What I love most about Jesus

IMG_3072We all have those moments when we’re aware of our fragility. They might come as we look ahead to the fall schedule—full of good things, but still full. Or as we realize that we’ve fallen into the same trap again, succumbed to the same old lie. Or at the end of a long day or the beginning of a new venture or in the slow and steady middle when we’ve forgotten the excitement of beginning and can’t yet see the joy of the goal.

Too often I still try to fix that fragility. Or hide it. Or cut it off. I think I need to be strong to make it through. Sometimes we sing that conviction, asking God to overcome our weakness that we can shine out Your light.”

But what if His plan is not to overcome our weakness but to shine through it? What if He wants to show the world love more than He wants to show it power? Or what if the power He wants to show the world is the limitless power of perfect love, a strength strong enough to hold and love all the broken pieces of us as well as the healthy ones? What if all my attempts to be strong are nothing more than a failure to surrender to the Love so strong that it doesn’t fear brokenness?

The flower hangs half-broken, its lovely head down, swinging limply from the crease where its stem’s fibers glisten damp and dark and stringy. I’m sure it is going to die anyway, that flower already mostly broken, so I finish the break, pinching it off to place in a vase for a day or three as it continues its slow death.

Jesus never does that. His love never gives up. He straightens the stem, splints it, and gives it time to heal.

A bruised reed he will not break.

The wick smoulders dim red, trying vainly to burst into flame but filling the air instead with a spiral of dark, smelly smoke. I lick my fingers and reach over to pinch it dead without a thought, except maybe a thought about the unpleasantness of the smoke.

Then I watch Jesus respond to the same weak wick. He bends down, stooping until the wick is level with his kind eyes, really seeing it, and blows ever so gently, not extinguishing but feeding it with life-giving Spirit-breath. The wick rests, receives, and bursts into flame.

A smouldering wick He will not snuff out.

What I love most about Jesus—today, at least, and most days—is His gentleness. Linger here with me, will you, and find yourself safe and loved and tended as we prepare to step into fall?

Jesus, as the calendar turns to the next month and summons us into a new term, a new season, a new year, keep this ever before us: You do not change. You who have led us gently through the summer invite us to follow you gently into the fall. To let ourselves be held. To stop trying to make ourselves strong enough to face it all, smart enough to figure it all out, or efficient enough to get it all done in a hurry. You never tire of inviting us to come and rest and let ourselves be loved and touched and mended, to stop fretting about the smoke and let ourselves feel Your gentle Spirit-breath until we burst into bright flame.

The secret to loving well

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We’ve been soaking this summer in memories, asking, “What, right here in the middle of the year, the middle of life, the middle of a messy or happy or numbing day, do I most need to remember? What is the solid ground I need to feel under my feet in order to keep faithfully moving forward?” 

We’ve remembered that God speaks into every moment of every day, This is where I want to love you,” that we are no longer our own but his, and that our days here are just the beginning. We’ve recalled that the way to really rest is to receive God’s invitation to stay small and be carried, even while his love makes us great.

Summer isn’t over and the list of things I could pick out to remember is endless, but I’ve realized something. All the things I most need to remember point back to this one truth: God really loves us. Everything that matters flows from there.

So this is the last post in this series and the last post of this summer, because sometimes remembering calls us to action—or to inaction—that can’t happen on the screen. Some things that you remember need to be leaned into and learned for longer than a week.

Every summer I wrestle a bit with this: is it really okay to let this space be silent for a month?

The experts tell me I need to keep churning out content.

God seems to be asking different questions.

If I can’t take a break without fear. . .

  • Whose kingdom am I trying to build? Whose name am I trying to honor? God doesn’t bless anyone’s efforts to build their own kingdoms. And no one except God can build His own.
  • Are the words I write—words about staying small and receiving God’s rest—just nice words on the screen or do I actually believe them enough to live them? Words don’t matter at all if they don’t matter enough to live them.
  • Do I believe what God says, that the single most important thing I can do to love others well is to keep my own heart in God’s love? That it’s the only way I can love others well?

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. . . If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. . . . As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15)

I’ve been working hard with difficult material for many months and I’m tired. I need to set aside, for a few weeks, the discipline and the gift of writing and enter the gift and the discipline of rest. I need to feel sand between my toes and listen to one wave after another caressing the beach. I need to live by the tides instead of by my watch. I need to put away the computer and pick up a real paper book with words that somebody else has written, and build a sandcastle and look for beach glass and eat barbecued burgers under the sky with my niece and nephews. I need, for a few weeks, to stop trying to find words and let the Word fill me up again and rest me in his always-big-enough love. I need to be small and human and let God be God.

See you back here when I’ve dusted the red PEI sand off my feet and the calendar is turning to September. In the meantime, will you join me in doing whatever you need to do to “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 21)?

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.