What to do in the tough times

One of the beautiful gifts of being part of Christ’s body bound together over time and space is that we don’t always need to find the right words ourselves for a particular moment or situation. Sometimes the body of Christ is his hands and feet to us, and sometimes God’s words come through the mouths of others too.

These last couple of months as I’ve been sorting and packing and trying to listen for my new address, a printed copy of Octavius Winslow’s poem has been moved back and forth from my bedside table to my kitchen table, slowly settling more deeply into my heart. I heard it first when a friend gave me the poem as I was returning for my final stint in Afghanistan, exhausted and overwhelmed, and the words remain a treasure to me still.

There are, of course, many reasons for the burdens we carry. We live in a fallen world and much happens directly or indirectly because of our own sinful choosing and the fallenness of the world around us. But God is a guard around us, and nothing can touch us without his permission (Job 1:12, 2:6; 1 Cor 10:13). In that sense at least, God weighs and shapes the burdens that he allows us to carry. And while not everything that happens to us, or that we choose, is God’s desire for us, what he does always desire is that those burdens which we carry press us deeper into his love as we learn to lean in and let him carry them with us and for us.

Child of My love, lean hard

And let Me feel the pressure of thy care;

I know thy burden, child, I shaped it;

Poised it in Mine own hand, made no proportion

In its weight to thine unaided strength;

For even as I laid it on, I said,

I shall be near, and while [s]he leans on Me,

This burden shall be Mine, not his [hers];

So shall I keep My child within the circling arms

Of My own love. Here lay it down, nor fear

To impose it on a shoulder which upholds

The government of worlds. Yet closer come;

Thou art not near enough; I would embrace thy care

So I might feel My child reposing on My breast.

Thou lovest Me? I knew it. Doubt not then;

But, loving Me, lean hard.

(Octavius Winslow, 1808 – 1878)

 

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Photo by Laura Lee Moreau on Unsplash

What to do with mixed motives

dsc_0061I can’t help but wonder: Why, after Peter had gotten over the shock of seeing Jesus walking towards them on the water, did he ask to join him in that adventure?

What was behind Peter’s request, impetuous Peter who later cut off the ear of the soldier in the garden, who resisted Jesus washing his feet and then wanted his whole self washed, who, the first time he saw Jesus after he had denied that he knew him, when he happened to be in a boat and saw Jesus on the shore, put his heavier clothes back on and jumped into the water, running to Jesus.

What motivated his request in the middle of this dark, stormy night, to come to Jesus on the water? Could he just not wait the few more seconds to be close to Jesus? Or was it bravado? A need to feel significant or prove himself special or worthy of love and respect? A sense of adventure? A desire to be with Jesus and do as he did? Or some mix of all of these in various unidentified proportions?

The wondering came as I was puzzling over something in my own story. How do I hold together the sense that God called me to Afghanistan and that I went out of love for him with the awareness (that I didn’t see at the time) that I was probably also trying to prove myself loveable or worthy or special or important or somehow find my place in the world?

It seems like such grace and generosity from our creative and very adventuresome Master that Jesus didn’t try to sort through all the layers of motivation, of brokenness mixed with love and desire. It was enough that somewhere in the mix was Peter’s desire to be with Jesus, and Jesus responded to that. Peter asked Jesus to call him to come, and Jesus said, “Of course. Come. Always.”

It feels like an invitation to me too, not to bother trying to dissect all the layers of my motivation, just to ask Jesus for what I want—him to call me close—and trust him to see and honor the truest level of my desire.

Jesus knows that being close to him is exactly what is needed to take care of those other bits in the mix.

When you need a rest

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“Come to me,” he calls, “All you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

I will refresh you.

I will revive you.

I will cause you to rest.

That last verb can be translated all of those ways. Rest is not something Jesus gives us apart from himself. It’s not a parcel that we can go off somewhere and unwrap. Rest only happens in the arms of Jesus. As Darrell Johnson often translates Jesus’ words, “Come to me . . . and I will rest you.”

I’ve had lots of moments this week of wanting to climb up on the lap of the One who welcomed children to sit on his knee, the One who promises to carry us from birth to death. “To enter the kingdom of heaven you must become like a child,” he says. “Make your home in my love,” he invites.

Want to join me there in his arms for a few minutes? His knee has space for many to snuggle in.

He reaches down to lift me up and sets me sideways on his lap. I lean into him, feeling his lap solid beneath me, the gentle roughness of his sweater against my face. His sweater, today, is the rich brown of fresh-turned earth. I feel safe with his strong arms around me, his warm, work-roughened hand gently holding my head to his chest, dimming the outside noise and helping me hear the soothing tune of his heartbeat: lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub.

His chest rises and falls with each breath, rocking me. I’m safe here in his arms, safe and warm and secure.

In and out he breathes. I rock with him, settling, beginning to breath more deeply too. His sweater smells fresh like the spring buds of the balsam poplar.

He rests his cheek against the top of my head, treasuring me, and I feel my hair flutter each time he exhales. He begins to hum a gentle tune, a lullaby of delight.

“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save.

He will take great delight in you,

He will quiet you with his love,

He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

How to turn self-pity to joy

DSCN5842Last week was a gift. I was attending a course, and on my arrival, I was greeted with the surprise of the beautiful Treetop Hideaway room with my own little deck and windows that looked out into lush green leaves. Relationships were rich, with lots of laughter and plenty of vulnerability. The teaching was drawing me deeper into the truth of who God is and who I am and I was slowly settling and resting in those truths.

