Looking back to move forward

“For all that has been—thanks.

For all that will be—yes.”

(Dag Hammarskjold)

I stand in the crack between what has been and what will be, scanning the years, gathering courage from past memories and present Presence as I move toward the not yet.
The word “remember” comes 176 times in Scripture, and as I read through the verses containing the word, I realize I’ve just read the whole story told in terms of what God remembers (or doesn’t remember) and what we are commanded to remember.
God remembers his covenant. He remembers our human frailty and has compassion on us. He doesn’t remember our sin.
We are to remember that we were slaves and God brought us into freedom. That He has blessed us not because we deserve it (we don’t!), but just because He loves us. We are to remember how He has led and provided for us all through the years, and are to pay special attention to how God has been toward us in the years of slavery (seeing our misery, hearing our cries, being touched by our need, and coming down to set us free) and in the desert years (tending and caring and providing when we weren’t able to provide for ourselves, and, not for the last time, causing life-giving water to spring from stone and bread to descend from heaven).
Above all, we are to remember the One in whom all this protection and provision, this sin-removing, freedom-bringing, covenant-keeping love is embodied: “Do this in remembrance of Me.”
I skim through my own story, seeing the unmistakeable fingerprints of the same life-saving, freedom-giving God. The right person in the right place at the right time to help me make the impossible decision to leave Afghanistan. The friend who came to set up my apartment when I was too sick to shop for bookshelves and wastebaskets. The right course at the right time all the way through my degree, my path twisting in ways I never anticipated but each turn tenderly, thoughtfully placed by the One who was leading though I couldn’t always see Him.
I see the way this whole story—at times painful, but also beautiful—has been leading me deeper into freedom to trust His love, freedom to be myself—and to be His!—without fear. I see how the most painful places have also been the places He has tended me most gently, and the most terrifying places (the ones where I felt trapped between the Egyptians and the deep red sea) my passage into freedom.
Standing in the present Presence and looking back and remembering, I say with all the others who have stood through the ages and looked back and remembered God’s faithfulness, “For all that has been—thanks.”
And as I remember that this same God who has shaped my past and cared for me in it, leading me toward freedom and providing when I couldn’t care for myself, is going with me into the future, my heart says with Mary and with all who have, like her, opened themselves to the thrilling, painful, miracle of God coming to live and grow in and be born through them, “For all that will be—yes.”

When you lose sight of the truth


Dear Self,
You know those times when things that were clear before now seem confusing, or even clear in the opposite direction? (“How could you ever have thought God was calling you to write, or to help others listen? Look at you! You can’t even listen yourself!”) Those times when everything seems dark and you’d rather eat chocolate than stick with your prayer time because Scripture doesn’t seem to have anything to say to you and what’s the point anyway? Those times when you’re restless and it’s hard to settle and you’re afraid to say anything because what if your wise friend or spiritual director agrees that you aren’t cut out for this after all?

There are a few things you need to remember in those times, Self. But since those are the times you’re most likely to forget these things, I’m writing them out for you here so that when those times come you can reread them and remember the truth.
First: take a deep breath and remember that it’s okay. You are not the only screwed up mess in the whole wide world even though in those moments it might feel that way. You’re just experiencing the down of the ups and downs that are a normal part of every serious disciple’s life. It doesn’t feel like it right now (that’s part of the nature of this—it claims past and future and absorbs them into its apparently eternal present), but this will pass and you’ll come back into the light and feel close to God once again. Saint Ignatius called the downs—the times when you feel empty and confused and far from God, when you lose sight of who He is and who you are—spiritual desolation.
Second: When did you last eat? Take a day off? How’s your sleep? In other words, does this desolation have physical, psychological, or spiritual roots? You’re human, remember, and one of the surest ways to set yourself up for spiritual desolation is to act as if you aren’t.
Your Father doesn’t forget that you’re dust, so let your heart line up with his gentle heart and go for that walk you need.
Take the nap. Get the counseling. But in the process don’t forget that your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Remember that, as strong as he may seem, he’s a coward and a bully, always aiming for your weakest spot (so know yourself!) and convincing you to keep quiet about the struggles (because, like an illicit lover, he knows the game is up when he’s exposed). He’ll chase you to the ends of the earth if you turn tail, but if you stand up to him, you’ll find he’s quick to disappear.
Now: if the sadness and confusion are more than physical or psychological—
(and, Gallagher says, we can be sure the enemy is at work in someone who

