Put aside the Ranger

I’ve been like the Ranger. I’ll bet that at some point you’ve been too. A person of character and integrity playing a key role in the drama. Playing it well. Caring, encouraging, fighting valiantly to protect others against some evil. But preferring to fight in the shadows, hood pulled up over my head. Hiding my real self.

Elrond’s words pierce me, words spoken when he handed Aragorn the sword that once had been broken and called him to take his rightful place as the king of Gondor. “Put aside the Ranger. Become who you were born to be.”

The words challenge me. Excite me. They’re good words. Freedom words. Oh, yes, I want to be who I was born to be! Sometimes. And sometimes not. Then they’re frightening words.  They feel heavy.

“God, It’s too hard! I can’t do it! I can’t!”

He sends reassurance: “God’s mercies are new every morning — not as an obligation to you, but as an affirmation of you.” (Ann Voskamp)

One of those great mercies is that he doesn’t let us stay hiding in the shadows of some seven billion other clones, each clamoring to be a little faster, stronger, better.

He loves us. Me. You. Yes, you. He likes you, too. He wants you to be who you were born to be because He planned you just the way He wanted you.

“Become who you were born to be.” Not because he wants to make things harder for you. Because he wants to set you free. Because his love has made you great and he doesn’t want you to miss out on the joy of being who you’re born to be. Because he doesn’t want the rest of his body to miss out on it either.

Why do we fear becoming ourselves? Is it because we’re afraid who we are isn’t enough? That we’ll be judged by those who want to mold us in their own image?  That’s just the point. Faster, better, busier: they’re all measured against others. I will fail if I’m trying to be who someone else was born to be. 

Or do we fear that we’ll try and fall flat? That we won’t know who we were born to be, or won’t be able to get there? That’s the other key. I will fail if I think that becoming myself means making it happen myself. I am not made to be an independent individual. I am made to be a person, joined to and filled with the Persons at the center of the universe. Joined to and part of Christ’s body.

I was born to be me. You were born to be you. And that truest you-ness is hidden with Christ in God. Until you are united to him, you’re not the you you were born to be. And when you are united to him, then you no longer carry the weight of becoming the real you by yourself. You’re in him, and he in you, and he’s making you into the you you were born to be. He’s completing the work of creation that he began when he dreamed you. That is good news!

There’s a freedom in becoming yourself. What do you have to lose? Your life, perhaps. But it will be given back to you once you’re free to live it fully. And while you’re trying to be someone else, you stand to lose everything. Including yourself.

There is fear in hiding, and fear in stepping out. We get to choose our fear. The difference is that one leads to real joy.

We weren’t all born to be king of Gondor. But we were all born to be someone that no one else can be.

“So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body,  let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” (Romans 12:5-6 The Message)

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An edited repost from the archives, part of a summer series leaning into God’s repeated command to remember.

Image credit: amyandra

 

Eight reasons it’s okay to stay small (and how you are made great)

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It’s what I preach to myself when things feel too heavy. When I’m tempted to shoulder burdens not meant for me. When the world is whizzing by and the do-list is already too long and there’s another need that I’m tempted to try to meet but I have no more strength.

It’s okay to live your proper size, because:

  1. It’s reality. God is big; you are small. He is the source of all; you are dependent for every breath. And this is the way He wants it. The world says “Be independent”; God says “Come closer.”
  2. It’s part of the deal. Whom God creates, He carries. From birth to death, from creation to eternity. “Listen to me. . . you whom I have upheld since your birth and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and grey hairs, I am he. I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”  (Isaiah 46:3-4)
  3. He who carries is strong. And He is Love. He can be trusted.
  4. It’s His work, not your own. You are His work, not your own. (Eph 2:10) That means you don’t have to fix yourself before coming back to snuggle small in his arms.  The call is not to make yourself (or your world) flawless, but to lean in to the One who can make you complete and let him do his work in and through you. (John 15:4-5)
  5. He is still in control. Yes, really. You don’t have to be.
  6. God alone can be everything to everyone. You are only asked to please One.
  7. You have nothing to prove because it has already been proven: you are to die for.
  8. You are small but precious. A tiny speck in the universe, but wildly significant because His love has made you great.

His love has made you great

It’s this last that I’ve been turning over and over in my mind for months. I want to whisper it to my millionaire neighbors as they show me their 5000 square foot rooftop balcony, speak of the amenities on their boat in the Mediterranean.  You can stop trying to prove your value. There is a love that has resolved to make you great. 

I want to cry it to the lame and speechless old man who shuffles behind his empty wheelchair onto the bus in a white gown that doesn’t quite cover his knees, stooping three times to reclaim the unlit cigarette that has fallen from his lips, again, again, again, replacing the filthy stick in his mouth. There’s moreThere is a love that has resolved to make you great.

