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 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
Marriage…whew! Earlier in my adult life, I always cringed at the observation that marriage is work. It didn’t look like work, and having the opportunity to share life with your special person seemed more joy than labor.
Then I got married.
It is joy and it is work…not in the dull, redundant sort of work we may have from time to time…but as in the challenging, invigorating, problem-solving, “in it to win it” kind of work.
Many of us have benefited from good marriage advice through the years and seasons.
My favorite marriage advice actually comes out of Bible verses not usually considered for this purpose:
“You have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent [return] and do [repeat] the first works.” – Revelation 2:4b-5a
These words were actually spoken by the risen and reigning Messiah, Jesus, in a vision given to the Apostle John. The words were actually spoken in rebuke and, maybe, compassion for the relatively young church at Ephesus. The believers had become complacent, almost mechanical in their worship and allegiance to God, standing by in a city where idolatry was flourishing.
In Jesus’ rebuke was a recipe for restoration. He, through John’s vision and writing, was calling the church back to a refreshed relationship with Himself. His counsel rings wise and true for any of us…if we have lost our first love in the Lord, or our first love with a spouse.
If you’re in a season when your marriage just feels flat, like you’re a couple of roommates, like the love you have seems faded, like you’re even considering a way out and not forward…then:
Remember what it was like in the beginning. What were you like? [Focus there NOT on what your spouse was like.]
Repent or return/turn around.
Repeat what you did/were like in the beginning.
I was a lot funnier then…and tender toward him. More positioned for him to protect me (which was what he is wired to do and it’s lovely when he is freed to do so). More spontaneously affectionate. More generous with praise and encouragement. More understanding of the loads he carries for our marriage (and later for our family). When I remember, return and repeat (in action and attitude), something sweet happens. Worth giving it a try…
In fact, our marriage has gotten sweeter in these later years (as marriages often do when we don’t give up on them). Following Jesus’ counsel drawing us back to Himself…and each other.
Is this always the case for everyone? Well…it helps when both are engaged in growing a marriage. One of the most freeing parts of the advice given is we are called to singular acts of will. If I decide to work on my marriage, I can make a unilateral decision. Remember how it once was, return to that beginning, and repeat those thoughts, emotions, actions. Our emotions will catch up, but as we act in restorative ways, our brains bring our emotions along as we change our current habits (neuroplasticity – amazing stuff!).]
Marriage does take a lot of work, and it can prove fruitful. Fun as well. A piece of advice was given to our son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law before they married over 12 years ago. It came from an older couple who had been in the audience of one of his concerts. They came up to meet him afterwards, and discovered he was soon to be married. Smiling at each other, this was their sage advice:
“Make love often. Always pull from the same end of the rope.”
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit. – Psalm 51:12
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set you free from the law of sin and death…[We] do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. – Romans 8:1-2, 4-5
Last night I was spent…not because the day was exceptionally full or tiring. More spent from overthinking and troubled by the usual. Checking my heart…not with the truth of Scripture, but with that emotional judgy part of my brain that insists that: I don’t do enough or love well enough. Of course, my thoughts rarely go so far as “I’m not enough”, because that is actually true. I know, with all my being, that God has to be in every equation. God and community.
A couple of nights ago, after a day that was full and exhausting, I got a phone call from a young Afghan friend of ours. A middle schooler whose little family our church helped resettle over a year ago. He was so excited that a friend of his (who he knew from their first refugee experience entering the US) was visiting in town. He had this one night to see him before this friend returned to his home. Our young friend, his Afghan friend from school, and this visiting friend had the opportunity to spend the evening together. He just needed a ride.
My response was less than loving. He must have known about this opportunity before the moment that he called needing a ride. I was not going to be engaged. Sounds pretty cold, right? Especially because I know this middle schooler very well and care deeply for him and his family. Or do I really?
As we talked about possible other options, my husband came through and communicated for me not to get drawn in. He knew my day had been long and wasn’t over, with a meeting still in front of me. Then… in seconds, he said, “I’ll drive him.”
