The Gifts of Anxiety (and a free course for you!)

We’re a week and a half into Lent and I’m curious. What do you find the hardest about Lent? What do you love the most about it?

One of the things I love most about Lent (and about life) is that it’s an invitation, not an expectation. Jesus knows I can’t fix myself. Instead, he invites me to open a little more to him, to let him into the places that I’m hurt and hiding, and find him loving me there and calling me out into his love and light.

Lent is about opening, in the same way that bulbs at this time of year (for those of us in the northern hemisphere) are sending roots down into the dirt and shoots up into the light and the sun’s first warmth of spring. 

Sometimes, though, the process of growth seems complicated and discouraging. 

I opened the blinds this morning to discover that squirrels, unperturbed by the generous helping of cayenne pepper that I’d sprinkled on the soil, have made a meal of my tulip bulbs. Last week a solitary squirrel snacked on a single bulb. This morning my planters look like the scout posted an e-vite and brought a whole group of hungry friends to the feast.

I don’t mind helping out one hungry critter, but really? There are so many trees around here, so many bulbs planted right at ground level, I do wonder why the squirrels chose to bring their party to my second-floor balcony. Maybe I inadvertently created a favourite new menu item: hot and spicy tulip bulbs. Maybe the second-floor view provided a better party atmosphere. Either way, I’m saddened by the destruction of the beauty I was trying to nurture, and, yes, also frustrated with my furry friends. 

Sometimes my insides feel like the planters on my balcony. I’ve planted and watered and waited and just as the green shoots come up, bursting with promise, a horde of anxious thoughts creeps in when I’m not looking and makes a meal of my hopes.

That’s when I need to be reminded of this all over again: The invitation in life, and Lent in particular, is to let Jesus into those many places that I can’t fix myself, the places where the cayenne pepper isn’t working to keep away the habits that are hurting me.

And here’s the beautiful not-so-secret secret: In God’s up-side-down way of working, he takes those places that I can’t conquer and makes those the very places where he comes closest and loves me most deeply and heals me in ways I couldn’t have predicted.

The anxious thoughts that come like hungry squirrels digging up the quiet beauty that I’m trying to cultivate don’t get the last word, because I’m learning how to open my anxiety to Jesus. And what starts as anxiety quickly becomes a place where I get to know Jesus better and find myself more deeply and gently loved than I could have imagined.

I know I’m not the only person who sometimes finds the calm, colourful garden I’m trying to grow threatened by anxious thoughts, so I’ve written a five-day contemplative course for you called The Gift of Anxiety. Anxiety has been a frequent companion of mine over the years, and gradually I’ve discovered that anxiety has helped me grow closer to Jesus in ways that my strengths haven’t. In this course, I share some practices that have helped me work with anxiety so that it brings me closer to Jesus rather than distracting me from him. If you’re curious to see how Jesus might meet you in your own moments of anxiety, click here and enter your email address to sign up for this (free!) course. I hope you find it helpful!

In the meantime, as we continue to walk toward the cross with Jesus, intentionally opening the anxious and painful parts of our hearts to him, may Jesus continue to do in us what only Jesus can do, settling us a little more deeply into his love.

___________________

Photo by Leon Overweel on Unsplash

One way to walk more freely

Some weeks ago, I wrote these words:

“God’s love is so big and his desire to draw us into it so great that no single metaphor is sufficient to communicate that love. God circles and doubles back, revealing himself in Scripture in all the different roles in the obstetrical drama: as mother, father, husband, midwife, even baby whom we, along with Mary, are graced to carry.” 

The Biblical drama is rich and multilayered. We are, first of all, the baby, created by love, and tended compassionately by the One who, like a mother, cannot forget the child she has borne, and like a father, protects and provides for his children. We are small and dependent and tended and safe. 

But we also—incredibly—find ourselves in quite a different place in the birth drama, not infants now, but wooed and pursued, wedded and loved, and carrying within us the life of Jesus. We are the bride of Christ, sought, chosen, loved with an almost embarrassing passion, and sharing the life of Christ.

How is it that we miss the passion in the story when we even call the sufferings and death of Jesus “the Passion”?

This, for me, is the heart of Lent. As I watch Jesus walk toward the cross, I hear his invitation to walk with him, not as a distant observer, but as one whom he loves more than anything in the world. One for whom he is giving everything. 

Lent is a time to look again at our relationship, to talk about what is getting in the way of closeness, to take down the walls that have grown up between us. It’s a time to regain my first love.

Lent is walking with the one I most love towards his death, listening for his last words, every word extra precious. It’s dying a little myself along the way.

Lent is a time of humility and vulnerability, not for their own sake, but for the sake of a deepening love and closeness in this relationship at the center of my life.

