Sometimes a particular dream catches my attention, as though it is wiser than I am and wants to tell me something if only I’ll pay attention. When I pause to ponder and pray about it, I often notice things that seem obvious once I see them, but I was too blind, or my mind too busy, to see them in my waking life.
One of those dreams came last week. In it I was feeling inadequate next to a friend whom I love and respect, and afraid that she’d tire of our friendship. We were at a course together, and as she came by my room to pick me up on our way to the next session a few steps across a small, dry courtyard, I observed aloud that we were both in sock feet. She looked at her feet, seeming mildly surprised, then smiled and shrugged as though she was used to discovering that she wasn’t quite put together. I, meanwhile, stopped to try to find my shoes. I couldn’t find them, but I wouldn’t stop looking—under the bed, in the closet, again and again searching places I’d already looked. The next class was beginning. Eventually, my friend went on ahead.
As I lingered with the image of being shoeless, I noticed that we were both in sock feet. None of us in this life has it all together, no matter how it may seem when I make the mistake of comparing my inside to someone else’s outside. The difference between my dream friend and myself was not that she had it all together, but that she had learned not to let her lack of togetherness derail her from her calling.
I remembered, too, God’s command to Moses: “Take off your shoes, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Standing there together, both of us shoeless, my friend and I were on holy ground. Maybe we’d find that we always are, if we paused to pay attention, for where can we flee from God’s presence? My incompleteness, our incompleteness, is never the end of the story because God is alive and active and at work in both of us, as well as between us and through us. God is as eager to show us more of who He is as He was to show Moses more of Himself when He appeared to Moses in the burning bush. And He’s still perfectly able, through that knowing of Him, to complete us with Himself—whether that means offering faith in the face of fear or, as it did with Moses, transformation from being someone with such severe anger issues that he murdered a fellow human, into being one of history’s greatest leaders. That completion comes in the following, though, in the leaning in and clinging close and paying attention not to my inadequacy but to God’s sufficiency. The question is: Will I follow, shoeless, my attention on the wonder of the bushes burning around me, or will I stop and refuse to move until I find my shoes?
Photo by Marjorie Bertrand on Unsplash
How do I balance my own needs with the needs of others? It’s one of the places that has caused the most tension in my life, and it showed up again in a dream last week.
In the dream, I was walking back toward my apartment (calmly, I thought) when a friendly-looking policeman asked me if anything was wrong. I was surprised he asked, but I answered that I was heading back to my place because I had heard that there was a fire, or a burglar, and I was going to check it out.
“Why don’t you let me do that for you?” he offered.
I unlocked the back door and let him into the stairwell, following behind him. As we began to ascend, I almost ran into a man squatting against the wall of the stairwell as though trying to avoid attention. His unshaven face matched the scruffiness of his clothes. But it was the sneer on his face that bothered me. What was he doing camping out in the stairwell of our secure building? I asked him to leave, and he began to shout unprintable words at me, making sure I knew what a horrible, selfish person I was. Despite the risk to my home, I had felt very little emotion until this point in the dream. But here guilt surfaced, and shame, in tension with the persistent sense (now confirmed by the profanities being hurled at me) that this person was trouble and I was right to ask him to leave. But this homeless man had needs too—big ones. What right did I have to put my own first? The tension paralyzed me.
Returning again to the dream in my awake state, my paralysis eventually gave way to a reminder that a First Responder was with me. And that he had offered to help. And that the stairwell wasn’t a great home for this man. And that probably the First Responder had resources to offer this man that I didn’t. Even realizing all that, and even in my awake and supposedly rational state, I struggled to trust the policeman’s word that he would take care of the man and find him a better place to live. “Will you really?” I asked. “You’re not just saying that?”
“Carolyn Joy,” I sensed God say to me later, “’Let Me be God’ means that you are not solely responsible to meet the needs of everyone around you. You can do what I ask you to and leave the rest with me, knowing that I will do my job well.”
Slowly I began to see: The question is not whose needs matter most (which is what I seem to think when I feel guilty and selfish about saying no); it’s whether I’m the right person to meet this particular need at this particular time. Am I able? Willing? Called?
Take up your cross and follow Me. Not take up the cross of everyone within your reach. Take up the one I give you to carry. And follow Me, not your own overblown sense of responsibility.
I watch Jesus heal a lot of people—and leave others unhealed as he goes off to be alone with his Father.
I see him feed crowds—and sit on a well, resting, while his disciples go in search of lunch for them all.
I see him walk on water and calm storms—and sleep in the back of a boat while his disciples fight their way through the worst storm of their lives feeling like Jesus doesn’t care.
Even Jesus was called to meet some needs and not others. Even he learned to trust his Father with the rest.
Sometimes balancing needs means getting off the teeter-totter and kneeling down.
