What Love does with barriers

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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.

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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.

Resurrection: what God does with your wounds

DSC_0110I’ve been so grateful since I heard, a few years ago, that Easter isn’t a single day but Eastertide, the whole fifty day stretch from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. I need fifty days, I need a whole lifetime, to explore the truth of Christ’s resurrection as it stretches backward and forward to encompass and change everything.

The words came last year as we approached Lent:

“Winds wind

blinding hair

gold around stability

bind flesh to bone

and glory to fragility.”

The Spirit-wind pauses, hovers, and glory is bound to fragility, God to our flesh, in a young woman’s womb.

The God-man baby grows and lives, suffers and dies, and it isn’t just in that one man that divinity is bound to humanity. He gathers and holds our wounds, lets them settle deep and they pierce right through, pierce his feet and his side too, and in His suffering and death He takes our sin and our pain and makes them His own, binds us to Him, our fragile flesh to Glory.

And when He rises from the dead to walk again among us, then rises through the clouds to the side of His Father, He carries us with Him, still wearing our flesh.

“Then you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)

He rises still wearing His wounds, our wounds, His scarred hands outstretched in blessing as He ascends.

A fellow pilgrim shares of rolling his own wounds around in his hands like dark pearls, and of the invitation to “drop them in this open place of good and glory” which Christ’s loving presence has created.

Jesus, how do I drop them?

I see the baby again, reflexively grasping whatever touches her palm. Jesus picks her up, settles her to sleep. Her grip loosens. He’s calling me to come close, reminding me that only as I know myself loved and learn to rest in that place of grace will my need to cling ease.

I listen again to my fellow pilgrim and watch Jesus “gathering the dark pearls of my wounds (when finally I could let them go), and stringing a necklace to place lovingly, lightly, round my neck in a place of honour and beauty.” (Doug Webber)

He’s giving me a glimpse into a grace bigger than I expect. Even resurrection doesn’t erase all scars; wounds aren’t meant to disappear without a trace. Instead of discarding, grace transforms. Places of pain fill with joy, places of death, life. Places of fragility, backlit, are discovered to be thin places where the greatest glory shines through. Even wounds once festering with self can become, in His love, scars which shimmer with Him.

Two days ago I saw this necklace of grace on a woman who hid for two and a half years while she recovered from trauma; I marveled at the gracious wisdom she now speaks out of God’s presence in her own story. I’ve noticed it lately on a friend who calls weekly to listen and encourage; she understands because she remembers God meeting her in her own deep places.

This is one of the gifts of resurrection: we don’t need to fear our wounds. Those holes in your hands might become the very places Christ’s love flows through to bring life to another, those dark pearls of your scars a bright necklace speaking hope to all who see it.

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Images of the dark pearls and necklace by Doug Webber. Used with permission.

Dust you are: living the mystery together

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There are three ministers sitting at the front behind the communion table. I’ve come full today, full of the sadness and fear and anger I’d tried to leave behind but couldn’t. And I’ve come empty, hungry for Jesus. I’m so grateful He calls me to come as I am.

The senior minister, Darrell, is in the middle with Andrea on his right and Abe on his left. Darrell stands, welcoming us all to the table and speaking the words of institution as he lifts the loaf and breaks it. I watch as Abe and Andrea pass the trays of bread to the servers to share with us. Darrell asks that we hold the bread until all have received and can partake “because we’re all in this together.”

Then, to his right, Andrea stands and lifts the cup. Her clear voice rings out, “And then He took the cup. . .” I was raised in a church where women couldn’t speak the words of institution or distribute the elements. My heart is in my throat. Something is happening and Jesus is in this place and we are on holy ground.

I expect her to suggest that we take the cup when we receive it as a sign that even though we are brought into the body we each come to Jesus individually. She asks instead that we wait once again and drink together. That breaks me right open and tears run down my cheeks because don’t we all have times we need to be reminded that this is the ultimate truth, that we really are part of Jesus’ body, all in this together, with each other and for each other and that’s how it’s meant to be?

We’re singing “Let the weak say I am strong” and part of that strength comes from sensing your fellow cells squished up against you in this living, breathing, growing body. There are moments Jesus’ life flows through you to feed them and warm them and hold them up and there are moments the flow is reversed. And often those moments aren’t very far apart.

I watch as the mystery unfolding in front of me deepens. Andrea returns from passing the trays of tiny cups to the servers. Darrell has stepped out from behind the table. He speaks to her a few words I can’t hear and she smiles and steps in behind the table, into the middle, into his place, and sits in his seat. Darrell sits in hers, then stands again to collect the emptied trays as the servers return.

This is the Lord’s table and I’ve just watched Him step out of His place and put me—a straggler and a struggler and a woman1 —in it, right in the middle of the Trinity where I can sit, surrounded and honored and safe and then where I can stand again—Jesus now wearing my flesh—and offer His blood and His body, His life and His strength, to my fellow ministers and to the world.

There are no words Darrell could have spoken which would have carried that message to my heart the way his action did.

There is truth that has to be embodied and joy that has to be laughed and grief that has to come out in wet and salty tears. There is love that has to be knelt and danced and lived and longing that can only be expressed as you lie clinging to the feet of Jesus.

Our body is not an accessory to our souls. It’s not a mere house for the more precious and lasting part of us. Rather, as Old Testament scholar Johannes Pedersen says, ‘The body is the soul in its outward form.”2

 

Taking it further:

Speaking of Genesis 2:7, Celeste Snowber Schroeder says,

“The Hebrew literally tells us that ‘God breathed in the nostrils the breath of life and the human became a nephesh,’ most often translated as soul. The passage does not say that the human was supplied with a soul as some other attachment to the body, but by the breath of God the human became a living body-soul, a living human being. So man and woman in their total essence are souls. As articulated by Old Testament scholar Johannes Pedersen, ‘Soul and body are so intimately united that a distinction cannot be made between them. They are more than ‘united,’: the body is the soul in its outward form.’ In the beginning of creation we were designed as one: body-soul.”3

What questions does this raise for you? What difference might this understanding of soul and body as two facets of the same whole make in your life (in your work, your decisions, your relationships, the daily practice of your faith and the way you read Scripture)?

 

Notes:

This is not to imply either that Andrea is a straggler or a struggler, or that women are in general any more so than men. We’re all dust, and the great mystery of grace is that Jesus puts any of us in this place where He wears our flesh and loves others through us. But since I’m a woman and have the church background that I do, the grace of Andrea being placed in that seat enabled me to glimpse and receive the grace more deeply.

Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), 171.

3 Celeste Snowber Schroeder, Embodied Prayer (Liguiori, Missouri: Triumph Books, 1995), 22.

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This is the fourth in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first three:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert