Advent means “coming”. We celebrate the coming of Christ, as Messiah, a helpless baby born of a virgin mother. God in arms. Miracle and mystery. Advent also commemorates the coming again of Christ in the last days. We look with hope to the day He will come again for His people, as Redeemer King.
Advent is a time of preparing our hearts for His coming – we light candles to remind us how Jesus’ birth brought light into a dark world. Celebrating Advent happens over the four Sundays before Christmas. The candles we light represent Christ’s gifts to us: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. A fifth candle is lit on Christmas Eve celebrating Jesus, the One who came for us.
What the practice of Advent does is to keep Christ central in all the busyness of Christmas.
Those Sunday advent worship gatherings lead us then to continue in the Word through each week, focused, in particular, on the wonder of God coming so near to us…humbling Himself to enter this human space as an infant…to awaken us to who He was and is and grasp what only He could fully bring to us.
In celebrating the joy and peace we have in Advent, anticipating Christ’s coming, we look to the blessing Paul wrote to the Roman church which, at the time, was enduring terrible suffering.
May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace, in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in HOPE. – Romans 15:13
Let’s rest in Christ’s beautiful word to us. Focusing on all the other stuff of Christmas can be exhausting…and sometimes unsatisfying. Keeping Christ as center is where we experience his hope, peace, joy and love.
This Christ who drew near to us in a humble creche and held nothing back from us, even in His death on a cross. Oh the love, the joy, the hope and peace, we have in Him. Hallelujah!
[Below are images of the Women’s Christmas Event, celebrating Advent, at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia. We were surrounded by beauty and loving hospitality in this experience.]
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send Your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious about many things look forward to Your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of Your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To You we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen. – Henri J. M. Nouwen
So much sorrow and grief in the world…if you clicked on this blog at all, with such a sober title, then you are facing what is true for you, and for all of us.
Take a moment more and let’s sit together over this. Or if you have 2-3 friends or family members you deeply trust, gather them for a talk that will begin the healing of both a current grief or a distant sorrow. Losses, whatever they are, endure in our minds and bodies. If we leave them unshared, we still attend to them, either by the work of keeping them buried or by numbing them with the aid of our idols or addictions.
“When I stopped trying to block my sadness and let it move me instead, it led me to a bridge with people on the other side.” … I learned that sadness does not sink a person; it is the energy a person spends trying to avoid sadness that does that.” – Barbara Brown Taylor
When you think about a sorrow, grief, or loss in your own life (current or past), what comes to mind? Something always comes. We are all experiencing a global sorrow in the war brewing in the Middle East. Here in my town, a young widow and an older one are daily finding their way forward through grief. For you, maybe it is a past loss of great import…or even one you think is only important to you. If it’s important to you, it matters to those who care about you. We self-edit and compare our sorrows, but they stay strong and real in our own life experience.
What can we do to heal the ache of these sadnesses? To refuse to isolate ourselves and our losses from community? To experience hope again?
Adam Young describes the four conditions needed to allow us to work with sorrow and grief:
We own that our sorrows and griefs matter and should be taken seriously.
We need to gradually move from a posture of contempt toward our sorrow and grief to a posture of compassion and kindness and welcome.
We need to find a few people who can be the village for us… allowing us to risk sharing our sorrow and grief with other people.
We need to move our bodies in a way that allows for the integration and release of our sorrow and grief.– Adam Young
We can be very hard on ourselves regarding our sorrow and grief, because somehow we think we should get over it or not care so much or ___________________________ (fill in the blank). Even when we push our grief into the deep interior of our minds, or we try to forget through our “drugs” of choice, it is present. Closer to the surface than we imagine.
In the above podcasts, Adam Young quotes psychotherapist Francis Weller extensively, which is a huge help for those of us who have yet to read Weller’s book The Wild Edge of Sorrow. Weller emphasizes the impact of grief over time, on our minds and bodies and relationships. He encourages community as the place, or people with whom, to release our sorrow.
