An invitation to play

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Stephen King isn’t someone I read very often, but his advice to writers has me thinking:

“Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” (Stephen King, On Writing, p. 101)

It’s easy for work—even work that is a good gift from God, work that we enjoy and to which we are deeply and truly called—to take over our life. To become its center. That is, to become an idol.

On my way home from Afghanistan six years ago, someone gave me a picture. She saw me as a toddler, playing happily on the floor, my Father leaning forward to watch me with delight.

I’ve been asking God about that picture. I’m still learning how to live it.

God plays. How else do you explain clown fish and peacocks’ feathers and the homely comedy of a donkey’s bray?

Play can be a good gift from a loving Father, a gift He delights to give and to see us receive.

Play can be faith, a way of saying “You are God and I don’t have to run the world.”

So I’ve been asking God to teach me to play.

He began during last summer’s vacation when the day’s early sunbeam winked, one-eyed, through the string-hole in the blind, inviting me to come and play. Had I rolled over and closed my eyes again I would have closed my eyes to love, to life, to Him who was calling me to enter both. Not to play was not to pray.

This summer He’s gathering recruits from as far as England, bringing together all seven of my nieces and nephews ranging from less than a year to thirteen, as well as my siblings and their spouses and my parents, each with a unique and hilarious sense of humor.

Doctors take vacations. Teachers do. And engineers. And this writer needs a few weeks off too, to learn more deeply how to rest and play and let God take care of the world.

So I won’t be posting my regular Monday blogs through July. I’m not sure if I’ll write at all during these weeks. Like Stephen King’s desk, during July this blog is taking its place in the corner while I live life, receiving God’s good gifts and giving myself freely to God and to family. But play has a way of erupting into joy and creativity which flows over and begs to be shared. So it’s quite possible I’ll pop by here occasionally and drop in a photo or a few thoughts that seem too good to keep to myself. (If you’re not already signed up to receive my blog posts via email, feel free to do that so you don’t miss the fun.) And if you’re someone who looks forward to receiving my Monday posts and will miss them (—a humble thank you), please make yourself at home in the archives or peek back at these posts I’ve been revisiting myself lately as I ask God to teach me to receive His good gifts of rest and play:

Life is not an exam

Of ziplines and life: how to enjoy the ride

When you long to come closer (. . . but have no idea how)

The kind of God he is

Look forward to seeing you here again soon! And happy playing :-)

One way your gentle Father delights to set you free

Out for my morning run, I passed a child toddling on legs still new enough to be unsteady. Her father sat on the curb, watching as she explored the smooth path a meter or two from his knees.

As she wobbled toward the opposite curb and the uneven grassy strip beyond, her father rose and stood behind her, taking each of her little hands in his. So gentle he was, and so unobtrusive, that the little girl seemed almost as unaware of her held hands as of the obstacles threatening her stability. Her gait quickened, though, and, hands still held, she stepped easily over the curb and ran on the grass, her bright eyes continuing to explore the exciting world in front of her.

She didn’t turn to look at her father.

She didn’t pause to consider the obstacles in her path.

She seemed simply to trust that if hands were offered, hands were what she needed, and they would always be there when she needed them.

Her father didn’t break her play by picking her up, didn’t, in that moment, call her name or turn her toward him. He took her hands to facilitate her freedom, gave her the gift of himself to give her the gift of herself and her world, helping her discover that the world is a beautiful and exciting gift to be explored. His presence enlarged her world, made her safer and stronger than she was on her own. Stronger to enjoy. Stronger to explore. Stronger to play.

His gentle love set her free.

“I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13)

Why you can stop trying so hard

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She painted a picture for me with her words.

My Father and I were walking around the edge of a large green field. More accurately, my Father was walking around the field. I, a small child, was being carried. A tall white fence surrounded the field. We walked inside. The fence didn’t seem to matter.

He held me close, one arm beneath me so I could not fall, one behind me, holding me close to his heart. His chin rested gently on the top of my head, protecting me from above.

