When you struggle to settle yourself

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I’d been desperate to escape the night-and-day noise of the city outside my window, the pain of metal-on-metal of nearby construction, so I ran last week on wooded trails where I met only spiders who’d slung their silk across the path while the world slept, heard only songbirds celebrating the new day and a woodpecker tapping for breakfast. Then I wrapped myself in a huge soft blanket and sat with my Bible in the leather chair in the pale yellow and blue bedroom in the basement of the big house where all was still.

A day or two in, as I became able to sleep again and began to awaken to stillness, I came up hard against the lack of stillness within me. I could, for a few days, escape the noise around me. I couldn’t so easily turn off the noise within. I wanted to settle, to rest, to burrow deep into the peace of God’s love. I felt more like an overtired eighteen-month-old child, distracted and overstimulated and unable to figure how to settle myself.

“Oh, Jesus, I don’t like this in me. I’d rather be peaceful and joyful. . . . BUT I love it that you love me here, and rather than commanding me to fix it, You bring me close and settle me on Your knee—me with head still turning frantically this way and that, restless and wiggly—and hold me close and speak softly, ‘This is where I want to love you.’ Oh, thank you! I don’t know how to settle myself in Your presence today, but I come running to You anyway, bringing my whole self, eager to be with You and discover myself loved once again with the love that never lets go. Oh, Jesus, meet me here today and make my heart even more deeply Yours!”

And I find marvelous lines in Brueggemann’s book of prayers that always gives words to my tongue-tied heart:

“. . . We trust the great truth of your wondrous love

but we will not sit still for it,

UNTIL you hear us.

Our truth—heard by you—will make us free. . .”1

“Oh! I see! This is part of why I can’t settle myself in your love. I want to race past the stuff wrestling inside of me, and what I need first is not to try to pile more of your truth in but to let some of my truth—my secrets that I’m carrying and barely know how to put into words—out into the truth of Your love that enfolds all.

My heart feels quieter already, resting in the relief that I don’t have to fix the restless parts of my heart, finding again that every part of me is welcome in Your arms that never let go. Thank you, Jesus. I don’t yet know how to name what is restless within me, but I come, all of me, and sit on your knee, feeling your strong arms around me, waiting for you to show me what you want to bring into your light today to be welcomed and loved into wholeness, knowing that while I wait I am loved. All of me.”

The spiderwebs glisten in the rising sun and the branches hung with old man’s beard glow like they’re set on fire and the rising sun makes all in its path glorious and how can I see anything but beauty here? For this is grace, always entering the dark and the messy and restless and loving it into life.

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1Walter Brueggemann, “A people with many secrets,” in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, p. 25

An honor you can’t afford to miss

DSCN3604Have you ever wished you could have been present at creation, watching as God spoke the stars into being and stooped to shape the first human from dust?

I can’t think of an honor much greater than being witness to creation.

I’ve tasted the joy of witnessing creation in my work as an obstetrician, delight in it still as I watch the life of God take shape in the hearts and lives of those with whom I’m honored to walk.

But I’m starting to see that that there is a greater honor and joy than being witness to creation. And that we’re given it.

The thought is so startling at first I want to run away from it. If this honor wasn’t given, my claiming of it would be the worst of pride, a horrendous affront to the one Creator God. But I’m learning that I can’t outdream God. When something seems too incredible to be true, the problem is often that I’m seeing through my too small human perspective. So here it is:

We are invited to be co-creators with God.

I’m grateful for Jeremy Begbie’s reminder: “All good theology is done on the cliff-edge—one step too far and you tumble into idolatry, one step back and the view is never so good.”[1] If God has created us to be co-creators, we do not honor God by stepping back from the cliff edge; instead we miss seeing and entering the startling magnitude of God’s grace in making us not merely servants but sons, not merely stewards but co-creators.

Dorothy Sayers helps me begin to see the Biblical foundation for our position as co-creators by taking seriously the context of the declaration, “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). Since the only (or at least main) thing we’re told about God prior to that declaration concerns God’s creative activity,  “the characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and ability to make things.”[2]

J.R.R. Tolkien put it this way: “[W]e make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”[3]

God’s creative act is always primary. His creativity bestows and blesses ours:

Where a man would make a machine, a picture, or a book, God makes the man that makes the book, or the picture, or the machine. Would God give us a drama? He makes a Shakespeare. Or would he construct a drama more immediately his own? He begins with the building of the stage itself, and that stage is a world—a universe of worlds. He makes the actors, and they do not act,—they are their parts. He utters them into the visible to work out their life­—his drama.[4]

We co-create in the world around us, through our writing, our gardening, our home decorating and designing of scientific experiments and mathematical proofs. But God invites us right to the top, allowing us to co-create that pinnacle of His creation: the human person.