I’ve been reading The Deepest Place by Dr. Curt Thompson (the fourth book he has written and the fourth book of his I have devoured!). Thompson talks about the common nature of suffering in all our lives. Once we embrace that fact, then we can be more open and honest with “villages” of people who are there for us…and we for them. This has been so healing for me as I’ve opened up about my own sadness regarding the rupture of my extended family and the pain we have all suffered from it.
A group of us just today were hearing an update from a friend who has endured through a chronic illness for which her doctors have found no solution…yet. She is tired and struggling. Reading Thompson’s chapter on perseverance reminded me of her ordeal. Her faith in God and her determination to keep open and close to her community have given us all hope that the future will be brighter for her…and we will be there with her for it.
Productivity – it seems so elusive. Maybe not for you. You’ve figured it out. If success in productivity flows out of thinking about it, I’ve thought about it more than you can imagine…so many blogs on it.
He helped me get jump-started, but I’m far from that focused productivity that could seriously change up my life. Still, I chip away at it. Why? To what end? The P’s below inspire me to keep at it. How about you?
1) Possibilities – Earlier today, I was walking with a friend of mine who is diving into the natural arts – gardening, canning, grinding wheat for bread, etc. I admire her and yet am overwhelmed by the effort she puts into her craft. Then she retorted, “Well, I’m not pouring into Afghan refugees.” Thanks for that. We may all have different goals, but the possibilities abound when we recapture the time, attention, and energy we need to meet and even surpass those goals. What would you love to accomplish…if only?
2) Practices – A favorite old proverb of ours goes like this: “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” (Proverbs 14:4). Canadian writer Tim Challies presents this proverb as a parable on productivity. That “much increase” can be enhanced by having the right tools (oxen, for instance). However, given the right tools, productivity can still be very messy. Hard to perfectly control, thus, cycling back, needing the best tools for the job. Sometimes those tools are people in our lives and workplace, and sometimes they are lists, schedules, apps, or right equipment.
It’s not working harder, and not even just working smarter, whatever that means. It’s the beautiful grind of habit formation. It’s the development of spiritual disciplines that become life-long practices. We are never too young to begin establishing such.
I make my bed every morning.
It’s a small thing but it lifts my heart. This is done and it’s beautiful.
Lately I have also begun going to bed with my phone out of reach. That means, on waking, it is still out of reach. My thoughts then are my own…not someone else’s I begin taking in, and 30 minutes later find myself still scrolling. Sheesh!
There are other practices I’m incorporating into my daily life…but for this moment, I leave you with the experts.
3) Product – As you begin habit formation, such that you are able to redeem more time, more attention, and more energy, product then begins to be impacted. What is your product? Your goal? Are you beginning to see the weight loss, your writing becoming more thoughtful, your shelves filling with wholesome canned food, your personnel engaged, your work goals realized, your college degree on the horizon?
4) Purpose – What is the purpose for your going after your goals? If the habits you are forming are in conflict with other goals in your life, then you may need to reexamine your purpose. The “why” of your efforts. Are top performance and lifetime achievement the same or is there enough difference that you need to reevaluate? Something to consider on a regular basis. What is your purpose for all this? [See the Carey Nieuwhof podcast with Jon Acuff below – gold!]
5) People – Chris Bailey did an experiment earlier this year. He made the observation that smartphones are actually robbing us of productivity among other things (mental health, sleep, intimacy, focus…I could go on).
He decided to “come off” his smartphone (iPhone to be specific) for one month. After switching to a flip-phone, it took Chris a week to adjust to the under-stimulation of his device. Then something happened that forced him to ditch the experiment altogether before the month was over.
A cherished family member got cancer and was doing treatment updates via group iMessaging. Chris became aware that he was missing some of the messages and, in fact, his wife had begun answering for both of them. He family and friends simply began messaging solely with her, leaving him out of the circle altogether.
Being connected with people, in the way they were all accustomed, was disrupted. Face-to-face was consummately better, but he would take phone connection over no connection.
“…while modern communication methods are shallow, at the end of the day, the smartphone is how I am able to communicate with those I love in the modern world. And I love them. So I will continue to go where they are, to these lamely shallow apps that are no richer than a shadow, especially when compared to the vivid, textured reality of deep, joyous time with another human being, in real life. Maybe over coffee, maybe over drinks, maybe at a beach somewhere. Honestly, wherever—I don’t really care. As long as it’s in person.
At this point, we’re stuck with smartphones, especially considering how intertwined they are with how we communicate. Technology will continue to advance as smartphone innovation continues to plateau, and eventually, something else will take the smartphone’s place.
I look forward to this day, and hope that whatever replaces the phone doesn’t come with its own tradeoffs for our mental health and overall well-being.
The key, though, while the smartphone is with us, is to find ways to limit its downsides while making how we communicate richer. – Chris Bailey
The moral of this story: don’t leave your people in the dust in the pursuit of wild wonderful goals.
In becoming more productive, do we pour that gained time, attention, and energy back into the work, skillset, hobby, or recreation? Or do we pour it into people?
As I look again at habit formation and goal-setting with these 5 P’s in view, what my hope for center stage of life is “Love God…love people.“
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” – Jesus, Luke 10:27
This is what inspires me to do the work of becoming more productive.
I know I’m not the only one. The experience of feeling alone (or invisible) in a crowded room. OK, for introverts this may be a welcome experience. I say, however, that maybe we have different experiences of social anxiety – introverts and extroverts.
It happens to me in the church lobby of all places after the Sunday morning service. If I didn’t walk out into the lobby with someone, it is like I could walk straight through without being seen. Skirting around various little circles – backs to me. Sometimes, I engage with a set of eyes, not wanting to break in or interfere with a conversation, but too often, it’s eyes forward with the exit door in view.
You might be thinking “How weird”. I agree with you. My aim on Sunday gatherings is to watch for loners, new people, those outside of the small group conversations. Dr. Curt Thompson puts it this way: when we come into the world, we are looking for someone looking for us. We have that need for attachment throughout our lives. I want to be that person looking for the someone looking for someone looking for them (was that understandable?).
However…there are days, not just on Sundays but at work and definitely in any large group setting, that my default is awkwardness which is even odd for me. This has not always been my modus operandi. It seems to have crept up on me later in life…but I fight against it!
Just a few days ago, I read a piece and heard a song that have both encouraged and fortified me.
Have you ever read something or heard a piece of music that went right to your core? This:
Singer/songwriter Savannah Locke authored the article and co-wrote the song. She talks about how we can feel orphaned in life for various reasons. Those orphaned especially need to know they have a place – a real belonging somewhere (Psalm 68:4-8). We can take comfort in close friends and family, but the confidence of knowing we always have a place, Locke writes, comes from experiencing the love and care of God.
Abiding in God slowly heals the part of me that is convinced I am on the outside; slowly thaws the part of me that has iced over in hyper-vigilance. – Savannah Locke
It’s been decades since my college years, but there is one book I kept from those days. Through all the moves and all the pain of downsizing our book collections, Paul Tournier‘s A Place for You has remained.
Tournier writes “What we are looking for is not someone who will cut through our dilemmas for us, but someone who will try to understand them. Not someone who will impose his will upon us, but someone who will help us to use our own will. Someone who, instead of dictating to us what we must do, will listen to us with respect. Not someone who will reduce everything to an academic argument, but someone who will understand our personal motives, our feelings, and even our weakness and our mistakes. Someone who will give us confidence in ourselves because he has unshakeable confidence in us…The ideal support, then, is a presence, a vigilant, unshakeable, indefectible presence, but one that is discreet, gentle, silent, and respectful…All [people] are looking, in fact, for God’s support. It is an absolute support that men and women are looking for, a support without limit – and it obviously can come only from God.”
This is the place we need…this place that bolsters us in times of stress, fear, betrayal. This place, this Person, where our own struggle can point us to those with similar struggles and we can make room for them as well…see them as we are seen.
