How to travel lighter

IMG_3669

“When I’ve experienced God loving me so deeply and gently and often, why do I still struggle to live free in His love?” I was worried that something was terribly wrong with me.

Tears of relief ran down my cheeks as I received her reassurance that, in her experience as a spiritual director, almost everyone struggles to live consistently in God’s love. It seems to be part of being human.

As our conversation continued, I began to realize that I was placing my expectations on myself rather than on Jesus. I wanted to trust my ability to live a particular way. Jesus invited me to trust His unfailing love.

I saw a picture of Jesus lifting a backpack from my back and putting it on his own. It’s the kind of thing Dad does when he meets me at the airport—because he loves me and delights to make my burden lighter. Usually I let Dad take it because I’m tired and sometimes the weight of the backpack pulling on my neck has given me a headache. But I usually hesitate before handing it over. I don’t want him to have to carry my stuff. I’m afraid it will be too heavy for him.

Since I love to walk without anything on my back, it’s funny that I carry a backpack—a heavy one—so much of the time. I can create it out of almost nothing and stuff it full of just about anything, even expectations about how I should be able to receive God’s love.

All of a sudden I see: Jesus never asked me to carry that backpack. All the way we’ve been walking together, He has been offering to take it from me. I’ve let Him carry some things, but I’ve held onto others, not wanting him to have to carry my stuff.

But I’m hearing Him say that He doesn’t have to. He wants to. And He doesn’t want just the few things I hand him as I root through the backpack and pass him the things I think He can handle. He wants to carry the whole pack with all the expectations I stuff in it. Even my ability to live loved. He knows I’m human. Sometimes I’ll feel His love, sometimes I won’t. Sometimes I’ll be able to receive it and live free in it, sometimes I’ll still doubt. And nothing about my struggle will ever change His love.

He knows that when my hope is firmly pinned on His love that never stops drawing me back rather than on my ability never to waver, then I’m truly abiding in His love.

I hand over the backpack. I’m lighter. I stand taller, accept his hand, smile up at him. He doesn’t look like the weight is bothering him. He doesn’t seem to notice the backpack at all. After a while, I don’t either. I just see His eyes smiling back at me.

Why God trusts you (Encouragement for when you feel like a failure)

IMG_3575

I write to tell her how deeply blessed I was by our conversation. She responds with gratefulness, admitting she’d been feeling like a lost cause. I’m amazed how often we can feel like failures when God is gently and powerfully loving others through us.

Our struggle can keep us dependent. It can keep opening new places to receive God’s love in our own brokenness. It can also bind us in knots of unhelpful insecurity and anxiety.

I return again to words I’ve been contemplating for a long time: “God trusts you.” How? Why? What does that even mean?

I pray to see then go looking.

First I sort through what it doesn’t mean.

  • It doesn’t mean that God expects us never to mess up. He knows we’re human—limited and likely to make mistakes—and still, as long as we’re on this earth, in a battle with sin. (Rom 7:14-25)
  • It doesn’t mean He expects us to be able to do things on our own. He tells us up front we can’t. (John 15:5)

Then I begin to see how God does trust us.

  • God trusts us to carry His message into the world.“Go! I am sending you. . .” (Luke 10:3; c.f Matt 28:18-20)
  • He trusts us to share His work. “. . . I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing.” (Jn 14:12 MSG)
  • He trusts us with the stewardship of the world (Gen 126; Psalm 8:5-8) and, ultimately, with the possession of His kingdom (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27), even judging the world and angels (1 Cor 6:2-3). And, living in us, he gives us the wisdom and competence to begin making sound decisions now (1 Cor 2:15-16; 6:2-3).
  • He even trusts us with the deep places of His heart. (Jn 15:15; 16:12-15)

God trusts us. But why?

Here’s what I love most: God trusts us to bear His life into the world not because of who we are on our own but because He lives in us.

The fact that it doesn’t depend on me doesn’t make it any less true that God trusts me. It just means I don’t have to carry the weight of impossible expectations.

God trusts us to carry His life into the world, and He puts Himself in us to ensure the outcome.

He seals His trust (of us) with a trust (the Holy Spirit, placed in us).

He trusts us. . . and He carries the weight of that trust Himself.