  • God designs the shape of our noses and the size of our ears; he leaves us to map the pattern of our wrinkles as smile-lines or worry-creases.
  • God creates us with neurons able to make new connections; he gives us vast freedom to determine the shape of our brain pathways through what we focus on.[5]
  • God gives a certain initial form to our personality; he grants us immense power in the shaping of our character through our moment-by-moment choices.

God shapes our infant form; working together with Him, we have great input into who we become. Co-creatorship helps me make sense of the mystery reflected in Phil 2:12-13 “. . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

No matter how often I experience God’s love, the magnitude of this kind of love still surprises me—love that doesn’t hold back even the prerogative of creation but creates us to be co-creators with Him, co-creators even of our own selves.

I’m beginning to feel I’ll never find the limits of the truth spoken by Dr. J.I. Packer: Love is “the resolve to make the loved party great.”[6]

 

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[1]Jeremy Begbie, Theology, Music and Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 279.

[2] Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), 34. (I do think bearing the image of God is broader than this—we’re also given at least a hint of God’s relational nature in the words “Let us make humankind in our image—but Sayer’s point is well-taken that context insists that we take seriously the creative aspect of our image-bearing.)

[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, p.18

[4]George MacDonald, The Imagination and Other Essays, 3–4.

[5] For an intriguing exploration of the extent to which our brains can change, see Norman Doidge, The Brain that Changes Itself.

[6] J.I. Packer, Systematic Theology A: Prolegomena, The Knowledge of God, Revelation and Creation, CD 18.

 

Why you can dare to dance today—no matter where you are

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She put them in the vase all neat and obedient, beautifully lined up with just a pleasing amount of randomness. It only took a day before they were all spread out in a dance of wild beauty, reaching, stretching toward the light.

I can’t bear to cut them again and set them back neat and tidy. I want to see what happens as they keep dancing toward the light. I want to see the light toward which they’re reaching glow like fire deep in their centers.

I want to live it too, want to keep learning how to stop trying to prune and organize Life and just dance wild toward the Light, His fire burning hot in my deepest center.

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The dance can start from anywhere—sadness or joy, longing or delight. It can begin with the slow, sad, “How long O Lord?” (Ps 13), the aching desire, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you,” or the twirling celebration of thanks and delight, anticipation and joy. It can begin in sickness or success or a Nazi concentration camp:

“You have made me so rich, oh God, please let me share out Your beauty with open hands. My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You. Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised towards Your Heaven, tears . . . run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude. I have been terribly tired for days but that too will pass. Things come and go in a deeper rhythm and we must be taught to listen to it; it is the most important thing we have to learn in this life.” (Etty Hillesum)

There are a million ways of turning toward the light, and it’s the turning toward the light that makes the tulips dance.

There are a million reasons to dance, too. Today’s favorite?

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5)

      

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What’s your favorite reason to dance today? I’d love to hear . . .

When you decide to live free

DSCN9564editConfession: I can know the truth about something for a long time before I learn to live comfortably in it. It takes a lot of times of living something new before it feels like it fits.

I’ve written tens of thousands of vulnerable words since seeing that Christ-like serving requires exposure. Daily practiced the truth that my willingness to rest brings God glory. Kept stepping into my God-given mandate to say yes to what I’m called to and no to other things.

I’m just beginning to savor the joy of these freedoms. Just beginning to see that each of them is freedom.

At first each felt more like hardship.

That discomfort has often caused me to question whether I was hearing truly. There’s a place for that. I don’t always get it right. But I’m learning that far more often when I start to live something I’m pretty sure God is saying—when I’ve heard his voice through Scripture and prayer and one or two wise and trusted friends affirm that I seem to be on the right track—the discomfort is not because I’m hearing wrong but because my body and brain are made to resist change.

Holley Gerth explains it in her marvelous book You’re Going to be Okay: Our brains and bodies are made for homeostasis, which means that “we always seek ways to return to the status quo. That serves us well most of the time. For example, physically we sweat so our temperature stays steady. . . . Emotionally we eventually even out even after a tough day.” The downside is that “when we seek to alter a pattern in our lives, we always feel resistance.” (p. 91)

God brings us into the wide open space of freedom (because he delights in us!) But then we have a choice. We can let fear keep us walking in tiny, tight circles, still in effect chained to our old life though the ropes have been cut. Or we can accept the initial strangeness of the wide open space and explore and enjoy and make our home in His love.

