Settling into smallness

Photo by a-shuhani on Unsplash. Used with permission.

I stand awkwardly in the large open space shared by the physiotherapy reception and exercise areas. I’ve shed my sneakers and jeans in the examining room and now I stand with my black socks slouching around my ankles, the white shorts I brought with me riding a little higher up my thighs as I stand on one leg and lower myself into a one-legged squat, trying to keep my opposite hip from sagging toward the ground. I’m glad that my fingers are hooked over the edge of the sink. I need the help with balance.
The exercise I’m doing with my body feels like a fitting image for something happening more deeply within me.
A month or two back, Holley Gerth published a blog post sharing how, after a stretch in which God had led her into new freedom, she sensed him saying to her, “Settle.” In other words, “Live here. Let this be your home, your place to dwell and thrive.” I’ve been carrying that word “settle” around with me since then, sensing it was an invitation for me too, but waiting for that vague sense to crystallize into something specific enough to  curl my fingers around and step into.
Anyone who has been around here for long will recognize themes that keep resurfacing. One of those is smallness. I regularly return to God’s promise in Isaiah 46, “Even to your old age and grey hairs, I will carry you.” I find myself sitting on his knee, held by the hand, walking along on his feet like a child standing on the feet of her father and letting herself be carried along. I’ve found myself carried in the womb of God—“In him we live and move and have our being. . . we are his offspring”—and cupped in his hand. As I settle into smallness, I settle into rest, into being loved, into hope and joy and peace. I know this is who I am and where I belong. I know this is where fullness of life begins and where it grows—my small self carried in His all-sufficient one.
But despite all that Scripture and all that experience, somewhere, lingering, has been a nagging doubt. What if smallness is a season? What about the calls to “grow up into Christ,” the summons to adult maturity?  What if I’m meant to experience myself small and loved and then be able to grow through that to a new phase which is somehow bigger and broader and more “out there.”  The Terrifying Question has slithered around the edges: What if my focus on smallness is a way of hiding from the real responsibilities of the Christian life?
A couple of months ago, I wrote Vines and Umbilical Cords: On Growing Up While Staying Small as part of my process of working this through. I saw again that, as a branch in the Vine, I can only reach maturity and fruitfulness through staying small and dependent. In the Christian life, we don’t outgrow smallness as we mature; rather, we settle more deeply into the reality of our smallness as we mature in trust of the One who holds us in his strong and gentle hands.
Paul confronts the Galatians in their temptation to believe the slippery thinking that  grace isn’t enough, they have to take charge and start doing things themselves: “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (3:3) In other words, “Don’t you remember? This whole life must be lived the way it began—in the smallness of complete dependence on the only One who is able to grow His life in you.” As I read his words, I see The Terrifying Question for what it is: another version of the age-old apple-shaped lie that growing up means stepping from smallness into the independence of being like God.
Again He whispers, “Settle,” and now I can hear the rest of the invitation: Settle into living your smallness not as a season of life, but as a way of life. Savor the freedom. Celebrate the gift. Settle here, making your home in my love that delights in you as you are: small.
Photo by Lara Crespo on Unsplash. Used with permission.

After reading last week’s post, a friend reflected, “This catches my attention: it is in leaning into your smallness that you are free to live into your full stature.” She’s right. I am most free to listen, to trust, to love, and to step out in service when I know myself small and securely held, a tiny but treasured part of God’s life and work in the world. Only in embracing my smallness can I step fully into the joys and responsibilities of the Christian life. 
In this upside-down kingdom where the first shall be last and the way up is down, is it surprising that growing up means getting smaller and maturity equals humble dependence?
I hold onto the sink and lower myself again into a one-legged squat, noticing the way the two sides of the pelvis are connected. Is stability always about the way two things are connected?
When I lose sight of my smallness, I lose stability, as surely as I do when my eyes slip from the greatness of God. (. . . perhaps because trying to live bigger than my true size is a sure sign that my eyes have slipped from the true size of our great God?)
I am only free to rejoice in my smallness when I’ve got my eyes firmly fixed on the true God who loves me in my smallness and has promised to carry me forever. With this God, it is safe to be small.
And I’m only truly free to rejoice in God’s greatness when I’ve stopped fighting my own smallness.
Here, then, is my stability—not in my own strength or greatness, but in the unfailing strength of the One who holds and loves me in my smallness.
Photo by Mathias Reed on Unsplash. Used with permission.

