For the overwhelming moments

It’s a busy stretch right now as I prepare to present my final master’s project in ten days’ time. Room booked? Check. Posters printed? Check. Paper done? Script finished? Slides prepared? I want this first public sharing of the book I’ve been working on for several years to be a blessing to those who attend.

In the midst of the busyness (which sometimes degenerates into anxiety), I’m sensing myself reminded, through an image and a phrase, how to live this time.

The phrase? “It’s not mine, it’s ours.” The book, the accompanying papers, the presentation aren’t mine, they’re ours—a love-gift that God and I have been offering to each other for years and are now preparing—together—to share with others. The responsibility is not mine to carry alone.

And the image? I’m flailing around in the ocean, grasping wildly at a life-ring, trying to pull myself up out of the water and stand on it. It flips over, dumping me unceremoniously back into the water and leaving me coughing and spluttering as it bobs to the surface again a few feet away. Jesus, walking on the water, reaches out his hand to me, inviting me to stop trying to stand on (or even cling to) the life ring and let him help me back into the boat instead.

The life-ring, I’m discovering, can be just about anything. My own intuition. A structure or protocol or tradition. Detailed planning. Friends who are helping me out. Anything that is good and helpful and sometimes even life-saving, but that isn’t meant to be the foundation for my security. Anything, in other words, that is not Jesus.

Willing or willful?

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“I’m willing,” I say to God. “I’m willing to write it. But I don’t have words.” I sit with my laptop waiting for the words to come.

A question comes instead. “Are you willing not to write it?”

Huh.

Am I?

The faces of the people I don’t want to disappoint crowd into my mind. The sense of responsibility pulls tighter, tighter, threatening to strangle if I dare try to walk away. I sit with it and ask God about it.

There’s a lot to be said for hard work, perseverance, dependability.

It also has a dark side. “Discipline, spiritual or otherwise,” notes David Benner, “is a good servant but a bad master. It is not the summum bonum—the supreme good. When it is valued in and of itself, the disciplined life easily leads to rigidity and pride.” (Desiring God’s Will, p. 25)

Unless I’m willing to listen to God and either do something or not do it, my actions are willful rather than willing.

David Benner pictures the difference:

“Looked at carefully, willfulness is more against something than for something. My willful self refuses to quit as I seek to push through my writing block or finish lecture preparation even when my spirit is dry and my body is telling me to take a break. A spirit of willingness invites me to pause and turn to God, simply opening to God for a moment, letting God bring perspective and clarity about my need to stop writing for the night or throw out what I’ve started and wait for the gift of a fresh idea. Willfulness, in either circumstance, is my fight against quitting, against attending to my body, against attending to God’s Spirit. The act of willing surrender is a choice of openness, a choice of abandonment of self-determination, a choice of cooperation with God.” (Ibid, p. 23-24)

The summum bonum is God. God’s glory. God’s will—which, as He says over and over through His word, is a lot about bringing us close to live deep in His love.

Willingness calls me to trust that God’s way works—that if I pay attention to the nudges of His Spirit and learn to live in His love, I will bear much fruit (John 15:5). The nature of the fruit and the timing of harvest will be different than my driven attempts to force productivity, but the harvest will come. And it will be good.

And willingness calls me to trust that God loves His people and cares about our well-being. It calls me to trust that, scandalous as it may seem, Jesus really means it when He calls us to come and learn to live gently.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

The secret to being content

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The dread disease can keep me from settling in and enjoying the music I’ve chosen in the gym or the book I’ve selected to read over supper. (“Is there something I’d enjoy more?”)

It can make me sign up for activities that aren’t a good fit, and can keep me questioning whether I’ve found the best counselor (or friend, or publisher) rather than enjoying the many gifts in the relationship. (“Is there someone better out there?”)

It can fill my inbox with blog subscriptions and news feeds that are no longer helpful but which I haven’t dared to cancel. (“What if I miss something important?”)

It goes by the name FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out.

Behind it is the hiss of the snake, “God is holding out on you, keeping back his best.”