I was shocked. And immediately pulled out of my spiritual dullness about this situation. I told our young friend that he had a ride, and then sent an alert to our church refugee resettlement team. Help! Could anyone give him a ride back home later this evening? Within minutes, one of the team said she could do it. Later when she reported on their ride back home, she wrote how happy and talkative he was (unusual for this sometimes unengaged 14 y/o). Having grown up overseas herself, she completely understood what a joy it was to meet up with friends from other places, and she was glad she could help him with that.
God and community. My chilly reception of this need from someone I love was met by God’s answer within the Body. I am so thankful, actually, that He moved in where I was tempted to distance myself.
So why am I sharing all this? There are days…weeks…months that struggle draws us away from the heart of God. Too many losses. Too much responsibility. Too little encouragement. Whatever it is…we can lose our joy. The Psalmist writer of Psalm 51 recognized his sinful heart and cried out to God. His confession and repentance led to restoration.
We know because of the finished work of the resurrected Christ, that our salvation is secure. It is the “joy of our salvation” that is sometimes lost along the way. We lose our fire…we forget the distance He came and the death He died to bring us back to Himself.
In Revelation, the apostle John wrote about the vision God gave him for the churches. He warns against the danger of being lukewarm – of doing the work in our own flesh, out of obligation, or in fear of man, whatever the motivation. He warns the Laodicean church not to shame them or even judge them but to remind them of what they are missing. Choosing a life of self-sufficiency (stunningly deceptive at best) rather than the all-sufficiency of Christ. “Christ in us. The hope of glory!”
“Write to the angel of the church in Laodicea: Thus says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the originator of God’s creation:I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be zealous and repent. See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
To the one who conquers I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Let anyone who has ears to hear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” – Revelation 3:14-22
The love of God is like nothing else in this world. He warns us not to condemn but to compel. For us to see and hear how life is meant to be for us…and for our community. We are not alone. Nor do we have to obey God out of obligation…we are free to operate out of a willing spirit knowing that He will sustain us – both in the power of His Holy Spirit and within the community He draws around us.
May our lives ever be an altar that burns brightly to the glory of a God who loves us and provides all we need.
Restore to me the joy of my salvation
Take me back to where it all began
Where all I ever wanted was Your presence
How I long to be there once again
Light a fire that the world can't burn out
Fan the flame till nothing between us remains
Oh, my life is an altar to You
Breathe again on the embers that burn In my heart
A love taken back to the start
Oh, my life is an altar to You
Renew in me a pure and willing spirit
Take me back to where it all began
Before it all became so complicated
How I long to be there once again
God, I'm sorry
Please forgive me
For when I've gone cold
Lord, I need You
How I need You
To awake my soul*
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. – 1 John 3:1-2
As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” – Romans 9:25
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:37-39
From where do we derive our identity? The parts of us that we consider strengths or even weaknesses? The opinions of others? Our accomplishments or place in society? Our performance at work or play or church? The number of likes we have on a social media platform or reads of our blog?
What if we moved through every one of our days remembering how the Lord of the universe views us?
We are His beloved. Not out of our own worthiness from a human standpoint, but because of who He is. He loved us while we were still deep in sin (Romans 5:8). When we confronted our sin and asked His forgiveness, God not only forgave us but also made us heirs with Christ, adopted into His family forever (Romans 8:17).
Having that immeasurable love from God, how do we get tripped up by comparisons – fretting over how others see us (or even how we see ourselves in comparison to others)?
Pride. Be it self-congratulatory or self-deprecating. It’s still pride. Given how God has said Himself how He loves us, freely and unconditionally, we put such a burden on ourselves with this sin. How do we rid of it (sometimes daily, sometimes moment-by-moment)? By faith. Faith kills pride.