Freedom only becomes ours when we live it.

So I’m choosing to trust God when He tells me he delights in me and that caring for myself is a way of loving him.

I’m choosing to trust God’s desire to make my heart beat like His gentle, forgiving heart, and when I mess up, I’m refusing to try to pay for my sin with guilt and self-condemnation.

I’m choosing to step out of the shadows of insecurity and say yes to being my true in-Christ self, offering bread to a starving world.

This matters. Every time I choose to keep walking in the tight little circles of the way I’ve always thought instead of stepping out and walking free with Christ, I push Him away. I hurt myself and others, depriving them of what I’ve been given to give.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1)

God brings the freedom; we choose to walk in it. Care to join me?

How to live again

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Through the first week of the Easter season I’ve found myself returning again and again to Jan Richardson’s Easter Sunday meditation, watching Mary as she encounters the newly risen Jesus in the garden.

 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” (John 20:16)

“You think that you would give anything just to hear his voice again: the way his words resonated in your heart, your chest; the timbre of his laughter; how he would, in the midst of the most ordinary moment, suddenly break into song.

So when, in your weeping, you hear the sound of him speaking your name, you are stunned, then elated. You want to reach out, to gather into your arms the one you had thought forever gone.

What you do not know is that resurrection is not quite the same as return. You will learn, and soon, that it comes with a cost, that new life really means this: means new, means that it will not be the same as before, means that you cannot hold onto him, means that you will have to let go of everything in order to know him and love him as he is now. As you are now, yourself altered beyond imagining.

You will learn that the cost of resurrection is also the gift: that having to let go — again, but differently — will propel you into a life you could hardly have dreamed on your own. Into the aching and empty space of your outstretched arms, a whole new world will enter. And this awful hollowing inside your chest: this is your heart becoming larger. This is the space you will need in order to hold him now.”

Our pastor begins a new series on Jesus the Healer and I find myself needing to hang out in the garden with Mary and ask the hard question: am I willing to let go? There was cost in letting go of my medical career and health and work overseas. There will be cost, too, if Jesus chooses to bless with physical healing. Am I willing to stop trying to hold onto Him as I have known Him in these years and let Him lead me into knowing Him in whatever way He now wants to receive my love and give Himself to me?

To live again I have to let go.

I hit up against places I’m not yet willing and ask Jesus for help—tell Him I want to be made willing and ask Him to help  me see what underlies the fear I find in myself. He does. It’s these two things:

1) The fear that God will change. It sounds silly put that bluntly, but I needed to be reminded that the God who has been so gentle and provided so beautifully through the past leg of this journey will continue to be the same gentle provider whether the next bit of terrain looks much the same or entirely different. (Deut 1:29-32)

2) The fear that God wants to totally change me. This one is an easy lie to fall for because in one sense God does completely change us—”I no longer live but Christ lives in me.” The complete and total change of death always comes before resurrection. But in the mystery of things, God’s goal in that is not to make us someone we’re not but to set us free to be our unique, beloved selves.

This speaks into a key fear for me—that if I’m physically well I’ll have to be out there serving all the time, working myself to death like I was before. . . that if I can do something, I’ll have to do it. I forget that God likes it that I ache to spend long hours listening to His heartbeat and then writing and mentoring in ways that help others hear too, forget that He has made me that way, put that passion in me, and has spent these years calling it out in me, forget that when I asked if it was really okay to let go of the busyness of medicine and pour all my energy into listening to his heartbeat and helping others listen, he said “I want it more.”

True, the next phase of listening and helping others listen might look different than I expect. Uncomfortably, stretchingly different. But I can trust that His heart is not to crush me but to set me free, not to turn me into someone I was never meant to be but to help me be even more my true self in deeper communion with Him.

The morning He reminded me of that, He underscored it with words from Holley Gerth waiting in my inbox: “You are not called to live up to your ‘potential’ – to do as much as you can, as quickly as you can, for as many people as you can. You, my friend, are simply called to say yes to God.”

It’s only in the context of those reminders that I can hold both the possibility of being healed and of not now being physically healed in open hands. God loves me and loves who He has made me to be. He is for me. He wants to keep bringing me closer and setting me more and more free in His love. He knows the best way to do that, and I will trust Him.

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Looking for a balanced, Biblical perspective on healing? Darrell Johnson’s sermon is a great place to start.