Trust always has context

I used to love the nights as an obstetrical resident when I was on call with Dr. G. I trusted him and I knew he trusted me, and that set me free to do my best work and enjoy doing it. There were many reasons for our mutual trust: one was that we  each understood and respected our unique roles and positions.

  • He knew I understood my limits and would ask when I needed help. I knew that when I called he’d come quickly.
  • He knew I’d work hard. I knew I could always count on him to pitch in when the workload was too heavy for me to safely handle.
  • He knew I’d learned well the basics of surgery, so he’d let me try something more difficult, standing by to help as needed. I was eager to try, knowing he always had my back.

His trust in me wasn’t lessened by knowing that I sometimes needed help. It was strengthened by knowing that I wouldn’t hesitate to ask.

Trust happens within a context which understands and respects our unique roles and limitations. I trusted Dr. G., but I wouldn’t ask him to fix my toilet. I trust my plumber, but I wouldn’t let him cut my hair. We trust people to be who they’ve agreed to be in the context of our relationship.

We trust God to be God—all-powerful, full of grace, and eternally faithful. 

He trusts us to be His people—limited and dependent, alive and growing, loving Him and wanting to love Him more.

God trusts us! The declaration is not a heavy expectation of super-human performance or sinless perfection, but an invitation to live more securely in our place as limited (and loved!) people in relationship with the unlimited God who, through His power at work within us, is able to do immeasurably more than anything we can ask or imagine.

God’s favorite part of creation (and why it matters)

DSCN7597

I was walking one day in the garden, admiring the beauty that surrounded me and trying to choose which bit of beauty was my favorite: the delicate deep pink plum blossoms? the ornamental grasses surrendering their pale, wispy tassels to the breeze? the grand and steady backdrop of mountains still wearing their snowcap?

I chatted with God about my struggle to choose—it was all so beautiful. Then I asked Him, “What’s your favorite?” I tried to guess, expecting he’d choose the mountains or the redwood trees which towered far above me—something tall and grand and, if not eternal, at least stretching toward ancient. “You are.” Tears sprang from the surprise of finding myself so deeply loved and honored. I wondered why I was his favorite. “The mountains and trees can’t have this conversation with me.”

I’ve been reading through Genesis in The Message, hearing again and again the echo of our godlikeness:

“God spoke, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for. . . Earth itself. . . ‘” (1:26)

“God created human beings, he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female.” (1:27)

“When God created the human race, he made it godlike, with a nature akin to God.” (5:1)

“. . . God made humans in his image, reflecting God’s very nature.” (9:6)

God clearly wants us to understand our greatness.

But I often find myself afraid to receive God’s gifts. Like this one. I hold it at arm’s length, afraid of the responsibilities that will accompany it. Afraid that the gift will take the place of the Giver. Afraid of becoming proud. Or selfish(Does God really want me to see myself as godlike?)

But every gift that God gives is meant to be received. Including this gift of our greatness.

And I’m surprised to discover that in receiving the gift and the accompanying embrace of the Giver my hesitations disappear. The fear of the accompanying responsibilities is calmed as I realize that God is telling me who He has already made me, not demanding that I make of myself something I can’t possibly be.

And as for proud and selfish, I’m at far greater danger of that when I don’t embrace my God-given greatness than when I do. (Underlying our society’s increasing self-absorption Brene Brown sees “the shame-based fear of being ordinary.” (Daring Greatly, p. 22) Is this why our enemy goes to such pains to keep us from seeing and receiving our God-bestowed greatness? Does he know that if he does, he’ll keep us forever tied up in trying to create and prove our extraordinariness instead of being free in humble confidence to live our already-bestowed godlikeness in ways that bring glory to our Creator?)

We are made godlike. How can we ever be ordinary?

Knowing who we are frees us to engage rather than compete, give instead of grab, and celebrate instead of cling. I look again at Jesus who, accepting the authority bestowed on him by his Father who loved him, stooped to serve (John 13:3-5).

So come, friend, be free in the God-spoken guarantee that you aren’t ordinary. Be free to live your godlikeness in grateful humility and in union with Christ who, living in you, takes your godlikeness to a whole new level.

An invitation to play

DSCN0485

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)