I’m reading the Bible in the English Standard Version after nearly three decades of using the New International Version. I recommend reading the Bible in a different translation at some point in your life. You’ll read the same stories with fresh eyes. You’ll find new insights because of a change in wording, even if the Greek or Hebrew word is the same. For example, in my reading of Exodus this morning, I loved the simplicity of Exodus 2:25. The people are crying out to God because of their slavery and oppression and Egypt. And we read this:
God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
That’s it. That is all. God saw and God knew. I just love that. I love that we can trust that God sees and God knows everything concerning us. Other translations say that God saw and was concerned, that God saw and took notice, or that God acknowledged the Israelites. All of these ideas come through for me in the simplicity of “and God knew.”
Every year, I reread the book of Job, especially the parts where Job and God speak. I love Job because of the reality of suffering. Good people suffer, and we don’t always know why. I underlined this passage in Job 42 and sent it to my family. These words contain more wisdom that we can imagine:
Then Job replied to the Lord, “I know that you can do all things, and that no plan of yours can be thwarted.”
This moment in Job marks a moment of forthcoming repentance. We do not know how to make sense of our lives when difficult things happen, but we know two things for sure: 1. God can do anything. 2. Nothing can stop His plan.
This verse comforts me when I cannot make sense of difficult things. You might have come to the same wisdom: God is all powerful and He is allowing this hard thing as part of a good plan I cannot yet understand. Job himself cries out: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” and he repents in dust and ashes.
We submit ourselves to a sovereign, all-powerful, loving God.
This morning before church, I started the book You Are Not Your Own by Alan Noble. I loved the dedication to a man described like this: “a man who lived his life imperfectly but earnestly–not as his own, but as a gift to his family and friends.” I love thinking of our lives as a gift to others. We can live not for ourselves, but for others. It changes the focus of our heart. Then, I read at church the idea of being a “living hymn” in reference to the way Brother Lawrence lived in his book The Practice of the Presence of God. I considered how a life could exist as a song of praise to God. No matter what’s happening, we think of our lives as a hymn of worship. How beautiful! We life today as a hymn and as a gift to others.
Sometimes people ask me for help in their spiritual lives. They want wisdom for how to build their adult lives and what kind of practices they should adopt to help them stay strong in their faith. I tell them it’s not anything complicated or terribly insightful. Read the Bible. Pray. Memorize scripture so you can apply it to your life. Confess sin. Practice surrender. Do things that require faith. Talk about Jesus to other people.
But today I remembered something that helped someone in a fresh way. I asked this person something a mentor had once asked me: When you think about your future, what will the temptation be for you? What will trap you? Get ahead of this. Start thinking of how to avoid the temptations that will surely come your way.
I like thinking of how to strengthen myself against future temptation, in whatever form it could take.
Years ago (back in 2012!), I wrote a few devotions for campers and counselors at Camp Greystone. One of my devotions is featured today on how God see our tears. My teen daughter (even though she’s not a camper) signed up to receive the Greystone devotions each day because she loves reading them! I highly recommend them. I read them every day. Sign up here: https://devotions.campgreystone.com/blog/2022/6/tears
I also collected my devotions for children in a little book called 30 Things You Need to Know that same year. I compiled these for my daughters to read through when they were in elementary school. We read them together every morning in the summer. You may have these as a free gift to read with your children, too. You can find them on my Gifts for You page: http://heatherholleman.com/gift-for-you/. Enjoy!
Today I visited a high school class in Paraguay via Zoom to talk about writing personal essays for the college application. What a thrilling time to connect with brilliant students and offer my favorite prompts for their portfolios of personal essays. We enjoyed talking about these prompts based on what I hear people caring about most on the college campus: curiosity and human flourishing. So I asked these questions:
What is the story of how you first became curious about something and your process of learning more about it?
What do you do every day to improve your own well-being?
What do you think helps people belong? When did you feel like you really belonged somewhere? How will you help others belong in college?
I also had everyone finish this sentence: “When I’m a student in college, I intend to add to campus life by________________.” It works as a variation of my favorite Name Game question of “What changes when you enter a room?” In other words, what changes on the college campus with you there?
In the past 25 years, I’ve helped with hundreds (if not a thousand) of college, graduate school, internship, and job applications. I shared with students my insights into the current trends on campus to care deeply about belonging and human flourishing. I also shared my best tip of all: Tell a college (or job) why they need you, not why you need them. Tell them how you will add value and contribute to the goals of an organization and not what the organization must do for you.
I loved connecting with younger students at the beginning of their college journey.
In Psalm 107:9, I found this beautiful sentence about God: For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
I spent some time thinking about the difference between a longing soul and a hungry soul. A longing soul feels more profound to me–like a soul with deep, deep need that only God can meet. When we long for something, it feels like a far-off dream. It’s something we know we want, but maybe it’s not something we need to survive. But the word hungry feels more urgent, practical, and needy. I love that God meets both needs: our soul longing and our soul hunger. He knows everything we need, both practically and existentially.
I love the first few verses of Psalm 103. If you’re having a bad day, remember all you’ve been given. We read this:
Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
I love the verbs of God here, just as I do in Psalm 23. Here in Psalm 103, we see how God forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, and satisfies. If you’re in a place where it’s hard to see the goodness of God, Psalm 103 stands a great tribute to all God does for us. I also like the outward movement of the verbs; they begin in the soul (sin), move outward to the body (disease), and then further out to the life itself in the world (life, desires). How wonderful, too, to know God will satisfies us so much that we feel young and vibrant all our days.
I woke up thinking about a quote I loved from The Great Gatsby. I read these words back in 9th grade and thought they were such a picture of loving someone. Here, we read a description of Jay Gatsby and the way he looked at the narrator:
He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.
When I think about believing the best about other people, about loving them well, and about believing in them, I remember this character. I think about it when I’m with children, especially. I like the idea of concentrating exclusively on someone in the moment with that irresistible favor, understanding, and ability to see their best self. I’ve known a few people like this in my lifetime. When you’re talking with them, you feel seen, adored, deeply valued, loved, and understood. You feel like you like yourself more when you are with them.
As I researched my new book on having better conversations, I learned how vital positive regard is (or believing the best about others) as the foundation of warm connections. I want God to make me into the type of person who lets the love of Jesus flow this beautifully to someone else so they feel as loved as our narrator when Jay looked at him.