The snake hisses and the constant stream of information surges towards me, far more than I can ever chew and swallow, or would want to. When FOMO is active, I let it happen, the world force-feeding me through news feeds and facebook feeds. I am so afraid of missing something important, something good and nourishing, that I skim, nibbling and tasting, not slowing to savor, to chew and swallow and digest. And I die a little on the inside, because, despite my constant nibbling, when I don’t select and savor and swallow what really nourishes I end up like Colin, the man I met lying under the bridge yesterday, who is “always a little hungry.” Or maybe a lot hungry. Maybe, though we look bloated, we’re actually empty and starving to death.

Not like Paul. How, I’ve wondered, was Paul, in jail and sleepless and hungry, still so full—of peace, of joy, of contentment. I’ve been irritated, at times, that Paul told us he had learned the secret of being content in any and every situation and then didn’t go on in the next breath to spell out for us that secret. (“Come on, Paul!”)

Now I see he had already spelled it out:

  • “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
  • “I want to know Christ. . .” (Phil 3:10)
  • “Rejoice in the Lord always. . . . The Lord is near.” (Phil 4:4-5)

Paul, like Peter, had learned to look away from the waves and onto Christ’s face, away from the prison cell and at the one singing with him in the dark dungeon. Paul had learned that the enemy of contentment is FOMO, and the surest way to conquer FOMO is to turn and see Christ with you. In the gym, eyes sparkling as he looks back at you and comments on the marvelous melody that the clarinet just played; at your desk, working through the impossible piles and puzzles with you; on the edge of your bed, sitting beside you and offering you his own quiet presence. Even, as Peter and martyr Matrona of Thessalonica and other saints throughout history have found, turning your prison cell into a bridal chamber.

The surest way to conquer FOMO is to turn and see Christ with you, because in the face of Christ we see God’s best already given, forever given, opening up in new ways in every moment and situation. With Christ beside us, with us, in us, all has been given.

(Exactly what was I afraid of missing out on? I can’t remember anymore.)

Becoming your proper size: how to really rest this summer

They call it paradise and, aside from the daddy long legs stalking me in the shower, it pretty much is. A soft blue and yellow bedroom with hydrangea blossoms on the dresser and a recliner in the corner, lounge chairs by the waterfall in the back garden, kayaks to paddle among the islands. These are all part of it, but they’re not the heart of the paradise.

It’s the freedom to be my proper size that brings the peace and lets me rest.

There’s a lack of urgency that resides here. A comfort with being human. . . with beauty and mess and hunger and joy, fatigue and tears and laughter. Dirty dishes and fruitflies are part of life, taken care of in their time, but coexisting quite happily for a while with sweet nectarines and gouda sandwiches and fresh blackberries capped with ginger yoghurt cream. On the days that I can, she’s happy for me to wipe the crumbs off her counter.  When illness takes hold, she knows how to make a bed in the warm air where I can listen to the bees and watch the sun set the maple keys aflame. She has done it for others. I am human and small and it’s okay. Life is not an emergency and I can lay down control.

Living in the real world

I am sad to leave this place, to start back to my busier life. I fear being pressed and pulled by the world ungently, urgently, forcing me to the center where I do not belong, driving me (by dint of my exaggerated self-importance) to shoulder burdens I was not meant to carry. Urgency takes my eyes off the One who has it all under control, making me think that I need to control it. It tricks me into thinking that the world of the urgent is the real world and rest a brief and tantalizing illusion.

But Jesus speaks:

“Come to me, all you weary and burdened ones, and I will rest you. . . “

It’s a permanent offer, and one without condemnation. No fear of our humanness. Just invitation. “Come. I will rest you.” These days apart I have tasted the real world, the world of welcome and invitation and the love that invites rest. The urgent is the illusion.

His rest can happen in the chaos, miles from recliners and kayaks; His rest comes with staying our proper size, and that can happen anywhere.

 “. . . Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

He is humble – having a true view of reality – and when we step out of our do-it-yourself yoke, out of the world’s expectations, and into his yoke with him, we begin to see rightly too, regaining our proper size.  He is gentle, and, walking with him, we learn to live gently, not urgently.

Living gently: it’s a lot about listening and responding. A child gently handling an animal senses its timidity, its fragility, and responds with respect and care. A gentle mother hears the heart cries beneath the angry words and responds to her child in healing love. A gentle life is not driven by the urgent but makes space to listen to the heartbeat of God and others and self, and act in tender response.

