Fatal Observation: on noticing differences without growing discouraged


“Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have…”

“Do everything they say to you,” The Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. they don’t want me to be their king any longer.”

…”When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding…”

But the people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning, “Even so, we still want a king,” they said, “we want to be like the nations around us.

1 Samuel 8, excerpts


Israel had just WON against the nations they were comparing themselves to, but one reigning desire was enough that they didn’t care what they were committing themselves to or who they were rejecting to have it.

They longed to be like other people. And it blinded them.

It’s a desire worth confronting in my own heart. For my life knows this bold and senseless craving that insists if only my life looked like that, everything would be okay.

I’ve experienced it in a hundred different ways. Right now this trap-like thinking has sunk its hook into the issue of pregnancy weight gain. What a small thing to cause such persistent unhappiness, but so it is. It’s even normal to put on weight when you’re pregnant, but, man, have I struggled with condemnation, shame, and a painful, repetitive self-assessment over it. Cameras make me want to hide and finding clothes that fit is a whole new challenge, but nothing gets those emotions going like the fatal observation of a beautiful pregnant person who stayed petite.

How readily I notice anyone and everyone who didn’t pack on the pounds in their pregnancy. What power a “belly-only pregnancy” has to dominate my attention and how often I find myself drowning again in thoughts of “why couldn’t I be more like them?”

And so I must pause at this chapter of 1 Samuel and consider the similar thought process it describes in the Israelites. I am not its only victim. Whether it’s a new king or a different pregnancy weight; a new relationship or a different set of talents; attention, approval, or success; that hair, that house, that car; we people are suckers for converting differences into discouragement.

But I have the advantage of looking back at Israel and learning that they were trading something of immense value in order to have something that wasn’t better, even though it really seemed like it at the time.

May I see their story and gain this wisdom:

When I push for what another person has, I may be rejecting what God has purposefully chosen for me.

His loving hand scripts the details of my story and I can either embrace what He has given or cast pining eyes ever outward toward something else. But here is the truth: I can entrust myself to Him. Whatever is out there is not better than what I have already been given, no matter how good it looks.

It’s one thing to see room for improvement and make adjustments in areas I have control over. (Yes, I could eat less sugar).

It is quite another to gaze unhappily at another person’s entire situation and grow sullen over mine. (Despairing because I should have eaten less sugar, or they were better at not eating sugar, or they could eat sugar and stay small anyway). It comes down to this: I want what they have. When that thought rules, it sours appreciation and tears down beauty and I am learning that I do not have to go there.

I CAN LEARN to see desirable situations and remember that, in many ways, my situation is desirable – the biggest being that it was hand-crafted by a God who knows what I need, cherishes me, and promises He is working things out for my good.

I CAN LEARN to see others, notice differences, and move on, turning again to a God who is able to bring about change for me in His timing.

I CAN LEARN to see the beautiful surface level and recognize that sometimes the deeper priorities are dangerously out of balance.

I CAN LEARN that none of what I see is worth distrusting my God and trading away His leadership.

My heart does not judge accurately what is most important. I so need the Lord. I so need His leading.

So, when a difference catches my eye, may it first and foremost cause me to pause and assess whether I am leaning on my own understanding or on His solid guidance (Proverbs 3:5-6). May I learn to put what I can’t control back into His hands and be content learning to do well with what I can control.

And may I see that one of the things I can control is how I think about this.



Help me to see and to savor what you have given – to delight in what you have chosen for me, and to look to you for help with how to do well with it. Retrain my heart to see differences and just appreciate them rather than diving headlong into the bottomless pool of regret, comparison, lust and frustration.

May I see beauty and remember that you have crafted it, just as you are crafting me.

Train my life to reflect your priorities, to choose to be thankful, and to accept your rest rather than wallowing in my rejection.

My life will never look like everyone else’s. May I learn the lesson that it doesn’t have to, and it is still very, very good. It just takes being willing to believe that you are using those differences and they do not mean that I am a wreck or a failure.

Not even close.


For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

Ephesians 2:10


Misunderstood: on taking hard things to the right place

misunderstood 2


Year after year it was the same – Penninah would taunt Hannah as they went to the tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.

“Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask…”Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me – isn’t that better than having 10 sons?”

Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. …Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord..”

1 Samuel 1:7-10


I don’t know every detail of how these conversations between Hannah and her husband played out, but he doesn’t mention the taunting year after year or acknowledge the unhealthy dynamic in his family. It seems like he makes some assumptions about Hannah’s distress and misses some of the major factors that made it so painful.

It was after one of these meals, where smug Penninah was favored and Hannah was told not to get so upset, that she headed to the temple and poured out her heart to the Lord. She let down her guard and let out her anguish and the High Priest called her drunk. It had to be frustrating, she cries at home and she’s dismissed, she cries at the Sanctuary and she’s accused.

But I think it’s significant that as upset as she was, she lost her appetite, but not her bearings. Hannah knew where she needed to go.

Even though her husband and then the priest himself misunderstood what she was going through, God heard her.

She wasn’t a king or a prophet or a leader in Israel. She wasn’t blind or lame or leprous. She was just a bullied girl who really wanted to be a mom in a hard situation that was easily dismissed by anyone who knew of it. But she could come to her God and He did not dismiss her. He did not make assumptions. He did not explain away her suffering.

My situation is often misunderstood. People see me up and around and decide that means I’m better. They pat my shoulder and tell me they know my pain. They tell me if I look this good, it must not be “all that bad.”

My sister told me I should start telling them how many meds and IV infusions I require every week to be “okay.” And I feel that when you’re nauseous 24/7, “only” 8 more weeks is just not the best descriptor. We’ve found some things that help, and it’s definitely not as bad as other hard situations people have had to face, but this is still pretty stressful, and one of the daily stressful things is how to respond to what other people say.

It’s easy, when you’re going through something hard, to feel dismissed and misunderstood. To feel hurt by words meant to comfort, because they glazed over something that was pretty significant or they abbreviated something that feels very long-term.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that it often falls to the one who is struggling to offer grace to people who misunderstand what they need. To people who handle you roughly when you’re at your most vulnerable. To people who should say, “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” but somehow come up with “at least you’re not dealing with this or that.”

Here is what I take from Hannah:

I don’t need to get other people to understand. Chasing after that is setting myself up to be frustrated and discouraged. The world is never going to orchestrate itself around being sensitive to me, even when I’m facing something really difficult.

So I just need to run to the One who already gets it. 

When my situation is misunderstood, when I feel invisible or dismissed, I can remember, like Hannah, that I do not serve a dismissive God. Even if He makes me wait, it’s not because He’s ignoring me. Even if things stay difficult, it’s not because He doesn’t see.

O my people, trust in him at all times.
    Pour out your heart to him,
    for God is our refuge. 

Psalm 62:8

He is the God I can run to with the feelings I don’t know how to put words to, when I’m agonizing over something that doesn’t seem important to anyone else. He is the God who hears every person, regardless of their status; the God who bends down to listen to children and sympathizes with weakness; the God who let Hannah sob at the place of worship.

And unlike Elkanah, God didn’t ask “Isn’t your husband enough for you?” He gave Hannah the son she longed for and He gave her honor to dispel the taunting. God saw Hannah and He answered her plea.

1 Samuel doesn’t open with a person persevering perfectly through distress, but with a girl falling to pieces in the courtyard of the Holy Place because she’s so stressed she can’t eat, and with a God who saw her struggle and gave what she asked for. It is a book that begins with someone crying out “help me,” and God saying “yes.”

I want to grab on to that pattern and remember the type of God He shows himself to be in these stories. Rather than trying to prepare perfectly and endure admirably and suffer impressively, I will just lay down my cards. I can just admit that this is too hard for me and delight in the God who says “yes, I will help you” when I call on Him and “yes, I understand you,” when I cry to Him.

Perhaps doing that is a step toward developing the humility He’s looking for anyway.


And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble…

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor”

James 4:6, 10



Keep Asking: on remembering who it is we ask

The servant leaned against a boulder and wiped his forehead with his arm, squinting in the harsh sun. He worked the offending pebble out of his sandal and continued his trudge toward the lookout point.

Six times he’d made this hike already. Why was Elijah so obsessed with how the skies looked now? And why didn’t he just pray somewhere he could look out over the sea himself?

