city, I found a church that emphasizes God’s sovereignty, even as I continue to believe that we play an important role in our own faith stories. I haven’t stopped believing my choices matter. As a wife and parent, in many respects it feels like my choices matter more than ever. It’s just that finally, totally, completely, I believe that Paul’s assertion in Romans 8:

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.

 

 

Read this post where it originally appeared by clicking here

Peace is a Tough-Britches Choice {Heather Caliri}

Out of the OrdinaryLindsey Smallwood

Today's guest post will give you a lot to think about - in a great way. I find Heather's words often do. Whether she's tearing apart her Bible or bravely showing us her heart in the hard work of making friends, Heather is a writer I admire because her stories both encourage and (often) discomfit me. I'm honored to share her hard won plan for peace with you today. 

I am a creature of habit.

Every morning, I browse one of my four usual advice columns as I eat two eggs, toast and tea. I tackle the same chores on the same days of the week. I love the second in a series of murder mysteries because by the second book, I know what to expect. And every night after I put the kids to bed, I pick up my journal and write one page, just like every night before.

I brace myself for changes of routine, like taking my children to the science museum or an hour trip to the beach. I balk when my husband asks if I want to watch a new sitcom or drama—and consider stopping TV altogether when my favorites end the season or their run. When we take vacation, I get twitchy without my Swifter on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Sometimes, I feel a little sorry for my family, especially my husband. Spontaneous, I am not.

You might read all this and think I need therapy.

Good news! I go every other week!

But the truth is, choosing routine, choosing sameness, choosing ordinary is not a sign of brokenness for me.

It is a measure of newfound strength.

Before I was a creature of habit, I was a creature of anxiety. Growing up, ugly surprises happened over and over and over. I had little control over the forces that tore apart my family, pecked at my faith, hurt those I loved. I put my head down and survived, but the stress created stuck with me.

For years in early adulthood, surviving—heart racing, second-guessing, and frantic effort—was my default. Every morning, I faced a tide of anxiety before I even got out of bed. I did not know why it was so hard for me to relax, to sleep, to be creative. I did not realize how tightly wound I was.

But every time I found something that settled me, that stilled me—just for a second—I grabbed onto it like a life raft.

At first, I found peace by accident. Later, I connected the dots and started seeking stillness on purpose. I’ve learned each day to pay attention to what spreads in my heart like ripples in a pond. I learned to say no to everything that doesn’t.

As I pursue calm habits, I’ve learned two things.

First, I’ve learned that out-of-the-ordinary is in the eyes of the beholder.

I see people engaged with full schedules beautifully, and I salute them, and stay home. I see people who manage to keep abreast of pop culture and engage wittily with it, and I applaud their savvy without tuning into their suggestions. I see people travel regularly or wear twenty different hats and I commend them for their flexibility from the comfort of my couch. I see people marching for social justice and I celebrate their efforts online, then choose, whenever possible, activism that fits my temperament better.

Their extraordinary isn’t mine, their lives not right for me, and vice versa. Lack of comparison is another still, safe place to rest.

The other thing I’ve learned is that peace is an over-and-over, tough-britches choice. It means saying no to spending time with friends during my non-negotiable quiet time with my kids. It means not writing after 5 pm. It means leaving the room if a TV show turns violent. It means turning down fun nighttime activities if I have therapy that week to keep from busyness.

Peace is a firm, sincere no. Calm is a hard choice. Out-of-the-ordinary—however you define it—does not happen by chance.

I live a life with a wide, wide margin. Absolutely, some of that is privilege—being able to afford me staying home, having the resources, a few years ago, to pay down persistent debt. But there’s choice involved, too: choosing housing we could truly afford. Saying no to commitments that drain me. Watching out for routines that give me space to breathe.

If stress ratchets up in my life, I take drastic measures to find whatever still, small point of equilibrium is available.

For me, peace is out of the ordinary. Sleeping all night, not rushing my children to activities, being able to breathe—these are unfathomable treasures. So too is the beauty of every precious choice, and the star-lit quiet of accepting who my soul wants me to be.


Heather Caliri empowers others to seek Jesus' easy yoke. In the process, she's finding an light burden, too. Click here to visit her blog, where you can subscribe to hear more from Heather and receive a copy of her free e-book, Dancing Back to Jesus .


Aren't you grateful Heather shared her story with us? I am left realizing that, once again, I need to look at my days to see where my goals and hopes for my life aren't aligned with my schedule. How did Heather's words connect with you? Skip on down to the comments and let her know.

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