  • is growing in love for and service to God,
  • has “considerations” or reasons concerning their spiritual life which seem convincing to them, and,
  • arising from those considerations, is discouraged or disquieted in a way that reduces their emotional strength in serving God)

—then don’t forget these things:
You’ll be tempted to change decisions you made in the light. DON’T! As Saint Ignatius reminds us, in times of spiritual desolation it’s the devil whispering in your ear, so to change decisions in a time of desolation is to let the devil be your spiritual director. (But note that this rule applies to spiritual desolation; if you’re exhausted from overwork, changes in your schedule to permit rest might be precisely what you need.)
All those things about how pathetic you are that sound so obvious and convincing and true? This is not the time either to go along with them and beat yourself up, or to get into an argument with them. Just accept that the voice you’re hearing is not God’s voice and move on to the next step.
There are a few things you can do to help yourself in these times: 1) Ask God for help 2) Remind yourself—through meditation on Scripture and remembering past experience—of God’s loving faithfulness. 3) Pay attention to what is going on in you. Prayerfully try to understand if you’re in spiritual desolation, where it began, what caused it, and what actions will help you reject it. 4) Act in the way opposite to what you’re tempted. If you’re being tempted to skip or shorten your prayer times, be careful to stick to them, and stay even a few minutes longer.
Know that this pain isn’t pointless. As you choose to lean into God in the tough times, he uses them to strengthen your faith. To grow in him, you need these painful times as much as you need the times of spiritual consolation.
Those are a few of the basics, Self. They’ll get you started. But also don’t forget how helpful you’ve found Gallagher’s The Discernment of Spirits with its deeper exploration of the rules of Saint Ignatius and its many case studies in which you’ve seen yourself. From time to time you’ll probably want to pull it off the shelf and review all this more deeply again.
Until then, may you deeply savor God’s love in times of consolation, and stand firm in his truth in times of desolation, receiving them both as gift. You are His and He won’t let go.
Love, Me

_____________________________

Photo #1 by Macie Jones on Unsplash. Photo #2 by Andrew Neel on Unsplash. Used with permission.

When the days feel long

DSCN4659We’re not yet half-way through Lent and there are days I wonder whose bright idea it was to make this preparation season so long.
It’s not that I don’t need it. God has been showing me places I hide and calling me to come out of hiding. I’m owning things I’ve needed to own for a long time, and stepping more firmly into the next stages of my calling.
But still. Most days I’m grateful to see more of the sun in these lengthening days. Some days feel plenty long already.
Then I need to remember:
Lent is about more than seeing our sin; it’s about savoring our smallness.
It’s about more than turning from our sin; it’s about turning back, as small and humble creatures, to the One who made us by hand and knows us by heart and loves us.
Might learning to celebrate our smallness take care of a lot of our sin?
Pride, greed, even worry—it’s hard for me to think of a sin that isn’t somehow rooted in my forgetfulness that I’m a small and fragile creature held by my Creator who delights in me.
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DSC_0014The Lenten roses have been wide open for weeks, their pink flowers calling to me: “You’re His creature too, grounded in the same love in which we stand.” Purple crocuses and tiny rain-spotted daffodils nod their bright heads in the morning breeze. The buds on the cherry trees are ready to burst and robins are singing for the joy of the morning, nineteen of them hopping about on the lawn, stopping to listen for their next meal.
Maybe part of the turning and returning of Lent is learning to sing along with other small ones.

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;

make melody to our God on the lyre.

He covers the heavens with clouds,

prepares rain for the earth,

makes grass grow on the hills.

He gives to the animals their food,

and to the young ravens when they cry.

His delight is not in the strength of the horse,

nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;

but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,

in those who hope in his steadfast love.

(Psalm 147:7-11)

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)?

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.