The question we most need answered

It underlies most every struggle. The struggle to trust, to forgive, to love. The struggle to work hard and be honest and learn to rest.

It’s the one question we all ask, and the answer is the one thing of any value that we can give to each other.

“Am I loved?” 

When we listen for it, we hear the question lurking beneath most interactions.

  • I finally find the courage to ask for help only to hear, through the hesitation in her voice, “I have to think about whether you’re worth 90 seconds of my time.” (. . . which, as it turns out, wasn’t at all what she was thinking!)
  • I struggle to forgive the loss of a possession though I would have put that same value in the Sunday offering plate without a second thought. I can’t understand my struggle until I realize I believe that my things matter little to her because I matter little. I step back and hear God speak again the words, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give [my Son] in exchange for you. . .” Then it becomes easier to separate the small worth of the item from my own deep value. Then I can forgive the one who also needs to hear that she, and our friendship, are much more precious to me than a few $20 bills.
  • Right back in the garden, wasn’t this the hiss of doubt that led to our fall into sin? “God’s holding back his best. He doesn’t really love you. . . .”

So when someone responds to my timid question, “Do you have time?” with the smiling, grace-filled “I have all the time you need” I hear beneath it the words that make me whole, “You are precious. You are loved. I value you enough to invest in you.” Perhaps it’s in these small love-gifts clothed in the concreteness of minutes and smiles and a helping hand that we become most like our God who loves with flesh and time and an open heart and table.

And maybe, too, this is the reason for the long sleepless hours when God doesn’t give any new insight and we don’t accomplish anything but are just quiet together. Maybe when he seems not to answer prayers for insight or energy or success He is instead whispering the answer to our deeper cry, “Do you love me?” In the silence of inefficient togetherness He wordlessly declares us precious, speaks His delight in just being with us, quiet and at rest in each other’s love.

I walk down the lane where He has rolled out beneath my feet a leafy red carpet, and then a gold one, and settle a little deeper into this love that makes us great, listening again to the refrain that He sings over each of us, the one that He spends patient years teaching us to hear and trust, “. . . You are precious and honored in my sight, and . . . I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4)

 

Where God is when you struggle with sin

If you’re at all like me, you’ll know how easy it is to slip into the same old thought patterns, and then to quickly slide into judging ourselves. It’s a downward cycle, isn’t it, making us try harder and harder until we’re exhausted and discouraged and tempted to quit?

We know that God hates sin. We remember Habakkuk’s statement that God is too pure to look on sin. So we hate and fear the sin that we see in our lives because we long to be close to God.

But the God who is too pure too look at sin not only looked at it, not only touched it, but took it into himself so completely that the Bible says Jesus became sin. He carried it so completely that it took Him all the way to hell. So when we believe the picture that has God at the top repulsed by our sin as we struggle alone down at the bottom we are believing the devil’s version – the version that has the center cut right out of it. The true picture has Jesus in the center, God and humanity united in this one Person, loving us and hating sin enough to take sin into Himself to destroy its power.

God’s hatred of sin is not (and never was) against us but for us. (Remember Romans 5:8?) Since God took our sin right into Himself, we do not need to fear being alone in our struggle with sin. God does not turn away from us when we sin. We turn away from Him. (That’s what sin is: turning from God to something else.) When we mess up, God does not shudder with horror and turn His back to us, waiting for us to put it right. He holds us tight, keeps pursuing our hearts, gently and lovingly helping us turn around until we are face to face with Him again. When we resist the turning, the love can hurt, but all of His help is given with this one purpose: to turn us back, face to face with Him again.

The whole of our life with God is meant to be a tuning of our hearts to beat more closely in time with His. So when we sin, we also don’t need to shudder with horror and turn our back on ourselves in despair. If sin is the turning away from God, repentance is the turning back, and we turn back not by condemning ourselves (that is the devil’s territory – Rev 12:10; John 3:17-18; Rom 8:1) but by quietly acknowledging our inability to keep our hearts turned to Him, and asking for our Father’s help. We’re half-turned already in the asking, and He turns us the rest of the way, cupping our face in His hands and lifting it to His own where, through our tears, we again see His smile.

