“During the life of Jesus on earth, the word He chiefly used when speaking of the relations of the disciples to Himself was: ‘Follow me.’ When about to leave for heaven, He gave them a new word, in which their more intimate and spiritual union with Himself in glory should be expressed. That chosen word was: ‘Abide in me’."
(Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ, p. 7)
In the part of the world where I live, the long summer days are fading. The children are heading back to classrooms with distanced desks and face masks, or to online learning. And while I continue to savor summer’s flowers that still bloom, and the sun that shines warm on my shoulders, I’m also getting back into autumn’s routine. (Hello! It’s good to be connecting with you again after an August break!)
This has been—for all of us—a summer different than any other. For me, that has meant not travelling home to see my family, and instead learning all over again to savor the goodness in my ordinary life here: the chewy texture and nutty taste of my steel cut oatmeal, the “hanging hug” from my parents that is still overflowing with flowers, the massage of the shower’s sharp drops on my back and neck. (Since Afghanistan where we had a once-a-week bucket bath that took hours to heat, hot running water is still a marvel to me!)
August has been a time to rest, and a time to prayerfully ponder God’s invitation as we step back into the fall routine with all the knowns and unknowns of this time.
The Knowns? Masks, Zoom, and missing people we love.
The Unknowns? Your imagination is as good as mine.
But the heart of God’s invitation is also one of the knowns; the specifics of it are part of what changes from time to time.
The heart of the invitation?
This: “Come to me, all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
And this: “Remain in me” (John 15:4). Remain. Reside. Abide. Or, as Peterson paraphrases it, “Make your home in my love.”
The command is clear: Come. And Stay.
But how, in this season in which most of us have a nervous system that’s at least a little bit on high alert a fair bit of the time, do we settle enough to stay put and live deep in God’s love where we so desperately need to be? This, for me, has been one of the ongoing challenges of the Christian life, even pre-pandemic. Moreso now. When I most desperately need to be still and settle deep into God’s love, my fight-or-flight system makes it most difficult to settle.
As we ease into the fall, heading toward another winter of Covid, I'm pondering what I can do differently this time around so that I let this pandemic press me closer to God rather than merely making it through. I've been weaving practices into my day, adding one or two new ones and returning to a few old faithfuls that I know help both settle my nervous system and return me to living in Christ's love.
Here are a few of the small invitations I’ve been sensing lately that help me accept that larger invitation to Come And Stay.
1. Breathe. Or sing. God has wired into us the ability to calm our nervous systems with some slow, deep breaths, laughter, or singing along with a song. Or crossing our arms and gently rubbing our own arms. (In this time when it’s hard for a single person to safely receive many hugs, it seems to me great kindness that God has wired us in a way that our bodies relax a little and release the bonding hormone, oxytocin, with this gentle self-hug just as they do with a hug from another.)
It’s many years since I heard a man of God say that, for him, jogging was a spiritual discipline. For me in these times, breathing is. And gathering a few albums that help me settle into God's love. I'm so grateful that the God who was born in a stable isn’t too proud to accept as part of our worship the simplest practices that help us settle, soul and body, into his love.
2. Connect. I guess I've always needed this, but now I'm more deeply aware of that need. And it makes sense, since in times of stress or trauma, our nervous system is meant to be calmed through eye contact and physical presence and touch. This is hard in Covid time. And crucial. And a place for creativity. So I'm working on spending more of my time and energy here: a summer picnic with a friend in a park. A Saturday supper via Zoom with a friend where we share our struggles and God’s gifts that we’ve noticed and pray for each other. (Eye contact even on Zoom is better than none!) Praying a liturgy and remembering that I’m part of Christ’s body that has been worshipping and witnessing to God’s faithfulness for centuries.
Over the past few weeks, connecting has also looked like finally joining a connection group at our church, a small group of people with whom to study and share and pray as we linger (now over Zoom) with the good news of God’s Sovereignty.
In this time, I've become more aware of how, even for an introvert like me, connecting with others is so key in helping me connect with God. I still, of course, need time alone with Him too. And I've begun again to sit still in his presence for a stretch at the start of the day, not reading, not praying requests, just returning again and again to that place of rest in which I am his and he mine.
3. Be gentle with yourself. For many of us, this isn't easy. But learning to be gentle, including with myself, is part of letting my heart beat in rhythm with the One who himself is gentle and humble in heart and who calls me to learn from him (Matt 11:28-30).
For all the years I lived in Afghanistan, I never got past being ready for bed by about 7pm. Working in a different language and culture with no running water and little electricity consistently took more energy.
We’ve been living with Covid since the spring, and yet each season is new. We’ve never before begun a school year that looks like this one. Whether in Afghanistan or here, newness and stress always take more energy.
Gentleness can show up in many places, but two of the places I sense the invitation to be gentle are in helping my inner critic learn to relax and receive grace, and in accepting my own limitations. Learning to navigate limits has been, for me, a decade-long journey, and I've got a lot of the path still to walk. It helps when I remember that life is not about productivity but love and abiding and the resulting fruitfulness. And that, as Jesus stated so categorically, without him I can do nothing (John 15:4-5).
So I return to these questions: "God, what is your invitation to me in this time? Is there anything I need to let go of, or add, to live more deeply in you?" Sometimes God speaks through Scripture, sometimes through a friend. And sometimes through my body.
When I began blogging ten years ago, I wrote when I had something to say. Sometimes that was several times a week, sometimes much less.
For the past eight of those years, except for the month of August, I’ve written here each Monday. That has been a good challenge, teaching me to trust that God could speak even when I felt empty.
But I sense that God is inviting me into trust that looks a little different at the moment. No, that doesn't mean I'll stop writing here. But for me at this time, part of trust is remembering that it’s Jesus who feeds crowds, sometimes using the few loaves and fishes I have to offer.
The last thing the world needs is more words spoken or written just for the sake of saying something. We need—I need—to relearn to be still and know that He is God. To sit and listen and wait until God has spoken into my soul before I speak. I want my words to be an overflow of what God speaks into me. And with a PTSD flare in July and a POTS flare in August on top of all that's going on in the world, I need more time to rest. And I need to put extra time and energy into being still with God, and studying his word, and participating in my new connection group. I need God to meet me in order for me to have anything worth saying. So my prayerful plan is to show up here roughly every two weeks instead of every week for now.
This is the best way I know to keep my commitment to God and to you: to live, by grace, as deep as I can in God’s love, and to offer from that place what it seems I’m given to offer.
Life, for all of us, is a journey of learning to listen, learning to abide, learning to live close to the heart of God and receive his invitations as they shift over time.
Lean in and listen again with me to what God might be whispering to you in your own life as we head into the fall? (I'd love to hear in the comments what you sense yourself invited into—or out of—during this time.)
P. S. If you'd like a little more help abiding in Christ during this time, here's the link to a beautiful post by Ann Voskamp on the topic.