As I was sharing all the above with a friend, she pointed to a similar point of connection from a podcast she watched. Lysa Terkeurst was speaking about her own social anxiety, entering a room full of people alone. During a quiet moment after such an experience, she sensed a word from God in the following:
“You were walking in that room desperate for acceptance and approval. Instead of walking into that room bringing My acceptance, bringing My love into that room, bringing My peace into that room. Every single person in there is desperate for that same kind of acceptance, approval, and love. I don’t want you walking into any more of those rooms begging others for scraps of all that. Live from the place that I have accepted you; I love you. You are a conduit of My peace, My acceptance, and My love to other people. You walk into that room bringing that with you and the atmosphere will change for you…Doing that practice of walking into rooms eager to give that [peace, acceptance, love] to other people (will) change something in you. Live from a place of love, acceptance, not desperate for it from other people.” – Lysa TerKeurst, YouTube podcast with Louie Giglio, Minute 33:30+
Such a great word for me, too.
So…if you see me in a crowd of people, not engaging, and you also are trying to make a quick get-away, I’m looking for you. You have a place. We can all hold space for each other, especially when we trust in the One who is doing the same for us, and making a place for us…forever.
[Adapted from my presentation at a home-school conference – Part 1 on Raising Adults with the focus on work and responsibility can be found here.]
One of the most challenging tasks a parent has is to teach a small child how to be deferential – to respectfully give way to another, to put another first. Whew! This is a hard one. It’s not just about helping a child understand sharing. It’s our demonstrating and them seeing the value of people and taking hold of how we can serve or help them, no matter our age. Not for any reward for ourselves but just because others matter.
The battles of will that communicate “Me, me!” or “Mine, mine!” can wear us out – both parent and child.
In Part 1, we talked about work and kids’ discovery that they can make a difference. Work and exercising responsibility are their own reward. Often there is compensation, but work is a head issue – a decision made to insert ourselves into a situation for the good of all (both the worker and the larger community).
Serving is a heart issue. In the role of the server, we do ultimately benefit, but the whole focus is on the one served. Serving, by its nature, requires sacrifice, sometimes small but, even for a child, it can be substantial.
Before we dive in, let’s pray to wrap our own hearts around this. [I’m coming at this as a Christian, but this, by no means, lessens the import for those who don’t believe. The wisdom of raising adults to serve stands.]
“Father, we want to be wholly Yours. Whatever You ask of us…we want to be ready and willing. Not only to be laborers in the Harvest, but to serve with the same heart and mind that Jesus had while He walked this earth. Humble, loving, deferential to others. A servant heart, a mind bent toward You, God, a body and life laid-down in love for others. We want to be responsible and to do good work. Teach us to take our hearts even higher…or lower as the case may be…to serve as Jesus did, in Your abundant grace. In His name. Amen.”
When we model and teach work, the mindset or worldview we communicate to our children is “Get it done and done well”. In action and attitude.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:5-8
“He has shown you, O mankind, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3-4
What if, along with leading our children to be responsible, we created a culture of serving? What would our homes be like if our kiddos embraced serving as a good thing and something they were capable of? And not just for a jelly bean or a favorite TV show.
Lisa Jacobson, author, encourager and mother of 8 has a lot to say about her own experience of creating a culture of serving:
“I did things right. The way things should be done. Oh, and, of course, I was serving my family all the while. I was the sacrificial mom who cooked, laundered, and cleaned up after everyone. Most every job was done by me.
And, as a ‘shining model’ of service, I figured my children would eventually follow my example. It was obvious that I worked hard and did my best to please our family. So wouldn’t they just naturally follow in my footsteps? More is caught than taught, right? But you know something? They didn’t catch on like I thought they would. They really enjoyed being served…and it kind of stopped there. I was a good giver. They were good takers.” – Lisa Jacobson
She then discovered how to teach her children the joy of serving others:
Start by letting them work [serve] alongside you.
Teach your children to notice what needs to be done. [This one point is so worth your time reading thus far – both in working & serving – guiding our children to see, for themselves, what needs to be done. It’s a strong beginning to winning their hearts.]
Let them enjoy helping out.
Instruct them in how they can be a help to you [and others].
To bear the image of God. [“Be fruitful & multiply.” Our human calling is inextricably linked with the family where we first found our name, language, identity, and home.]
To restore the image of God. [Our distinctive calling as Christians is to actively seek out the places where that image has been lost, to place ourselves at particular risk on behalf of the victims of idolatry and injustice. So in every workplace, Christians should be those who speak up most quickly, and sacrifice their own privileges most readily, for those whose image-bearing has been compromised by that organization’s patterns of neglect. In every society, Christians should be the most active in using their talents on behalf of those the society considers marginal or unworthy. In every place where the gospel isn’t known, Christians should be finding ways to proclaim Jesus as the world’s true Lord and “the image of the invisible God.”]
To make the most of today (contingent calling). [If you get the first two right, the third is practically an afterthought. Your third calling is your contingent calling: to make the most of today, while it is called today. “Contingent” is a word used to describe something that could be otherwise—in that sense, it’s the opposite of necessary. It’s also used to describe something that depends on something else—in that sense, it’s the opposite of independent. You are in some particular place today—maybe at school, maybe on a bus, maybe in a workplace, maybe at home. And you are there with certain resources—memory, energy, reason, attention, skill. All these are contingent. It is God within these that we must learn to discern and then serve as He leads.
[Heady topics for a 2 y/o maybe…but highly teachable concepts, as well…how would we teach and model these three callings to our little ones?]
“There is one topic that I’m extremely interested in that the writers of Scripture do not seem interested in at all—and that topic is, actually, me. I am quite interested in the expressive individual that I call me—but Scripture turns out not to be interested in me hardly at all. It is somewhat more interested in me as a member of a community, connected to one of the “nations” of the earth—but really, what Scripture is interested in is God, God’s mission in the world, God’s commissioning of a people, and God’s gracious invitation to me to stop being so interested in me and start being absolutely fascinated by [Him and] his mission.” – Andy Crouch
How do we cultivate a culture of serving in our home, community – for ourselves and our children? What are you doing? What do you dream of doing? Please share in Comments below. Thanks.
As with work, so with service, we not only model but insure our children have the opportunity to contribute what only they can do – for others…whether operating out of their strengths or their weaknesses.
Looking back, I don’t think we were intentional in creating a culture of serving in our home during our kids’ childhood. It was just “easier to do it myself”, right? They had so little time, between schoolwork and their other “just being children/youth” activities. There were moments, however, bright and shining…teachable moments where they did see how serving mattered…especially when they (at whatever age) showed up to serve. Now I hope to come alongside our grown-up children to model and teach serving to the grands. In fact, it is already a reality – seeing our kids, as adults, discovering the deep joy of serving others, pushing through the awkward strain to pull back or be less present, putting others ahead of themselves.
This week we have a special guest in our home. Dave’s mom. I don’t know about your relationship with your mother-in-law. Hopefully it is a good one. If not, I’m genuinely sorry. If there is any chance at all, don’t miss her…you never know what she would bring to your life if invited (back) in.
My mom-in-law prays. Her life has been one of serving others. Now, she is somewhat slowed down, but her devotion to God and others is still very much alive. Some might say hers is a small life…as my own mom’s appeared to be…to outsiders. This is not so for either of them. Where they lacked ambition to be known or powerful, there was/is no lack of love and wisdom. On the things that matter most.
When she comes to visit, we scramble to find the tv programming that she’s used to…encouraging to her. It’s nothing we watch really when she isn’t here, but when she is here, we catch some of the great music, teaching and reporting she listens to regularly.
Here’s an example. Tonight she was watching Kirk Cameron‘s Takeaways. He had two entertainers on his interview docket for this show. Mark Lowery and Zach Williams. I joined her for the Zach Williams’ interview. I’ve written about his music a couple of times. Gritty lyrics, great deep voice. He knows how to connect with his audiences – whether an arena of church folks or a prison cafeteria. He has stories to tell that touch people – a life going one direction with success as a musician, including drugs, fast living, and a marriage unraveling. Then his life turned quite a different direction.