This is how Jesus rests us: He helps us live our proper size. Small and fragile and (rightly) dependent, and cherished and made great in his love (. . . but more on that soon.) Rejoice with me, will you, at this invitation to put down the burden intended for greater shoulders and rest in His love?

Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth. . . .

It is he who made us and we are his,

We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100)

 

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

 

Nine reasons you can dare to say no

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A year ago I wrote a blog post, “Ten reasons you can dare to put your heart out there.” I return to it often. But sometimes the daring to say no is as hard as the daring to say yes. And as important.

I met them on Saturday – an Iranian man who had been in Canada for ten years, and his newly arrived wife. I surprised them by addressing them in their language. I hadn’t expected the desperate unfolding of the conversation. “Will you teach her? Do you have time? She needs someone to help her with grammar.” She’s enrolled in an English as a Second Language school, but they don’t have the lowest level, which she needs, and she’s struggling in her level two class. “I don’t think I’m the right person for that. I don’t have any training in teaching English.” “She needs you. She needs you. Just a couple of hours a week. To teach her English grammar.” He begged. I prayed.

I felt deep compassion for her. I know what it’s like to be a stranger in a new country. I know that love is at the heart of our Christian calling. I wrestled with the commands to care for the vulnerable: was God’s voice in those commands enough to mean that I should take this on? Yet it felt like a burden rather than a challenge. There was no sense of God’s voice calling me into it, it didn’t fit with my gifts or training, and I was already feeling the limitations of time and energy in being faithful to the things I know I’ve been called to do. Yet I still wrestled with guilt. What about all those commands to host the stranger? Was God disappointed with me?

He brought me back again:

  • A need doesn’t constitute a call. Jesus finished His earthly ministry leaving many sick who hadn’t been healed, many hungry who needed food, and many Jews who hadn’t heard that their Messiah had come. Yet He could still pray “I have finished the work You gave me to do.” (John 17:4) Paul, faced with a need—and even a door that God had clearly opened—left for another region because he “still had no peace of mind.” (2 Cor 2:12-13)
  • Even Jesus said no to say yes. Reading Luke 6, I watch Jesus spend the night in prayer then choose from the crowd of followers, all wanting to be close to him, twelve. Just twelve. Tens, hundreds maybe, disappointed. (Was there an Iranian husband wanting English lessons for his wife among them?) But Jesus knew that He could only build into His apostles as He was called to do if He intentionally chose and guarded time for these few alone. He invested in the few for the good of the many: those few, having been well discipled themselves, would disciple others.
  • We respond to God’s commands as individuals. And as a body. Right now my call is not to teach ESL. It’s to mentor someone who does.
  • God knows my heart better than I know it myself. “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. . .” (Psalm 139) He knows my desire to please Him, He hears my prayers for guidance, He sees my attempt to choose wisely. I can ask Him to correct me if I’m seeing wrongly—and then leave it with Him.
  • I can trust His voice. He promises that His sheep will hear His voice (John 10:27), that He will lead me as I ask Him (Prov 3:5-6). I can trust His voice when He says yes. And when He says no.
  • He knows the deeper reasons for my struggle—and desires to set me free. Do I want to keep everyone happy? Get my own sense of worth from meeting the needs of others? Fear that God will be disappointed with me if I say no to a need? Do I want to love well (with that love that springs from God’s freedom and invites others into it)—or do I just want everyone around me to feel loved? “Jesus, please help me to see beneath the surface. And do in me what only you can do to set me free to follow You.”
  • This is His work, not mine, His kingdom, not mine. I’m given the honor of working alongside Him, but I’m (thankfully!) not asked to run the show. He cares for them. “Jesus, if you’re not calling me to meet their need, will you please bring someone else into their life who is called to walk alongside them in this?” And He cares for me. He knows how much I can handle and what He has created me for. Jesus is gentle—and He’s bigger than my limitations.
  • I’m helped in this stewarding of what has been entrusted to me. “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Tim 1:14).
  • This struggle (like any other) can be a gift, a love-offering to Jesus (as well, of course, as a place He wants to love me.) It can be hard to learn a new way of being in the world. Hard to listen and follow. Hard to disappoint others even when I know that, this time, saying no is part of living faithfully. And I can hold out to Jesus my willingness to do it anyway—Here, Jesus, for you, because I love you—and He who knows my heart and delights in my love will smile on me and whisper Thank you.