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.

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)

___________

An edited repost from the archives, part of a summer series leaning into God’s repeated command to remember.

Image credit: amyandra

 

What Love does with barriers

DSCN7612

It was early morning and the baby and her dad were the only ones on the playground. The baby was crawling happily under the swingset. I stopped jogging and watched as her dad crept a few meters away and crouched behind one of the large cement blocks ringing the playground.

The baby began crawling toward the block. Now and again her dad would tap on the top of the block or wiggle his fingers above it, reminding her he was there, keeping her moving toward him. Finally one small hand then the other reached up and grasped the edge of the block, and the baby pulled herself to standing, peeking over to see her dad smiling at her.

I wrote last week about anger. I omitted the obvious question.

It’s one thing to believe that anger on behalf of someone else might be pointing me to an injustice, calling me to act and giving me courage to do it. But what about when it’s anger over something that has happened to me? Surely then it’s selfish and sinful? Maybe. (It’s easy for sin to get mixed up in anger.) And maybe not.

When I’ve let anger spur me to action on behalf of another I’ve been saying two things: “You matter” and “What is happening to you is wrong.” If I refuse to let myself feel the anger that comes on my own behalf in a situation that is clearly wrong, am I disagreeing with God that I matter?

I feel the mountains tremble and shake with His anger as He runs to the aid of His child who is crying out. (Ps. 18) Every one of His children matter.

The dad turns the barrier into a plaything. The spacious trust of child in father and father in child delights me.

Scripture is full of commands to “put off” anger. I’ve wondered how. Avoiding it doesn’t work. Stuffing it just drives it deeper. It seems the only way to “put off” anything is to start by coming closer. To look at it, listen to it, touch it—in the presence of Jesus.

And as Jesus wiggles his fingers and smiles at me and I learn to stand, there are surprises:

He’s not afraid of my anger. Like everything else in life, He wants to turn it into a place we can explore together, one more place to enjoy His love and give Him mine.

Often beneath my anger lies untruth, an unwillingness to see or admit my real hopes and desires, hurts and needs. Sometimes honesty is enough to dissolve anger. Nine years I’ve felt anger every time I thought of him pacing back and forth across the office, shouting  at us. And within five minutes of getting up off the toshak where I was still cowering and standing up to the man and, in my imagination, telling him the truth about what he was doing to us and to the people we served, the anger was gone and compassion had settled in its place. The man had shrunk, and I could see him for who he was, a bully so small and empty that the only way he knew to make himself feel better was to trash everyone within reach of his words.

Sometimes my anger holds wisdom. Anger shows me what matters to me. (I only feel angry if something I value is being threatened.) Resentment usually tells me I’m doing too much.

Often, the anger is around a choice that I’ve made. I’ve offered to do something when I was already tired. I’ve said “sure, that’s fine” when it wasn’t really fine at all. Sometimes there isn’t even another person involved—I’ve just been listening to the “shoulds” in my head, pushing away my desire for rest or play, when perhaps God wanted to use my resentment to show me what I really need and call me into his gentle, gracious way of living. Maybe obeying the command to “put off” anger involves learning to honor my God-given choice. “Each one should give what he has decided in his heart to givenot reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Like all emotions, anger is meant to move us deeper into right relationship—with God and others and ourselves. It can only do that as I learn to listen to it in the presence of Jesus—the One who is truth and love.

 

Taking it deeper:

Next time you feel angry about something, stop and ask what it’s trying to tell you. What is it that matters enough to you that you feel angry when it’s threatened?

What is your anger inviting you to be honest about?

See God peeking out from behind the concrete block of your anger, inviting you to come closer, to explore and learn and grow and delight in playing with him in the safe space of his never-failing love.

When you don’t have what it takes

IMG_4353I wake tired and empty, find myself dreading the day.

“Jesus, what is going on here? Why am I dreading this day you are holding out to me as a gracious gift?”

I feel myself trying to gather the strength for what I need to do today. What I think I need to do. The way I think I need to do it.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (john 15:5)

The blossoms along the path I run are so thick I can hardly find the leaves.

I measure myself by them and I think I know what fruitfulness is supposed to look like. Thick. Vibrant. Eye-catching. Blogs posted, books written, lives changed.

IMG_4355

Tired days can feel like failed days when I count fruitfulness by words on the page.

But as I slow and listen to His heartbeat, I see that the fruit Jesus is promising is as different from my measures of productivity as the means of growing it is from drivenness. Yes, as I make my home in Him His life may flow through me in words written and floors swept, but the core of His promise is not that I’ll write more words or tick more things off my do-list, but that my being and doing will be marked by His character.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience. . .” (Gal 5:22-23)

I sink deep into his love—and I love Him all the more.

Who could love me like this, with a love not dependent on what I bring? Joy awakens.

I settle into the assurance that His love isn’t changed by what I accomplish—and peace stretches and enfolds me.

When I know He’s not disappointed with my current word count, I can wait for Him to give the words in His time. Patience is growing.

And somehow as I make my home in His love the words are written and the work is done—and we got here gently, Him knowing me and I Him and both of us enjoying the other.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.” (John 15:9, The Message)

What God does with your mistakes

DSCN5627I’d just arrived at the hospital in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, travelling in a taxi with door handles falling off and lumpy, lopsided seats.

A preacher whose name I don’t remember was speaking in the hospital chapel that weekend, reminding us that failure is never final with God. God never discards broken things—He values them. The preacher told us about the making of Persian carpets. The master designer creates a pattern, and numerous craftspeople work on it together. If one of them makes a mistake, they do not take it out—that would weaken the fabric. Instead, the master designer redesigns the pattern, incorporating the mistake. Often the result is even more beautiful than the initial pattern.

Seventeen years later and I’m listening to another preach about Jesus’ promise: “I am the vine, you are the branches. If anyone remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5)

I’ve struggled to believe that. Oh, I’ve thought I believed it, but my fear of failure showed me that something else was going on. But today I realize I’ve finally begun to trust that promise. Living in Him, with Him in me, I will bear His life into the world. Because the promise is not that I won’t make mistakes along the way. The promise is that my mistakes will never be greater than God’s creative grace.