The Takeaways interview isn’t linked yet, but below are two videos of Zach’s story.
We don’t have to keep going down a road leading nowhere good. I have that in my own life story. It’s for another day, but I’m thankful for my sweet mother-in-law who points us to life-giving attention-getters.
Prayer, focus on truth, and sacrificial love are three great gifts she gives us, whether sitting in our family room, or operating out of her own home.
Who or what helps you to shake off the doldrums and points you to a life of greater purpose and joy? Tonight my attention is captured by a a musician’s experience of a God who was never far from him. When Zach Williams was shaken in his tracks and turned his attention…God was there.
Thankful for a praying mom, mom-in-law, and grandmothers who remind us of a way to live that gives hope, joy, and real confidence. Enjoy some of Zach’s music below…and one piece by Brandon Lake about a praying grandma.
“Wonder is my word for this year. It is defined as “a splendid or conspicuous work, a miracle, a marvel”. We are surrounded by wonderful, beautiful, tangible objects, processes, and people. And wonders beyond our reach that cause us to pause and…well, wonder.
Our short-sightedness at such things can be an effect of where we settle our gaze, or hearing, or thoughts. Screens can either point us to wondrous things beyond our experience or shrink our worlds to the size of a phone, tablet, or computer/TV.
Look up. Get close. Be quiet a moment and listen.
Let’s never lose the wonder of the beauty that surrounds us. The beauty we experience…even in hard places. Even in suffering.”
I get lost sometimes in the woes of this world – our national debt, the unnoticed poverty of our neighbors, the myriad ways people find to destroy life and relationships.
It’s a wonder we haven’t already completely annihilated ourselves and that actually speaks to the wonder of God. The fact that we are still here, that Spring comes, and babies are born…all a miracle really.
We take such things for granted and continue to brood over the world’s “going to Hell in a handbasket” condition. Doom’s Day thinking will change nothing.
Today, I choose to be lost in the wonder of God’s provision of all the good in the world – of grace in suffering, of the possibility of finishing life well and dying beautifully. What is our place in all the world’s woes? It isn’t to be so enraptured in the wonder that we don’t wade into the hard.
Wonder takes me to a more hopeful place – of seeing the worst of this world with eyes wide open and holding place with God in ways, small and large, to lighten the load. Leaning into the painful realities of those around us, knowing God is at work everywhere… He doesn’t need me to help…but just maybe He calls us to enter in and discover He’s there, and His presence illuminated through us to those in need.
If you want a quick study on the mercy of God and how He bears with a forgetful and rebellious people, read Psalm 78. Are there consequences of our going our own way and disregarding a loving and holy God? Absolutely. Yet, He is always ready to restore us and to redeem our situations, when we repent and remember Him. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Postscript: The wonder of God in the circumstances of our lives – including when we lean in to the lives of others. What if Wintley Phipps hadn’t responded in comfort to that distressed person (see video below)? – What if the Horatio Spafford, writer of the poem “It is Well with My Soul”, had grown bitter in his grief instead of clinging to God? So much wonder!
On Sunday, before launching into a great teaching on Revelation 2, our pastor settled into a wee rant. On “the blond-haired, blue-eyed Malibu Jesus” represented too often in the images of our Bible Belt childhoods in America. I was taken aback by his passion, and then wondered if I had a blindspot in this area.
Does my own Scottish heritage make me comfortable with this view of Jesus? Being fair-skinned, with brownish-green eyes and brown-hair-turned gray, was my view biased?
Exiting the auditorium after an excellent sermon, I checked out our own stained-glass images of Christ. They seemed true enough to the Middle Eastern Jewish heritage of Jesus. Brown eyes, darker complexion, curly hair (albeit lighter than appropriate?). Stained glass windows have been a favorite art form for me. These did not disappoint, but are they adequate for all who are part of our church? Or offensive to some?
On the way home, I was still distracted by my pastor’s statement: How We View Jesus Matters. Wondering at my own lack of appreciation of how Jesus’ appearance might affect the rest of the world’s humanity.