I ache to shout it to each heart weary from carrying burdens it was not meant to carry. There is a love that has resolved to make you great. You can rest because you already matter.

I heard the words first from a man who has spent a lifetime digging deep into the heart of God. It’s the best definition of love that he knows.

“Love is the resolve to make the loved party great.” (J.I. Packer)

It’s exactly what our God is doing. He created us in his own image, made us to be as like Him as created beings can be (“. . . a little lower than Elohim” – than God! Psalm 8:5). He loves us as He loves his own Son (John 17:23). He allows us to touch His heart and know His thoughts (1 Cor 2:9-16): to speak and listen, to desire and be desired, to know and be intimately known as the bride of the God of the universe.

In this, our union with Him, lies our truest greatness. A few years ago I read an article which helped me see:

“[Kate] must curtsy to ‘blood princesses’ when Prince William, her husband, is not present (when they are together, she retains his status)” ie. “When he’s there, they cursty to her.” (McLeans, July 16, 2012, p. 34)

When they are together she retains his status. So with us. God is big; we are small. He true royalty, we commoners. The distance between God and us is real. But so is the fact that his love is great enough to close the distancecalling us deep into a Lover-Beloved relationship with Himself.

We are in Him and He in us, inseparable once He makes us His own. And so we retain His status, loved as the Father loves the Son, made to rule along with him (1 Cor 6:2-3; Dan 7:18,27; Rev 20:4; 5:9-10), given a part in his work of shalom-making in the world. Small, yet great. Great, yet still small. And called to make our home in the only place where we can learn to live the mystery of our small-great size.

 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me; make yourselves at home in my love.” (John 15:9 The Message)

 

Is there one of the eight reminders listed at the top that you want to carry into your day to help you remember it’s okay to stay small even as you take your next step into greatness— that it’s only in staying small that we ever do step into our truest greatness?

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An edited repost from the archives, part of a summer series leaning into God’s repeated command to remember.

Becoming your proper size: how to really rest this summer

They call it paradise and, aside from the daddy long legs stalking me in the shower, it pretty much is. A soft blue and yellow bedroom with hydrangea blossoms on the dresser and a recliner in the corner, lounge chairs by the waterfall in the back garden, kayaks to paddle among the islands. These are all part of it, but they’re not the heart of the paradise.

It’s the freedom to be my proper size that brings the peace and lets me rest.

There’s a lack of urgency that resides here. A comfort with being human. . . with beauty and mess and hunger and joy, fatigue and tears and laughter. Dirty dishes and fruitflies are part of life, taken care of in their time, but coexisting quite happily for a while with sweet nectarines and gouda sandwiches and fresh blackberries capped with ginger yoghurt cream. On the days that I can, she’s happy for me to wipe the crumbs off her counter.  When illness takes hold, she knows how to make a bed in the warm air where I can listen to the bees and watch the sun set the maple keys aflame. She has done it for others. I am human and small and it’s okay. Life is not an emergency and I can lay down control.

Living in the real world

I am sad to leave this place, to start back to my busier life. I fear being pressed and pulled by the world ungently, urgently, forcing me to the center where I do not belong, driving me (by dint of my exaggerated self-importance) to shoulder burdens I was not meant to carry. Urgency takes my eyes off the One who has it all under control, making me think that I need to control it. It tricks me into thinking that the world of the urgent is the real world and rest a brief and tantalizing illusion.

But Jesus speaks:

“Come to me, all you weary and burdened ones, and I will rest you. . . “

It’s a permanent offer, and one without condemnation. No fear of our humanness. Just invitation. “Come. I will rest you.” These days apart I have tasted the real world, the world of welcome and invitation and the love that invites rest. The urgent is the illusion.

His rest can happen in the chaos, miles from recliners and kayaks; His rest comes with staying our proper size, and that can happen anywhere.

 “. . . Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

He is humble – having a true view of reality – and when we step out of our do-it-yourself yoke, out of the world’s expectations, and into his yoke with him, we begin to see rightly too, regaining our proper size.  He is gentle, and, walking with him, we learn to live gently, not urgently.

Living gently: it’s a lot about listening and responding. A child gently handling an animal senses its timidity, its fragility, and responds with respect and care. A gentle mother hears the heart cries beneath the angry words and responds to her child in healing love. A gentle life is not driven by the urgent but makes space to listen to the heartbeat of God and others and self, and act in tender response.

This is how Jesus rests us: He helps us live our proper size. Small and fragile and (rightly) dependent, and cherished and made great in his love (. . . but more on that soon.) Rejoice with me, will you, at this invitation to put down the burden intended for greater shoulders and rest in His love?

Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth. . . .

It is he who made us and we are his,

We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100)

 

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A repost from the archives, part of a summer series leaning into God’s repeated command to remember.