He tapped the last drops from his water skin and licked his cracked lips, shaking his head. He would now be thirsty until his master saw fit to come down from the mountain and search out water again. The drought had lasted three long years, but that hadn’t stopped Elijah from dumping 12 large jars of pain-stakingly collected water over his offering this afternoon.

As the servant rounded the last bend on the trail, he was torn. He’d seen impressive things while carrying out the wishes of the rogue prophet, but Elijah’s power seemed finicky. Just this afternoon, fire had come from the heavens and consumed the soaked offering, the stones, the very dust itself at his master’s word.

And yet here Elijah was, on his face on the same mountain, praying earnestly for rain and sending his servant for the seventh time to check for clouds. What good was it to be able to call fire from the sky if you die of thirst because you can’t make it rain?

The servant scanned the horizon, taking in the sparkling surface of the Mediterranean.

The last six times he’d looked, the day had been flawlessly clear, but he did finally glimpse a small cloud, out to the West, just above the water.  He bit his lip as he raised his hand to gauge it. He could cover the entire thing with his arm held out straight and it would surely just dissipate into the day’s heat. On any other day, he wouldn’t have bothered mentioning it, but this was his seventh hike out to look, so he shrugged and headed back to Elijah to report his findings.

“It’s not much, master,” the servant roused Elijah from his prostrate position with a light touch on the shoulder, “but there was a really small cloud this time.”

“No time to waste!” Elijah bolted upright with an excited spark in his eyes. “Hurry to Ahab!” He was shouting now, pulling extra layers of clothing out of his pack, wrapping a cowl over his head and shoulders, “Tell him to take the chariot home! If he’s not quick about it, the rain will stop him!”

“You think there will be that much rain?” The servant almost protested, but the fierce look on Elijah’s face stopped him short, so he turned on his heel and rushed down the mountain toward the royal ensemble. An uncharacteristically cool wind tousled his hair as he made his way down the path, and the servant wondered aloud what time it was. He knew they’d spent much of the day up on the mountain, but the sky had darkened significantly in the last few minutes and by his estimate, they should have another hour until sunset.

He reached King Ahab and breathlessly passed on Elijah’s message, just as the first heavy drop of water traced its way down his dusty face and settled on his cracked, thirsty lips.

The servant had never seen such a rainstorm as the one that followed.

“The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet…when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain…”
-James 5:16-18

It’s intriguing to me that, at Elijah’s request, God sent fire from the sky without delay proving Himself the one, true God before all Israel, and then He made Elijah wait for rain.

Would the story be different if Elijah had decided God wasn’t listening after the first six times he asked? I think I would have decided that I’d misunderstood how things were going to play out and God wasn’t going to answer me this time.  It’s easy to decide that asking God for help is not going to work and to move on. It’s harder to ask again when you haven’t seen an answer. But that’s what Elijah did. He stayed kneeling and sent out the watch. Nothing happened and so he asked again.

It’s a hard thought to grapple with because, ultimately, even though He is able to, God doesn’t always give what I ask for. It’s especially challenging when I’m dealing with illness or financial trouble or something that feels a lot more personal than the weather. Sometimes He sends relief; sometimes He asks me to endure, and I never know which answer to expect.

But here is what the word of God says: the earnest prayer of simple humans holds great power. Why?  Because we serve a God who is absolutely limitless and who delights to use His power on behalf of simple humans who will choose to call on Him and only Him.

Perhaps I need to learn, like Elijah, to keep asking. Not because I can guarantee what God will do by asking a certain number of times, but because, even in my waiting, even in my disappointments, I have not lost sight of what He is able to do for those who ask.

With a God who is able to do more than I can ask or imagine, maybe I should ALWAYS be asking for more.


Teach me, even when you do not answer as I expect, to ask unwavering because I am certain that YOU are where my answer is found, even if I am not certain of what my answer is.

May I come each morning, just as earnestly as the day before, expecting you to hear my prayers and to give good things.  Your ways are not my ways, but you say that nothing is too hard for you, and you call yourself a generous giver. So teach me, Lord, to be content and to endure well where I am, but also to stay kneeling, to look to you and to ask again.

Teach me to keep coming, to keep asking, because I remember who you are and I because I have learned to be confident that you always have more to give.