I will say that my favorite interpretation of his physical appearance, personality, and character is found in the TV show The Chosen. Gentle, loving, fearless, funny, serious, welcoming, truth-filled, good.
Lion and Lamb – throughout history, Jesus has been interpreted in art as both lion and lamb (as he is also described in the Scriptures.
“Recently, I saw an image of a lion and a lamb lying together in the clouds and was reminded of the cosmic truth of history that in Jesus Christ, God’s love and justice meet, His mercy and His authority come together.
J.R.R. Tolkein speaks of the incarnation of Christ as the “euchatastrophe* of Man’s history.” About the incarnation, and especially its climax in the resurrection, he says, “There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true.” The greatest fantasy is in fact history.” – The Lion and the Lamb – Darrow Miller
[As I write, it is the day before Independence Day in the US. The 4th of July. Parades, barbecues, gatherings of friends and family, and fireworks gloriously finishing off the day. Our fridge is filled with summer-sweet watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, and chicken ready for the grill. Today is quiet and full of introspection. Here’s what’s on my mind.]
I wasn’t born into a Christian family. We weren’t in church until I was 7 or 8. My mom had a church experience as a child and was saved and baptized but had stopped attending church years before I was born. She would say she stopped seeking God somewhere along the way in a difficult marriage. Not sure at all whether my biological father had any sort of faith. To this day, I’m thankful for Christian neighbors who loved us and invited us into their church family.
When I was 9, during a summer Bible school week, the message of God’s love and His deliverance from our self-serving, sinful hearts was immensely beautiful to me. Even as a little girl, I had unsuccessfully tried my hardest to be good for my mama. She worked so hard to keep food on the table for us (with no help from anyone), and I didn’t want to add to her burden. Still, like I said, being good wasn’t always my path forward. Then hearing that God was not put off by that, and, in fact, had made a way for me to be covered by His own righteousness through Jesus…well, it was the most amazing thing I had ever heard.
This wasn’t just a tickling-the-ears sort of experience. Not just a relief-generating tale for troubled child. It resonated with my heart and mind. It sounded truer than anything I had known before. Understanding, even as a child, that God had made a way for me to be free of the burden of my sin was really good news.
My pursuit of God actually followed His pursuit of me. He has never let go of me…even in seasons of my rebellion as a young adult. The shiny things of the world can be mesmerizing – popularity, higher education, professional favor, the stuff and experiences that work affords us.
In my 20s, I had a divided mind and allegiance. To some, it may not have seemed so, but I knew my own heart, and it was, for a time, lured back to old ways – a heart that could be both deceived and deceitful. However, by God’s grace, I did NOT stay in that place forever. He drew me back to Himself.
Reminded of the passage late in Jesus’ public ministry, when some of His followers fell away, He asked the apostle Peter if he would leave, too. Peter answered Him with the question that always brings me back to the reality of life: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” There is simply no one else…nowhere else to go. Period. Full-stop.
Well…that’s a bit of my story. Your story may look very different from mine. Since my 30s, as winding as the path may be, or as imperfectly as I follow it…there is no going back.
As we celebrate our freedoms as a nation, freedoms hard-won by those who sacrificed their lives for our sake, I also celebrate the freedom won by Christ whose own ultimate sacrifice won us back to Himself. Hallelujah!
This morning, rolling out of bed, I have so many thoughts pinging around my mind…thoughts and accompanying emotions. Missing fathers from our lives. A young woman with three small children facing eviction because of a father who abused and then deserted them. Afghan refugees and friends sorting through their own losses and fighting to build their lives here. Taking in the intensity of Juneteenth and the experience of freedom for all of us.
As happens sometimes, a simple song, and the not-so-simple question in its title, settles in my brain.
Even when our hearts are not presently under attack, we share space with those we love whose hearts are breaking. A dear friend whose husband wants another future. A friend who spent his Father’s Day without his children (because his ex-wife chose a different future). Friends who lost their fathers before this Father’s Day…or parents who lost their children (whether to death or to an estranged life). Friends heartbroken over the what-ifs or what-may-never-be’s. Fill in the blank with your own. #BrokenHearts.
