When you’re facing a too-busy week

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I never thought it could happen.

I looked last night at my calendar for the week. I’d felt each item was right when I took it on, and there was nothing I felt I was being asked to let go. But it all added up to a week busy enough that I usually would have looked at it and swallowed hard. The strange thing was that last night I looked at the calendar and I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t overwhelmed. I was excited.

It took me a while to figure out what had made the difference. Why could I look at the week and instead of panicking, look forward to seeing how God would work?

Then I realized. I’d spent the week remembering:

It was April 2004. I’d just lived my first two days in Kabul. I was supposed to be flying in to see for the first time the little village where I was going to work. But it had been raining, and when someone drove a truck onto the runway it sank ten centimeters into the mud; the flight was postponed. So I waited. And when the call came the next night that I should be at the airport at 5am, a kaleidoscope of butterflies took flight in my stomach. Would we make it this time? What would I find? Could I cope in this place to which I was going?  I wasn’t sure I’d sleep at all, but I went to bed anyway, and picked up my copy of Daily Light before turning out the light. “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.” (SS 2:10)

I went to sleep with the words in my head. They called to me when my alarm clock rang at 03:45. I heard them again as I shivered at the airport, watching the sun turn the fresh snow on the mountains pink as the pilot made the final adjustments to the four-seater plane.

“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.” Love is calling me to come with Him into this week too.

When it’s Thanksgiving and you want to feel it

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So there it was—Thanksgiving Sunday—and I was doing my best to get into it. I want thanksgiving to characterize my life every day of the year, so it felt especially sad that on this weekend that our Canadian forefathers and mothers set apart to give special thanks, I was full of self-pity. Yuck.

I know sometimes thanksgiving is a sacrifice; we’re to give thanks anyway, even when it feels hard. Often that choice—to give thanks anyway—opens my eyes so I can see again how good God is, and joy creeps in and my thankfulness switches from something I’m doing out of sheer obedience to something I’m doing because God is so big and so good and loves me so much that what’s not to give thanks for?

But there are days—like yesterday—when I want to feel thankful, I try to give thanks anyway, and my eyes stay glued shut and my self curved in and my thanks stays tasting like cardboard. I wondered why.

So I asked.

“God, You are so good—there’s enough in Your character to keep me giving thanks forever. And on top of that you’ve poured out so many other blessings. Why don’t I feel thankful even when I want to, even when I’m trying to give thanks?”

“It’s hard to give thanks for a gift you’ve just pushed away.”

Huh.

I think we’ve been here before, He and I.

I can feel deeply thankful in the middle of illness, in the middle of grief, in the middle of just about anything—as long as I feel loved. And since God’s love for me never changes, when I’m not feeling loved, it’s because I’m pulling away, or pushing him away.

So I ask another question, one that I plan to keep handy for every time thanksgiving fails to open my eyes, “Jesus, where am I pushing away your love?”

A string of questions follows:

  • Am I insisting on carrying burdens that God wants to carry for me?
  • Am I berating myself (perhaps for not feeling thankful enough?) while God is whispering that he loves me and just wants me back in His arms?
  • Am I refusing to receive His love through the hands of a friend? Failing to rest when He invites me to? Prioritizing the do-list over the moment of celebration He has invited me into?

He brings me back once more to a prayer that helps me stop pushing Him away:

“Blessed Trinity,

I receive your love,

your presence

and this day as a gift from you.

I open my heart to you.

Please lead me deeper

into your transforming love

as we live these next hours together.

Amen.”

And as I give thanks for Grace that always welcomes me home and Love that wants me to know I’m loved and parents who listen and a friend who drives, my cardboard thanksgiving catches fire and I wonder if the world will end before I run out of things to give thanks for. And this—this Love in which we find ourselves—is the flame that turns thanksgiving to thanksliving and moves us out to change the world.

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When you don’t have much to offer

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I ran along the garden path, wishing I’d brought my camera. The grasses bowed, shimmered, almost glowed in the early morning light.

I moved slowly, my run half walk, each step dragging the weight of my heart. There are times it’s tempting to pull the covers over your head and skip the day.

I stopped to stretch and a tear slipped from my eye. I gave it to Jesus. It was all I had to give.

As I walked back past the grasses, almost other-worldly in their silvery shimmer, I sensed His nudge. “Look closer.”

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Sometimes you have strength to give, and sometimes willing weakness. And when your threadbare weakness has worn right through and all you have left is emptiness and tears, just bring Him those. But be warned: you might have to go for your camera. It’s nothing for this one who spoke the Milky Way out of empty space to string worlds of beauty from tears bent to his light.

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.