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Want more? Here are links to a few other Scriptures and posts to help you settle more deeply into your smallness, as well as a link to the book that, more than any other (except the Bible, of course), has helped on my journey toward celebrating my smallness:
Isaiah 40-41, 46:3-4; Psalm 103; Mark 10:13-16
Vines and Umbilical Cords: On Growing Up While Staying Small
Making Peace with Smallness
Eight Reasons it’s Okay to Stay Small (and how you are made great)
Dust You Are: Growing Small
Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World

When you need a little comfort

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Shots fill the air and a bomb shatters. Death stalks and life has been changed forever. And we grieve. Or we stand feeling helpless. Or we turn away from the pain, back to our small lives that might feel a little more numb and grey, or a little more like a treasured gift, or a little more ringed and laced with fears and questions and uncertainty.
Sometimes a whole city is shaken, or a whole nation, or the whole world as we watch bombs and shots and hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring like rivers from country upon country. Sometimes all it takes to unsettle us is one patch of black ice or one diagnosis. Shock shakes our self-confident independence. Trauma brings out the child in us, awakens us to our vulnerability and makes us want to run into safe arms. Sometimes it takes even less than a diagnosis—just a few words I wish I could take back and all of a sudden I need to hear again that sin (my own and that of others), and death (of hundreds or of my own overblown ego), neither had the first word nor will have the last.
Before sin, love blessed us; after sin, love remains. The love that spoke this world into being and, from dust, shaped living, breathing children to be like Him, will never let go. We are His, and no matter how dark the darkness, it cannot overcome the light of that love.
“God our Father has a mother’s heart toward us,” Pastor Tim Kuepfer reminded us yesterday. “He not only births us (John 3:5-8; Acts 17:28; 1 Peter 1:3), he nurses us.”

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

I can’t get away from the picture of God nursing us, from the picture of us as newborn babies “craving, demanding, gulping the pure milk of God’s love”; our pastor’s words offer me space to press in close to Jesus again and again, hungry for his touch, his gentle eyes, finding him always ready to feed me with his fullness.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)

I love the image. Then I begin to wonder about the clause, “so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Shouldn’t I have grown by now beyond needing to gulp God’s love? Does growing up in our salvation mean being weaned from this craving for God’s love, from being allowed to come close and drink as often as I need?
But I think of Brother Lawrence whose growth into maturity was a growth into awareness of God’s presence every moment. I remember Jesus’ own invitation, “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love” (John 15:9 The Message). Jesus paired the invitation with a declaration of the way things are: “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. . .” (John 15:5,9 The Message).
Once more I see that this world has everything backwards. In Real Life, the only kind of life that works, maturity is never about growing independence, but about deepening dependence. Maturing from milk to meat doesn’t mean moving on from needing God’s tender love, but settling more deeply into it. It means having learned and lived the details of sin and faith and baptism long enough that we can chew and savor the many-layered love-gift of righteousness, that right relationship that God gives us with Himself and, through him, with creation and others and ourselves (Hebrews 4:14-6:2).
No, we’re not meant to grow out of needing the tender mother-love or the protective father-love of God. So enjoy, friends. Settle in and make your home in the arms where it’s safe to be small and hungry and needing comfort, where you will always, always be welcomed and loved.

“Listen to me. . . you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Isaiah 46:3-4)

The secret to loving well

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We’ve been soaking this summer in memories, asking, “What, right here in the middle of the year, the middle of life, the middle of a messy or happy or numbing day, do I most need to remember? What is the solid ground I need to feel under my feet in order to keep faithfully moving forward?” 
We’ve remembered that God speaks into every moment of every day, This is where I want to love you,” that we are no longer our own but his, and that our days here are just the beginning. We’ve recalled that the way to really rest is to receive God’s invitation to stay small and be carried, even while his love makes us great.
Summer isn’t over and the list of things I could pick out to remember is endless, but I’ve realized something. All the things I most need to remember point back to this one truth: God really loves us. Everything that matters flows from there.
So this is the last post in this series and the last post of this summer, because sometimes remembering calls us to action—or to inaction—that can’t happen on the screen. Some things that you remember need to be leaned into and learned for longer than a week.
Every summer I wrestle a bit with this: is it really okay to let this space be silent for a month?
The experts tell me I need to keep churning out content.
God seems to be asking different questions.
If I can’t take a break without fear. . .