[Too heavy for a Monday morning? It does get better.]
Maybe you aren’t so aware of broken hearts. Maybe you haven’t had the experience of sitting on the phone of a friend scream-weeping at the hard reality of her life right now. Maybe you haven’t worked beside a friend whose stone face and deep quiet haven’t touched your awareness of what is going on under the surface of his silence…his pain.
Broken hearts can take us on spirals that lead to self-protective withdrawal, confused anger, terrifying isolation, or hard bitterness.
I also found some helps in a somewhat odd place: Kristin Weber‘s Adulting for Jesus. Whatever you currently think about Jesus, this book on adulting is refreshing, funny sometimes, and so real. Midway of the book she talks about developing something she calls Godly grit.
“Adulting requires learning how to fall and get back up again, and again, and again.” – Adulting for Jesus, p. 89
Weber presents 10 ways to shift perspective on the struggle (our heartbreak) and develop that grit:
Expect hardship. – “Western comforts have lulled us into the false assumption that life is meant to be easy and the hard moments few. In reality, much of life is hard, and the easy moments are the exceptions.” We can learn to live in such a way that difficult situations/relationships don’t catch us off guard.
Depend on God. – “…when a relationship [ends] abruptly, failure hurts – often deeply. We can be honest about our hurt and struggles while still trusting God.” We don’t ignore the pain of our broken heart, but we recognize that God hasn’t gone anywhere. He sees; He hears; He will work on our behalf.
Ask “What’s Next?” – “Rather than ask ‘Why me?’…ask a different question about life: ‘What’s next?’ Obstacles, especially a long string of them, can make us short-sighted. By asking ‘What’s next?’ we recognize this failure or hardship isn’t the end of our story…Hardships will undoubtably change you, but keeping a long-term perspective will prevent them from destroying you.”
Look at Adversity through Eternal Lenses. – “As a child of God your trials, both big and small, have an expiration date.” When our hearts are broken, we are consumed and exhausted by our loss. We can’t see down the road but so far. “Do the next thing”. Eternity comes but until then we grieve the loss, but we also train ourselves to stay in the moment and hope for a better future…a different future. We have that confidence in God’s care.
Appreciate the Bottom. – “A lot can be learned on the bottom step of the ladder”. Our broken hearts can bring us low…but that is not where we stay. That is not where we belong.
Develop Thick Skin and a Tender Heart. – “Try to be slow in getting offended and quick in extending grace. If someone causes you to have a knee-jerk reaction, that person controls you. That person has all the power…Choosing a calm response and keeping a level head, you remain free to live your life.”
Be Teachable. – “Though we don’t need to let the opinions and critiques of everyone we encounter control our lives, we do need people who can lovingly speak truth into our lives…Our natural instinct is to make excuses or get defensive when someone corrects us, but adopting an attitude of teachability puts us on the track to growth and maturity. We need to take ownership of our actions and be humble enough to receive input about where we can improve.”
Do Something. – “Big changes happen through tiny actions, and tiny actions require doing something.” Every day…step by step. #MakeYourBed.
Laugh. – “Once I learned to laugh at myself and find humor in situations that didn’t tip in my favor, I became less stressed and anxious about every little thing. I didn’t dread life or failure as much…Our hope isn’t ultimately in everything going our way, and humor keeps the weight of our circumstances from crushing us.”
Count Your Blessings. – “Instead of focusing constantly on everything that’s going wrong, take time each day to remember what’s going right. We might find our ‘gratitude attitude’ changes our entire outlook on life.”
Thanks, Kristin. I can tell you’ve known heartbreak and have learned to come out whole on the other side.
Closing out this Monday Morning Moment, for those of us who are sharing space with one or many dealing with broken hearts, we need to remember its pain, and have patience and compassion…be present, listen, and, when we can, speak the truth in love.
P.S. The Scripture verses are strong anchors and the links below are super helpful. None of us are in these broken spaces alone.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 73:26
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. – Psalm 147:3
“I have chosen you and haven’t rejected you. Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:9b-10
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-30