As I write, a small wooden cross sits on the desk beside me, a heart made of olive wood beside it. I move them back and forth from desk to dinner table to the little table by the chair where I journal and read. Why? The heart reminds me that I am loved. And the cross reminds me how much I am loved and where I am loved—right in the worst of my brokenness and rebellion and sin.

That dual reminder of my sin and God’s love is, for me, a gift, because this relationship with Jesus is like any other: as long as I keep up my guard, only sharing the tidy places, there will always be that lurking fear, “If he knew what I’m really like. . .”

Here’s the truth, the wonderful, freeing truth: Jesus does know exactly what I’m like, all the good, all the bad, all the brokenness. And he signed up to love me anyway, chose to make me his own, even though gaining me cost him his life. 

It’s only when the worst of me is seen and I find myself accepted right in that place that I know I am truly and securely loved and can relax and stop fearing what might happen if I slip up and let my real self show.

Alcoholics know this: the path to freedom begins with owning the truth, “I am an alcoholic.” It’s the same for me. The path to freedom always begins with the acceptance of truth: I am a sinner. And, right here in the middle of my inability to fix or free myself, I am loved and valued and wanted enough to die for.

It’s that combination that sets me free—honesty, and being loved.

Truth, and grace.

It’s that pair that allows me to enter Lent in a healthy, healing way, not as a time to beat myself up, but also not as a time to keep hiding from my sins. Instead, it’s a time to look my sins, as well as my limitations (which are not sins) in the face, acknowledge them openly, bring them to Jesus, and be set free to walk a little more closely with the One whom I love, and who loves me.

What goes on in you when you consider these weeks of Lent as a walk with the One who loves you with all his heart and life?

When God says no to say yes

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There it is, chipped right into the stony sidewalk, the reminder that sometimes God’s love comes in the form of a breaking, His “yes” spelled out first with the letters n-o.

One of God’s great men said it this way:

“God is sufficient for God’s work.

God chose me because I was weak enough.

God does not do his great works by large committees.

He trains someone to be quiet enough and little enough, and then he uses him.” (Hudson Taylor)

I keep forgetting this, thinking progress means increased strength, and success greater courage.

But for all the demons cast out and sick people healed, it was the thud of stakes pounded through flesh into wood, the gasp of one more lift of the raw back against rough timber that heralded the greatest victory.

* *  * * *

In these five years, I’ve not felt freedom to ask for physical healing. Part of it has been fear; an equally true part the sense that God has been saying, “Let me be enough.” He had made it clear: He alone was to be the focus of my desire; I could trust Him to choose for me what was best. “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; he holds my lot.” (Ps 16:5 NRSV)

So I haven’t asked. Not for that. Until last week. Then a dream and a prayer and I sensed Him say, “Ask me.” He did not guarantee the outcome, just invited the request. I let it sit for a few days, getting used to the idea. Then one day, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.” (Song of Solomon 2:10) They were the same words he spoke the morning I first flew to the little Afghan village that would be home for 4 years. This time, I could picture His laughing eyes, hand held out, eager to take mine and run together who knew where. I danced through the day (- it is quite possible to dance and nap at the same time -), holding tight to His hand. Being all His. Just wanting Him, wherever He led me.

As I rode the bus to the Regent College soaking prayer evening, I wondered if this was how other women felt in the moments before their wedding. Not knowing, really, what lay ahead. Just so eager to be more completely His than ever before.

As we began, the worship leader spoke, “We like to nuance things at Regent. And most things need to be nuanced. But this one thing does not need to be nuanced: God is love, and God is for us.” We sang for an hour, every song a celebration of God’s love. For that hour, I was free like never before to enter into worship; free and unafraid. His. Nothing held back.

We entered the hour of silent prayer supported by gentle instrumental music. There in His presence, I sensed the answer. I’m not sure if it was “not this” or merely “not yet,” but it wasn’t “yes, this, now.” A few tears slipped from my eyes as I felt Him hold me tighter and whisper, “I know, my love. I too have asked and been told ‘no’.” Later He added, “But I was only told ‘no’ so I could be given you.”

I left still feeling like I had been to my wedding. I felt myself held closer that night. I had been denied physical healing, but what I really wanted had been given: the opportunity to give him a more complete “yes,” and to receive more fully his giving of Himself to me. “For richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.” Whether He chooses to provide for me through disability insurance or gives me a way to earn a living, whether he continues to walk with me through illness or brings me, sometime, into greater health, these things are certain: I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. He is love, and He is for me. And nothing can separate me from His love.

* * * * *

And in those moments when I feel too weak for the task, He reminds me:

He gained me not by becoming stronger but weaker, not by stepping out of the struggle but by entering it so deeply that it broke Him. The whip, the nails, my sin crushing his groaning heart and burning lungs and flesh that screamed for relief: it all killed Him. But it didn’t conquer Him. He chose. He said “yes” to His Father even when His Father said “no” to His request to skip the cross.

I guess He knew that God only ever says “no” to say “yes” to something far better.