“All self-exaltation [or self-demeaning, I might add] is a re-crucifixion of Christ because he died to kill pride. Every boast, therefore, mocks the suffering of Jesus. And I end on this: every humble attitude, every humble act of faith, glorifies the grace of God in Christ.” – John Piper
Out of our faith in the work of Jesus on the cross for me, we can die to pride. The fruit of that is humility – that work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that allows us to receive and rest in the transcendent love of God.
“C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble...The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.” – Tim Keller
This has been on my heart daily this week in wrestling down thoughts of inadequacy and insignificance. Then God gave me a song on the radio: Belovedness by singer/songwriter Sarah Kroger. Slayed by His love. All over again.
Kroger beautifully writes about this song here. She says:
“Five years ago, I was introduced to a book called Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen that changed my life. The book revolves around the idea that every day we’re surrounded by voices. The voices of society, negativity, lies we’ve believed, our peers, etc. What would it look like if we could silence the noise and listen to the voice, that at the center of our being, calls us “beloved”? While reading the book, I realized that instead of owning and living out of my belovedness, I was only owning my mistakes. My journey is far from over, but I work every day to own the truth of who I am.
Our identity isn’t based on our accomplishments or failings, what people think about us, or how we view ourselves in the mirror. Our identity is that we are the beloved children of a relentless Father who loves us unconditionally.
I’m reminded of a stained-glass window in a chapel in which I used to spend a lot of time. The image was of Jesus holding a sheep close to his chest. This is the goal of a Christian. To be so close to the heart of the Shepherd that you hear His heartbeat and can conform your life to that rhythm. When you do this, you’ll go into each day knowing you are loved, not looking for ways to earn it. This is freedom.” – Sarah Kroger
God’s love for us is utterly without any merit of our own. We receive His love by remembering. Who He is and who we are in Him and alongside our brothers and sisters. Putting self in its proper place. Crucified.
Dave and I are so privileged right now to be in a season of community with a group of young people (20s-30s). I can’t even put into words what it’s like being in the same room with them. They are welcoming to one another as it must have been with Jesus when He sat at tables with publicans and sinners (of whom we once were). Not that these precious ones are perfect, but that isn’t the point, is it? You are just wrapped in the delight of Jesus in this place…in this space of the week with them. There is a winsomeness, a joy in discovering, a deep affection, a celebration of each one who enters the room. God has given us other communities where we’ve had this experience, and I’m grateful for each one. I hope you have such community. If not, seek it out. God doesn’t mean for us to be isolated, left to our own tough thoughts. He means to pour His love on us and He chooses to do some of that through the church.
Worship with me…and believe true what He says about Himself and what He says about you.
You’ve owned your fear and all your self-loathing You’ve owned the voices inside of your head You’ve owned the shame and reproach of your failure It’s time to own your belovedness
You’ve owned your past and how it’s defined you You’ve owned everything everybody else says It’s time to hear what your Father has spoken It’s time to own your belovedness
He says you’re mine, I smiled when I made you I find you beautiful in every way My love for you is fierce and unending I’ll come to find you, whatever it takes My beloved
You’ve owned the mess you see in the mirror You’ve owned the lies that you’re just not enough You’ve been so blinded by all you’re comparing It’s time to own your belovedness
He says you’re mine, I smiled when I made you I find you beautiful in every way My love for you is fierce and unending I’ll come to find you, whatever it takes My beloved
You are completely loved and fully known Beloved, believe He died to make your heart His home
And He says you’re mine, I smiled when I made you I find you beautiful in every way My love for you is fierce and unending I’ll come to find you, whatever it takes He says you’re mine, I smiled when I made you I find you beautiful in every way My love for you is fierce and unending I’ll come to find you, whatever it takes My beloved It’s time to own your belovedness*
What if?! English poet and Anglican priest Malcolm Guite wrote a grand poem with this question posed (poem posted below). “What if every word we say never ends or fades away?” We have all heard and probably rejected the singsong “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words shall never hurt us.” Forgiving the words (or asking forgiveness for hurtful words spoken) may right some of the wrong, but the forgetting is the challenge.