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Know anyone who might be encourage by this today? Feel free to pass it along.

When you need extra strength

 

The line in the prayer intrigues me. “May your passion and death be my strength and life.” (David Flemming) Is it? Is his passion and death my strength and life?  I know a little of the mystery of how his death gives me life. But how, in this moment, is Jesus’ struggle in the garden and on the cross my strength?

 

Perhaps this year I’m experiencing it first the other way around, how a certain understanding of Lent saps strength. For five months now, I’ve prayed, more or less regularly, through the Celebration of Common Prayer. During Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and ordinary time, the praying of the psalms and prayers and the systematic reading of Scripture from Old and New Testaments has provided a center to return to, a stability in the midst of a changing world. Several times a day I have been brought back to the certainty of the Rock which is higher than I, and I have leaned in, breathed deep of His bigness, relaxed into His love. But the prayers for Lent are feeling heavy, the words underlaid by the sense that we earn our forgiveness through “worthily lamenting our sins.”  It puts the focus on me, and I’m sick of looking at me, tired of trying to be perfect myself. It misses the point of the gospel.

 

We are invited to grieve in Lent, as the first disciples were asked to grieve with their Friend. “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” (Matt 26:38) But we grieve not to earn forgiveness, but for love of our Saviour, whom we see suffering and dying for us to freely give us forgiveness. We do not “put on” the grief; it arises within us as we watch the suffering of the one we love. And, for us who grieve now for his sufferings and our sins that caused them, as true as the grief is, it is held and filled, too, with a deep gratefulness and even joy, for immediately before Jesus called his friends to be with him in his grief, he spoke the words of completion and hope which we still celebrate. “Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:27-29).

 

I watch as the God-man throws himself on the ground in agony, grieving so deeply he feels it might kill him. I watch as he stays, wrestling with His Father until He is enabled to surrender. . .  for love of me! Is it any wonder that we call his sufferings his Passion? In this his Passion becomes my strength, for I see in his sufferings the extent of his love, and his perfect love casts out my fear, and isn’t it fear that always makes us weakest, and love strongest?

 

Jesus, during these weeks of Lent as I sit with you in the garden and try to stay awake,

as I seek to follow you to the cross and find myself running away when I should be clinging closer,

may your passion and death be my strength and life.

May your love enter more deeply into the broken and fearful parts of my heart,

and may I learn to trust the love that would suffer like this for me.

When it feels impossible to forgive

Father, forgive them. . .

 

Father. One small word, two syllables of heart cry, but through it Jesus teaches me to forgive. I’ve just seen it, how my struggles to forgive find root in fear. Or in not knowing who I am. Or maybe those two are one.

 

Father. Love enfolds me, holds me while I let go of the fear. My Father will provide. He knows my needs. He cares. I don’t always like the wrapping, but His gifts are always good. And He only ever gives them in a time and a way that leads me into life. I can trust this Father of mine.

 

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? . . . So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matt 6:26, 31-32)

 

Father. His arms teach me who I am, give me the identity I crave. I am His. Chosen. I belong here. His arms remind me that I have nothing to prove, no need to insist on my rightness.

Jesus knew the power of this beloved-child identity. It taught him to forgive and to serve, washing the dirty feet which would, that night, lead his killers to him. It freed him to bend before other feet which would run in his time of greatest need.


Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet . . . (John 13:3-5)

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:44-45)

 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matt 5:9)

 

“Father, Father, forgive.” And the miracle happens. What was impossible to forgive becomes possible, done by His power in me. The place of fear has been filled with His presence, the opportunity to forgive transformed into a chance to love Him. I may struggle again, may be back to crying, “Father, forgive.” But for this moment, my prayer, Jesus’ prayer in me, has been heard and answered by our Father, and I am free and full of joy.

 

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