And still, the third day in, I found myself slipping into self-pity. A dog—one of those big black ones with huge laser-sharp teeth and a fenced-in yard with signs saying “Beware of Dog”—had jumped the fence and chased me on my first morning’s run, and each morning after that the run took extra energy as I fought to stay calm. I loved the community and wanted to be out playing Frisbee during our afternoon free time, but I was tired and needed to spend it lying down.

I didn’t like the self pity. I wanted to fix it. I didn’t know how.

Until evening prayers. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but somehow, then, God got through to me. I’d asked him earlier how he saw me and my self-pity, but hadn’t received an answer. But in evening prayers I understood: God sees more deeply than I do. While I was quick to label and condemn my self-pity, God looked beneath it and saw longing: longing to be outside in his creation, to play, to engage in deep relationship, to be drawn closer to God and enabled to receive his love more deeply. He saw my longing for fullness of life, for health and right-relationship with God and self, others and creation. All of those longings echo God’s longings for me. All of them are good and God-given, placed in me by God when he made me in his image and deepened by him as he is drawing me closer to himself.

Tears began to slip down my cheeks as I felt understood and loved. And then I noticed: the self-pity had disappeared, replaced with the joy of being loved and accompanied in the hard places. I’ve checked it out a couple more times since, and I’m convinced of this: what turns sadness or disappointment into self-pity is the sense that I don’t matter. Then guilt descends with the conviction that I should just be able to be get over it. But the harder I try to “just get over it,” the more self-pity digs in its heels and clings to my soul, because my attempts to shake it off are just more deeply ingraining the sense that what I feel doesn’t matter.

I am remembering once more: Every situation and every emotion—even self-pity—contains an invitation to come closer and open more deeply to God as he longs to love me in that place. Real transformation only ever comes in finding myself loved.

“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Eph 3:19 NLT)

“Make your home in my love,” Jesus invites. “Let me be your home.” This Home is a place where there’s room to express sadness and disappointment, anger and fear, and find myself loved in it and not alone, accompanied, and reminded by God’s gentle presence that I, and what I feel and long for, matter.

Not because we must

IMG_1302It was just the two of us around the table the day I first heard the words that are shaping my life during these days of Lent. I was hungry for Jesus and had emailed ahead and asked my spiritual director if we could, please, share communion when we met. After we had listened to God’s heartbeat together, she pulled the plate bearing the bread close and, smiling, spoke the simple words that filled my eyes with tears, “We come not because we must but because we may.”

I’m pondering, these days, the various habits in my life that have arisen out of a must: the run each morning, the nap each afternoon, the need to stay home most evenings. Most of my quiet, listening life began from a must. But I’m realizing that though I still need them all, most of these habits have deepened from a must to a may: I do them now not just because I have to but because I want to, because God meets me and loves me there, because they have become treasured places where I can meet him and love him back. I do them now because, in the seven years of this slower pace, Jesus has been dismantling, brick by brick, my wall of misbeliefs about who He is and who I am. I’ve learned that God is not the one who drives me. That he wants the real me, not the me I think I should be. And I’m learning to see my limitations as training wheels, helping me find my balance, guiding me into a way of listening and loving that fits the personality, giftings, and body God has given me.

It’s easy, though, even when a must has morphed into a may, for me to keep hiding behind the must. It feels far safer to my people-pleasing self to turn down an invitation based on “I can’t. . .” or “I have to. . .” than a simple choice to be still. Stillness, in my mind, has appeared too close to laziness for comfort and even though I’ve known that God calls us to stillness (Ps 46:10) the part of me that’s afraid of what people will think whispers, “You’d better look busy, or at least look like you have a good reason for not being busy.”

But here’s the truth: while God calls us to good, hard work, he also calls us to stillness. And the work, if it’s love-work that lasts, can only flow out of the stillness that lets us know ourselves small and dependent and loved. That’s why Jesus so often left the crowds that followed him and headed off somewhere to be alone with his Father (Luke 5:16).

My soul and body confirm what God commanded and Jesus modelled: I’m not made for a hectic pace. It shuts me down. It cuts me off from God and others and myself. It keeps me from being able to love. So I’ve decided: The world can go on chattering all it wants about importance and busyness and making sure I matter. I’m choosing (yes, choosing, not because I must but because I may) to keep living a life that holds enough space for me to hear my Father whispering over me that I already matter.

The must of my limitations has been a gift from God to me, creating enough space for me to begin to hear his heart beat with love. The growing freedom that has allowed the shift from must to may has been his gift too. Now everything within me cries to love him back by choosing to stand rooted in the truth of who he is and who I am, listening and loving and giving myself to be ever more wholly his not because I must but because I may.

Lent is a lot about choosing. Choosing to repent, to turn back again from whatever distractions have been nipping at our heels and swirling in front of our eyes to see and follow Jesus. Choosing to follow. Choosing to love. Choosing, in my case this year, to keep listening, only with even more intentionality, owning this way of living now as a may rather than a must, an even more conscious choice to live in ways that help me listen to God’s heartbeat and be who He has called me to be for the sake of the world.

 

Jesus,

We walk these next steps of the journey with you

in the same way we come to your table—

not because we must

but because we may:

because you have drawn us close and made us long to be closer still,

because you have graced us with freedom to choose,

because you have loved us so gently we have found ourselves loving you.

And now, fuelled by that love and that longing, we do choose—

life in the freedom of may rather than a cowering behind must,

and a growing into full-bodied, whole-souled attentiveness

that opens us to love.

Grace us, we pray, with eyes clear to see you

hearts bold to follow

and an ever-deeper conviction of your love

that roots us firmly in the truth

of who you are and who we are in you.

In the name of the One who chose us

not because he had to

but because he could,

Amen.