I’d taken the dream to my counsellor, and as I walked home in the crisp fall air I heard a friendly voice, “Hey, it’s Carolyn!” I turned and saw two men with bulging bags of recycling slung over their shoulders. Their faces boasted several days’ growth, but they looked well and happy. The one who had called out saw me trying to place him and smiled, “Under the bridge. They’ve found us a place inside now.” I hadn’t dreamed he would remember my name. Sure, I’d stopped to chat when they lived under the bridge, and I’d taken them home-cooked meals a few times. And once I’d asked if I could bring enough for myself too and sit and eat with them. It hadn’t seemed like much. I hadn’t offered a bed, hadn’t found them a home. But it had been enough. The One who had promised I could do my bit and trust him with the rest had kept his promise, and had stepped out of my dream into my waking life to tell me so.
“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
I wander down among the boats at sunrise. There’s a beauty here, and a peace, but a longing, too, that stirs my deepest places. The boats in Heritage Harbour are here to rest after years of faithful sailing. As I wander among their quiet bodies, I see the backbone, still tall and strong, that has supported their life on the waters.
The cross was never meant to stand naked, our God-given dreams rolled up and tied tight while we sit safely in harbour. The cross was made to host a sail stretched wide and alive to Spirit wind. It calls us to come close, to dance, to sail, to risk, to become fully alive and fully ourselves, living the tides and the breath of the life of God.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Gal 5:1, c.f. 5:13)
Unqualified acceptance is our heritage.
“You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Gal 4:7)
Love and life and the joy of God are our inheritance.
The cross, and all it represents—a limitless welcome into the whole vibrant life of God!—is ours. (Eph 1:3-6)
To what then will I tie my life? (Looking at our heritage, I wonder that the question even needs to be asked, yet I find myself faced with it daily.)
Will I pack away the sails of my dreams and passion and tie myself to the dock of predictably-laid rules and expectations? Paul has strong words for me. If I tie my hope of approval to rules and regulations and people’s expectations, Paul says, “then Christ will be of no value to you at all.” (Galatians 5:2)
Or will I tie my hope instead to the cross and to the One who stands beside it, alive again, and eager to share His life with me? Will I let Jesus cut the ropes that tie me to any other attempt at security and take me out into deep water where I can really live?
The cross, thankfully, stands right at the center of our freedom. It guides the shape of our freedom’s expression, and it gives me the security I need to be willing to hoist the sail. My dreams are not blowing unanchored in the wind. I am free to move with the wind only when my hope is tied to the cross, to that Love who is my life, my hope and my stability.
What Jesus does with chains
I can hardly wait!
That in itself is a small miracle.
The teacher in my mandatory high school art class once told me that my perspective was “screwy as hell.”
If I wasn’t afraid to pick up a paintbrush before that, I certainly have been since. Afraid of failure. Afraid of what people will think.
So what has changed?
I am sharing a home with someone who is an artist. This is her idea. And she has done it before with people who, in their words, ‘can’t paint.’
She tells me I can’t ruin the picture.
Sometimes, for people afraid to begin, she’ll take a brush and scribble across the canvas to emphasize: they cannot spoil the painting. She will go before, showing me how to hold the brush and where to start and how to mix the paint. She will come behind, and however my brush strokes the canvas, the brush of the master artist will incorporate and cover and surround, and the first strokes of a not-so-timid-anymore but still-mostly-untrained artist will become a seamless part of the beauty.
I can let go and enter the process with joy, knowing that my strokes are few in the bigger picture. Trusting the promise and the promiser: I cannot ruin the picture.
My favorite part of all this? I don’t have the last word in life either. The Master Artist, brush in hand, not only coaches but comes behind, filling and surrounding and incorporating dark and light into unbelievable beauty. And He promises that every stroke I make on my canvas, the careful ones, the let-go-and-have-fun ones, the ones where I really mess up badly – as well as every loving touch or careless scribble or angry slash that someone else makes across my canvas, will all be used in the shaping of the final image – Christ in me.
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son. . . (Romans 8:28-29 NLT)
Oh, and my other favorite part? I get to be a real-life artist! So do you! We’re made in the image of the Creator, created to create alongside Him, to dream with Him, to learn from Him that there are no ordinary scenes or relationships when they’re touched with His light – and ours (John 8:12; Matt 5:14). So enjoy painting your own God-inspired beauty into your day, my fellow artists!
She clings to my legs, crying. I stop and speak gently to my fear.
“Honey, it doesn’t do either of us any good if I sit here with you while Jesus is up ahead. We both need Him.
You may sit here if you like. We will walk where you can see us, and you will learn that Jesus is safe and strong and gentle. You will see us walking with his arm around me. You will see us working close together. You will see him holding me.
Whenever you are ready, you are welcome to join us. He will hold you too, and quiet you with his love.”