  • Whose kingdom am I trying to build? Whose name am I trying to honor? God doesn’t bless anyone’s efforts to build their own kingdoms. And no one except God can build His own.
  • Are the words I write—words about staying small and receiving God’s rest—just nice words on the screen or do I actually believe them enough to live them? Words don’t matter at all if they don’t matter enough to live them.
  • Do I believe what God says, that the single most important thing I can do to love others well is to keep my own heart in God’s love? That it’s the only way I can love others well?

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. . . If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. . . . As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15)

I’ve been working hard with difficult material for many months and I’m tired. I need to set aside, for a few weeks, the discipline and the gift of writing and enter the gift and the discipline of rest. I need to feel sand between my toes and listen to one wave after another caressing the beach. I need to live by the tides instead of by my watch. I need to put away the computer and pick up a real paper book with words that somebody else has written, and build a sandcastle and look for beach glass and eat barbecued burgers under the sky with my niece and nephews. I need, for a few weeks, to stop trying to find words and let the Word fill me up again and rest me in his always-big-enough love. I need to be small and human and let God be God.
See you back here when I’ve dusted the red PEI sand off my feet and the calendar is turning to September. In the meantime, will you join me in doing whatever you need to do to “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 21)?

When you don't have what it takes

IMG_4353I wake tired and empty, find myself dreading the day.
“Jesus, what is going on here? Why am I dreading this day you are holding out to me as a gracious gift?”
I feel myself trying to gather the strength for what I need to do today. What I think I need to do. The way I think I need to do it.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (john 15:5)

The blossoms along the path I run are so thick I can hardly find the leaves.
I measure myself by them and I think I know what fruitfulness is supposed to look like. Thick. Vibrant. Eye-catching. Blogs posted, books written, lives changed.
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Tired days can feel like failed days when I count fruitfulness by words on the page.
But as I slow and listen to His heartbeat, I see that the fruit Jesus is promising is as different from my measures of productivity as the means of growing it is from drivenness. Yes, as I make my home in Him His life may flow through me in words written and floors swept, but the core of His promise is not that I’ll write more words or tick more things off my do-list, but that my being and doing will be marked by His character.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience. . .” (Gal 5:22-23)

I sink deep into his love—and I love Him all the more.
Who could love me like this, with a love not dependent on what I bring? Joy awakens.
I settle into the assurance that His love isn’t changed by what I accomplish—and peace stretches and enfolds me.
When I know He’s not disappointed with my current word count, I can wait for Him to give the words in His time. Patience is growing.
And somehow as I make my home in His love the words are written and the work is done—and we got here gently, Him knowing me and I Him and both of us enjoying the other.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.” (John 15:9, The Message)

What God does with your mistakes

DSCN5627I’d just arrived at the hospital in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, travelling in a taxi with door handles falling off and lumpy, lopsided seats.
A preacher whose name I don’t remember was speaking in the hospital chapel that weekend, reminding us that failure is never final with God. God never discards broken things—He values them. The preacher told us about the making of Persian carpets. The master designer creates a pattern, and numerous craftspeople work on it together. If one of them makes a mistake, they do not take it out—that would weaken the fabric. Instead, the master designer redesigns the pattern, incorporating the mistake. Often the result is even more beautiful than the initial pattern.
Seventeen years later and I’m listening to another preach about Jesus’ promise: “I am the vine, you are the branches. If anyone remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5)
I’ve struggled to believe that. Oh, I’ve thought I believed it, but my fear of failure showed me that something else was going on. But today I realize I’ve finally begun to trust that promise. Living in Him, with Him in me, I will bear His life into the world. Because the promise is not that I won’t make mistakes along the way. The promise is that my mistakes will never be greater than God’s creative grace.