 

Why you can rest—even in the middle of the mess

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There are those days when your country is burning around you and your heart within you. When your eyes sting from smoke, or shame, or emotions you can’t even name. When you wonder if you’ll ever see the end of the mess in your body, your soul, your world, and you’re not sure what tomorrow will hold.

What then? Just this. Where to rest? Just here—here in this one answer, this single thing to remember, to hold to, to live in. Here in this answer that’s big enough to hold you:

“Q:What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A: That I am not my own, but belong, with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.

He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head, indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. . . .”

I struggle to write the final lines:

“. . . Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.” (Heidelberg Catechism, 1563)

I struggle, not because I’m not assured of eternal life, but because—honestly?—I can’t say I’m always heartily willing and ready to live for Him. I want to be, but there are layers of self-centeredness and desire for control that keep rising like smoke within me, clouding the horizon and obscuring the truth of God’s goodness.

And so I return again to the beginning, because it’s precisely in the middle of these smoky moments that I most need to remember that I am not my own, that my security does not depend on my ability to hold it all together but on the love of God who has made me His and sets me free and preserves me even when giant parts of me are trying to run from His love.

I go back again and again and there is always comfort in knowing that I am not my own—that when I can’t fix the mess in me, I’m still His, still held, still loved and wanted and safe.

And when I’ve sat long enough here in this love that keeps on loving no matter what, slowly the willingness returns and I can say, yes, I want to love this gentle, gracious God with my life. And finally I can see the gift in those last lines too. I haven’t made myself willing and ready to live for Him any more than I’ve made myself His. I couldn’t, and He never expected me to.

Thank you, Jesus. Please keep doing in me what only You can do.

 

When you’d rather skip this stretch

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Photo by Karen Webber

“Go in the car—you’ll get there quicker!” The not-so-old woman with the slightly crazy grey hair shuffled along behind her walker, calling out to me her best wisdom as I ran past her this morning, breathing hard.

There are sunflowers on my table, their golden heads starting to droop. My friend brought them Friday, the day she came for lunch. The day I was longing to offer her gentle, grace-filled space. The day I ended up sick—again—and she helped serve, loaded the dishwasher, and chatted while I lay on the couch. There was grace in being loved like that. And sadness. I’d wanted so much for the day to be about her this time, not all about me. I’d wanted to love her by serving her.

We talked about her walk along the 800 km of the Camino trail last year. She was remembering the fields of sunflowers, the gift that recurred over several days, each appearance of the bright blooms bringing some new understanding or inviting her to pray in some new way. She noticed, looking back, that the gift of the sunflowers came on the meseta, the stretch of land in the middle of the Camino that many people bypass by taking a bus, thinking it’s a desert or a boring plain.

I sat alone with Jesus after my friend left. “Jesus, what are the sunflowers in this stretch? I don’t want to miss what you’re wanting to share with me.” Illness has often felt like gift, Jesus using it to rescue me from an impossible situation, using it to make space for me to become still enough to learn His love in a way I’d never have known it otherwise. But on Friday it just felt like disappointment and frustration. If there’d been a bus I would have jumped in and raced to the other side of this meseta where I could have served my friend the way I’d wanted.

“Go in the car—you’ll get there quicker!” The not-so-old woman’s words ring in my ears. But there isn’t a car and there isn’t a bus and five days before Friday I’d been at a prayer service asking for healing and how do I live in this space where I’ve asked for healing and things just seem worse?

The sunflowers on the table are starting to droop, their necks bent, their bright faces turned toward the ground. They look like they’ve forgotten their life in the field. When they were young and supple, looking up, up, all the time, their expectant faces made a daily pilgrimage, tracing the path of the sun across the sky. As they matured, they settled into facing east, turned resolutely toward the place they’d learned by long habit that the sun always rose to kiss their faces and awaken his glory in them.

I can ask for healing and then my call is to live with my face turned toward the sun, offering myself to God as I am now, not as I might hope someday to be. I sing along with Stuart Townend, “O my soul, arise and bless your Maker,” and as I turn my face again toward my Maker’s I sense Him smiling on me. We reach the last verse—“Then one day, I’ll see him as he sees me, face to face, the Lover and the loved”—and tears run down my face as I see another of the things I need to remember to live wellour days here are just the beginning.

There’s a whole forever coming when He’ll give me a strong body and I’ll be able to make meals for friends and walk mountain trails with them and stand and praise with the congregation for hours. But in the meantime, He loves me and I love Him and in these few days I have here I want Him to have the whole of me—whatever that looks like. If he wants to give healing, I’d love that, but if there are days or decades still ahead when He delights to receive my love and longing lying down, well, He has my soul, my body, my love. And I have Him. And that is enough.