I snuggled against him. I was tired and his arms were so comforting. Then I pulled my head back to look up at him. I had rested long enough, hadn’t I? Didn’t he want to put me down? Even in my weariness I fought rest, struggled to settle in. He smiled into my anxious eyes, then gently drew my head back toward his chest, settled his cheek against my hair. He kept walking, slowly, gently, the rhythm rocking me. Sometimes he quietly pointed out a bird, a flower, for me to enjoy with him, still holding me close against His chest. Mostly his gentle silence encouraged me to rest. My eyes closed, opened, closed again. My little hands relaxed their grasp. He kept holding.

There is no falling here, no failing.

You can let go, child, and rest.

You are his, held, forever.

 “Listen to me. . . you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth.

Even to your old age and gray 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)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

 

Grace on credit?

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“Jesus, will you heal me so I can get on with serving you?”

The answer is no. Not necessarily no to the healing—that remains to be seen—but no to the reason.

I was finishing my workout in the gym when Jesus showed me that my request was rooted in a lie: the lie that I’m not worth healing for my own sake. That I don’t matter. Or that I only matter insofar as I can be useful to other people.

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People say that we’re blessed to be a blessing.

It’s not true.

We’re blessed simply because God loves us and delights to give good gifts to His children.

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True, being loved like that will flow over into wanting to be a blessing to others. God’s kind of love is contagious.

True, part of the way God blesses us is in allowing His blessing to flow through us to others.

But making us a blessing is His promise and His work, work to which we surrender and with which we cooperate but not work we can do on our own (Gen 12:2-3; John 15:4-5). And the first part of that surrender is receiving. Freely. For ourselves. Enjoying His delight in us and delighting ourselves in Him.

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Confession: I struggle with this.

I’m always tying strings to places God has marked “no strings attached.”

I hesitate to ask for help. And when I do, it’s with at least the unspoken promise that I’ll pay it back (or forward) as soon as I can.

But this kind of “grace on credit” is no grace at all. It’s exhausting. It’s salvation-by-works transferred from a cash-only society to one in which we build up debt we can never pay.

I’m not suggesting we ought to live as though the world revolves around us. It doesn’t.

I am suggesting that we do not need to be afraid to enjoy the good gifts God gives. The gifts he gives freely. For our enjoyment. Because He delights in us and delights to enjoy us enjoying His good gifts in His presence. (I Tim 6:17, James 1:17, Deut 14:22-27)

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We can only truly love when we learn to let ourselves be loved.

Letting ourselves be loved—freely and extravagantly—is not selfish. It is an essential part of stepping into who we’re called to be.

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“Jesus, let me not run from the love which you offer. . . “ (David Flemming)

The gift in seeing your sin

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These past few weeks, God has been going after my pride, showing it to me in one area after another of my life.

Ouch.

But I’m grateful. I’d experienced elsewhere the intimacy found in the valley of the shadow of death; I knew that in this valley third person pronouns switch to first person. (“He leads. . . He restores. . . He guides” becomes “. . .You are with me.” —Psalm 23) I hadn’t known I could experience the intimacy of that valley through the small death of seeing a still deeper layer of sin in myself.

But here I am, this sheep who startles easily at shadows, learning that I don’t need to be afraid here because my Shepherd never leaves me alone in this valley.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

“I will fear no evil.” No evil—neither the evil that’s ‘out there,’ nor the evil that is within me. That matters because, for some of us, an even more paralyzing danger than pride may be the fear of pride. I know I can’t always see my true motives. And even when I can, I’m powerless to fix myself. In this valley full of shadows where I can’t see clearly to sort everything out and I know there’s evil not only outside but within me, I can move ahead only because I can focus on listening to His voice and following Him, trusting Him to take care of the evil both outside and within me.

“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” His rod comforts me, that rod that is used not on me but on the things that would try to destroy me. When God lets me see the depth of the sin in me, I’m so grateful He’s armed and intent on destroying that sin!

And His staff comforts me, the staff that is used to round up the flock, keeping me on the right path and bringing me back when I wander. As much as I want to follow close, He wants it more. And in the moments I wander and wonder how closely I really do want to follow, He keeps calling me back.

David got it right. One of the best reasons to celebrate is that “we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:3)

The Heidelberg Catechism got it right too:

Q1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A1. That I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ . . .