Stepping out of God’s Shoes

“Carolyn Joy, let Me be God.” The invitation comes again and again, each time welcoming me into yet another place to step out of God’s too-big-for-me shoes and back into my own, or, better yet, to go barefoot for a while. Feeling the sun-warmed grass, or the morning sand cool between my toes, I remember again that all the ground we walk on is holy ground.

“Carolyn Joy, let Me be God.” The invitation comes again as I sit asking God to help me understand why I’d felt so anxious in a particular encounter. Slowly I begin to see. When technology had let me down and I hadn’t been able to connect at the expected time in the expected way, I’d feared the person waiting for me would feel abandoned. When I’d lacked a ready answer or a ready question and I’d had to suggest we pause and listen for God’s guidance, I’d feared looking incompetent. Some hidden part of me had felt I needed to be always strong, clear, and sovereign at least over technology if not over the pace and flow of the conversation. I had stepped into God’s shoes.

As soon as I recognize what is going on and step back out of God’s shoes, I can breathe. I can also see: No person needs me to be God. (Thank God!) My place is to walk alongside (barefoot, knowing myself on holy ground) as we walk together toward the real God, or to offer space to sit and listen and look for signs of the real God who is always coming to us.

As usual at this time of year, I’m stepping away from the blog for a month. I so easily slip into trying to wear God’s shoes that I need this practice (along with other daily and weekly ones) to savor again the gift of smallness and let God reset my soul in its correct relation to Him, myself, and other people.

“Instead of a fearful place I have to either defend or run from, small can become my new home. Small can become hilariously delightful, fun, and free. I can come with little things to offer, with no agenda, with the day as it is and not as I wish it were instead. I’m small, and this is as it should be.” (Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday, p. 94)

Whatever August holds for each of us, may God grace us with the inner freedom to step out of His shoes and walk barefoot for a while. I look forward to seeing you back here as the calendar turns to September!

Freely God’s

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Am I giving myself to others for the sake of God, or am I giving myself to God for the sake of others? I’m only just recognizing the difference in those terms, and it’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time.

I didn’t go home for Christmas this year. Every time I considered it, it felt too tight and pressured, and after a busy term I was so hungry for time alone with God. God gave many special gifts, including a few times with other people, loving and being loved in practical ways, but perhaps the biggest gift came when I realized that for the first time in three months, I felt like myself, and then, a few days later, realized that I could have equally well described what I meant by “I felt like myself” in a different way: “I felt freely God’s.” That is exactly where I want to live all the time—as God’s, fully and freely—and I was getting to taste what it felt like! And in that moment when “being myself” equated to “being freely His,” the question (which has been a huge struggle for me all my life) of whether it is selfish to make the choices that let me be me disappeared. What is less selfish than doing what enables me to be freely God’s?

It was soon after that that I began, slowly, to see the difference between giving myself to others for the sake of God and giving myself to God for the sake of others.

When I give myself to others first, even if I think I’m doing so for God’s sake, I put others on the throne. I surrender my God-given stewardship over my own life to the wishes of others. Or I put myself on the throne. I decide who to give to, and when and how. When I give myself first to others, I’m either clinging to control, or I’m inappropriately surrendering control to others, or both.

But when I give myself to God for the sake of others, the One who knows and loves me best (and knows and loves others best) gets to guide. He who is gracious and generous and infinitely creative in his solutions may ask me to help meet the need of one person while asking me to trust his goodness enough not to have to be the one to help with something else. When I give myself first to God, I’m surrendering to the only One who can rightly handle that control. I’m surrendering to love. This is the way of trust. And of freedom and peace and the burden that is light.

Jesus lived this second way, giving himself to his Father for our sake: “I’m consecrating myself”—setting myself apart for God—”for their sakes . . .” (John 17:19) His eyes were always on his Father, doing only what he saw his Father doing (John 5:19; 8:28), his will neither his own, nor surrendered to us, but surrendered to his Father (Luke 22:42, John 5:30; 6:38).

I’ve tried to live the first because I thought it was the way of love, the way to please God. It turned out that I can’t love that way. I too quickly slip into fatigue, and from there into resentment and crankiness.

I’m just starting to learn how to live the second. It’s a daily challenge, and a bit messy. (One poor person got three emails from me as I was trying to get the courage to step out of a commitment: 1) I need to leave. 2) No, wait, am I hearing right? Maybe I should keep praying about it. 3) Umm. . . yes, God has added several more layers of confirmation to the already high pile. I really do need to leave.) It makes me wonder: Was I really living the first way only because I thought it was the way of love? Or was I living it because I felt insecure without the affirmation of others?

It’s a challenge to switch my gaze from the faces of others to the face of Jesus, but it’s also freedom and joy and true, unshakeable security. However hard the switch may be, and however long it takes, I know I don’t want to go back.

Making peace with smallness

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“Who dares despise the day of small things?” God asks the prophet Zechariah (Zech 4:10).

“Ummm . . . I guess I still do. Sometimes.” I whisper, not really wanting to be heard.

The days of writing—or deleting—a single paragraph. The days of small choices made a million times to turn my thoughts back to gratitude, to God, to how he wants to meet me in the present. The days of asking forgiveness when I haven’t turned my thoughts to him and receiving the grace to begin again. Again.

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Being okay with smallness: this seems to be a theme God is wanting me to hear again these days.

In last week’s sermon, the challenge rang through the little prophet Haggai:

“Who of you is left who saw this temple in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’” (Haggai 2:3-5)

In yesterday’s sermon, it was Zechariah who reminded me:

“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ declares the Lord Almighty . . . . ‘Who dares despise the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:6,10)

Photos courtesy of Brian Whitacre

Photo courtesy of Brian Whitacre

The pastor (who had, he confessed, felt very small while preparing this sermon), reminded us that God accomplishes world-transforming things, but always through the small:

  • Israel, the fewest of all peoples, chosen to be God’s special nation.
  • Gideon, the least man from the least clan from the least tribe of Israel, (the one whom God called while he was cowering in a winepress), called to defeat the Midianites—but only once God had reduced his army from thirty-two thousand to a mere three hundred, armed only with trumpets and torches inside clay jars.
  • The young boy David with his slingshot chosen over trained, experienced warriors to defeat the biggest, meanest giant.
  • And of course the little boy’s lunch which fed five thousand, and the tiny embryo in Mary’s womb, the lonely figure hanging on the cross, and the small group of followers who became three thousand in a day when the Spirit of God fell on them.

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I continue the list:

  • A caterpillar forming a cocoon.
  • Character forged by years of moment-by-moment decisions to stay true in the small things when no one is looking.
  • A forty-year-strong marriage made of little, daily choices to love the other.
  • A scientist working in a top-notch research lab on projects my brain can’t begin to comprehend who has learned to persist through a whole list of ideas not working to find one that does. And who started out once upon a time with someone else not despising the days of dirty diapers and 2 a.m. feedings, toilet training and sounding out letters.

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A lot of things start flashy and fade, but doesn’t everything that turns out to be anything start small and grow through thousands of baby steps?

Perhaps it has to be this way, for everything that lasts is rooted in God, who gives himself to us in each small moment. This small moment—the only place we can meet God and be joined to him, filled by him.

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“Spiritual formation,” says Mulholland, “is the great reversal: from being the subject who controls all other things to being a person who is shaped by the presence, purpose and power of God in all things.” (Invitation to a Journey, p. 33)

Perhaps making peace with smallness is one of the greatest challenges—and greatest steps—in our discipleship. Maybe, in our culture obsessed with bigger, better, faster, discipleship is a lot about becoming smaller, learning to release our attempts to prove our significance and cling to our control, and rest instead in the love of our strong God who delights in working with smallness.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6)

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“Be still and know that I am God”: One of the practices that is most helping me make peace with smallness is to simply sit in silence before God. “Carolyn Joy, let Me be God.” The words call me to stillness. When I realize that my mind has wandered off (again) to try to solve another problem, I let the thoughts go and return (again) to the words that keep calling me to prayer. “Carolyn Joy, let Me be God.”

 

2016: To play or be played?

IMG_4514I sit slumped in my chair, waiting for the small, informal worship service to begin. Eventually I decide I want to play too—my dearly loved brother is playing, after all, and some others with whom I really enjoy playing—so I go to the back of the room to get my viola and join the worship team. I open the case. My viola is gone, and the end of the bow is lying outside the case, the stick shattered where the case has slammed on it, the hair hanging limply between the two broken pieces. Chips of wood are scattered inside and outside of the case. I cry out in grief and anger and fear. What has happened? Where is my viola? Who would do this?

Slowly the initial shock wanes, and I begin to look around. I see a second case on the table, and open it to find my viola safely hidden in it. It’s not gone after all! My heart lifts a little, then sinks again. What good is it without a bow? The worship is about to begin. How can I play?

Something inside me rebels against the sense of helplessness and my reason kicks in, determined to fix this situation. No big deal, I tell myself. I’ll just get another bow. Maybe it will even play better than the first. Where can I find one?

But the next morning as I pray about my dream I begin to sense that I’ve missed the point. This isn’t about replacing one means of control with another. It’s about realizing that I am not meant to be playing the instrument at all, any more than I, the clay, am meant to be spinning the potter on the wheel.

I am not the artist but the art, not the violist but the instrument lovingly tucked under the master’s chin:

“This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles. . .” (Acts 9:15)

“If a man cleanses himself from [ignoble purposes] he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Tim 2:21)

“. . . offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law but under grace.” (Rom 6:13-14)

I talk often about God, and think and write about him, and it’s easy for me to slip into a subconscious posture in which he is the instrument and I the musician, analyzing, explaining, exploring his tone and his timbre.

Then He breaks my bow—through a dream, or a discovery that the mystery of God is (still!) too big for my little mind to comprehend—and I discover again that I am neither God nor expected to be.

I often ask God at the start of a year if there’s a word He wants to work a little more deeply into my life in the coming year as I allow it to question and shape me. This year He gave two.

The first was courage.

Courage. Yes, Jesus, I want to be a woman of courage. Please do this work in me. But. . . oh dear, why are you giving me this word now? What fearful things are you going to ask of me this year for which I’ll need courage? My mind races to the possibilities, all too big for me. But as I talk with a friend who helps me listen, I sense that this is about more than whatever specific external situations or choices might require courage. This is about the way I relate to God. This is about trusting Him, not my own reason, my tidy theology and carefully considered categories.

The invitation to courage keeps turning up everywhere.

At my soulcare group the next evening the leader has chosen Mark 6:45-52 for us to pray with. The disciples have been sent on ahead, rowing hard against the wind. Joints creak and every muscle burns. Their hair is soaked with sweat and they taste the spray of waves. The moon glints through a hole in the clouds, dimly lighting the scene. Are they even going in the right direction anymore?

Someone screams and points. They all see it—a ghostly figure coming toward them on the water, a sure sign of their imminent demise.

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” There’s that word again. Courage. And linked to it is the second word I had been given, the place I find my courage: Jesus.

“It is I.” Though you don’t recognize me at first, it is I who am breaking your bow, unsettling your reason, coming to you in the middle of the dark night, in the middle of soul-straining winds, in the middle of a way-too-big-for-you-to-swim lake, walking along the surface of the water in which you can barely stay afloat as though it were as smooth and solid as glass. I come to you in a way which shatters your reason so your trust will be not in your understanding but in Me.

The unsettling is scary at first, but there’s a goodness in it too, and a peace, when I turn and look at the one who speaks. “It is I”—the Jesus whom I’ve come to know as so gentle, so passionately loving. The Jesus who, when his friends cried their fear from the boat, immediately reassured them with his words and, though he’d been planning to pass by them, instead climbed into the boat with them. It’s this Jesus who is unsettling me from my too-small assumptions to help me learn that He is more wonderful than I’ve ever dreamed.

Made to sail

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I wander down among the boats at sunrise. There’s a beauty here, and a peace, but a longing, too, that stirs my deepest places. The boats in Heritage Harbour are here to rest after years of faithful sailing. As I wander among their quiet bodies, I see the backbone, still tall and strong, that has supported their life on the waters.

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Boats are made to sail, the longing in me whispers, and if they spend their whole life tied to the dock—even if they obey all the rules of the marina and look lovely in the morning mist—they’ve missed their calling.

The cross was never meant to stand naked, our God-given dreams rolled up and tied tight while we sit safely in harbour. The cross was made to host a sail stretched wide and alive to Spirit wind. It calls us to come close, to dance, to sail, to risk, to become fully alive and fully ourselves, living the tides and the breath of the life of God.

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As children of God, freedom is our birthright.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Gal 5:1, c.f. 5:13)

Unqualified acceptance is our heritage.

“You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Gal 4:7)

Love and life and the joy of God are our inheritance.

The cross, and all it represents—a limitless welcome into the whole vibrant life of God!—is ours. (Eph 1:3-6)

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To what then will I tie my life?  (Looking at our heritage, I wonder that the question even needs to be asked, yet I find myself faced with it daily.)

Will I pack away the sails of my dreams and passion and tie myself to the dock of predictably-laid rules and expectations? Paul has strong words for me. If I tie my hope of approval to rules and regulations and people’s expectations, Paul says, “then Christ will be of no value to you at all.” (Galatians 5:2)

Or will I tie my hope instead to the cross and to the One who stands beside it, alive again, and eager to share His life with me? Will I let Jesus cut the ropes that tie me to any other attempt at security and take me out into deep water where I can really live?

The cross, thankfully, stands right at the center of our freedom. It guides the shape of our freedom’s expression, and it gives me the security I need to be willing to hoist the sail. My dreams are not blowing unanchored in the wind. I am free to move with the wind only when my hope is tied to the cross, to that Love who is my life, my hope and my stability.

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Related post:

What Jesus does with chains