I started thinking about this topic when scrolling through Instagram and seeing the post below by @MomsofBigs.
What would a hashtag be for things I regularly said (and still say) to my children?
So regular affirming things are cool to remember, but we also have to contend with those things we have said in anger or disappointment. Worth mulling over in hopes that we can remove some of that injury.
Words form the thread on which we string our experiences – Aldous Huxley
Fortunately the things we speak to those we love, those we work with, or strangers we meet (or even in processing our experience of these with someone else) – these things we speak aren’t inscribed on our skin. What if the experience of those words though never fade away?
We have an endless supply of words and how we choose to use them. I say we choose wisely the words we use – in our thoughts as well as in our speech – choosing life-affirming words vs. person-diminishing words. Using words we would have no problem having tattooed on our skin forever.
Closing with this gorgeous poem of Guite’s. Read it aloud. Add a beat. Definitely a spoken word piece.
What if every word we say Never ends or fades away, Gathers volume gathers weigh, Drums and dins us with dismay Surges on some dreadful day When we cannot get away Whelms us till we drown?
What if not a word is lost, What if every word we cast Cruel, cunning, cold, accurst, Every word we cut and paste Echoes to us from the past Fares and finds us first and last Haunts and hunts us down?
What if every murmuration, Every otiose oration Every oath and imprecation, Insidious insinuation, Every blogger’s aberration, Every facebook fabrication Every twittered titivation, Unexamined asservation Idiotic iteration, Every facile explanation, Drags us to the ground?
What if each polite evasion Every word of defamation, Insults made by implication, Querulous prevarication, Compromise in convocation, Propaganda for the nation False or flattering peruasion, Blackmail and manipulation Simulated desparation Grows to such reverberation That it shakes our own foundation, Shakes and brings us down?
Better that some words be lost, Better that they should not last, Tongues of fire and violence. O Word through whom the world is blessed, Word in whom all words are graced, Do not bring us to the test, Give our clamant voices rest, And the rest is silence. – What If– by Malcolm Guite
We can use our words wisely. Right? What if…we did?
[I have often written about words. Here. They matter and don’t really go away.]
Valentine’s Day, as a holiday, is ripe with all sorts of possibilities… and potential frustrations. It’s a day that picks at our contentment and whispers in our ears, “Is this enough? this love I have? these loves I have?” I say we take this holiday, turn it on its head, and totally own it.
What do you love about Valentine’s Day? Most probably, you are women reading this blog, because men seriously don’t want any more information on how to celebrate this day. My assumption could be wrong. We women have this totally lovely day thrust upon us once a year to do with it how we want…so let’s get after it.
Here’s what I love about this day:
1) I can be as effusive and gushy as I want on this one day of the year. It’s allowed…tolerated…appreciated even. Cards, phone calls, and social media shouting out to those we love…there’s a lot of relational muscle pumped on this day…wouldn’t hurt to keep this going through the rest of the year. Words. Are. Powerful.
2) It’s a golden opportunity to hang with our best buddies. Not just husbands or boyfriends, but moms, grandmoms, the widow neighbor down the street. Those glorious women in our lives… Valentine’s Day is a fine excuse to have lunch together, cake together, movie night together. Whatever. How thankful I am for the great women in my life…from lots of places in the world.
3) This day lends itself to a total indulgence (guilt deferred) of sugary delights. Valentine’s Day blesses all excesses. I don’t eat chocolate these days, but Hershey’s Kisses still speak. Whether I eat those foil-wrapped happy little candies or not, they still generate lovely thoughts for me on this day…as do the other treats that come out especially on this day of the year.
4) I love how cheery people are toward each other related to Valentine’s Day (kind of back to the gushy/effusive side of this day). Decorating a colleague’s cubicle wall, making a card for a friend, lavishing gifts on your child’s teacher, or having special playtimes with grandchildren…it can make for a sweet day. Whether there’s a dear man in our lives or not, we can use this day to bless others…just for the fun of it (for them AND for us).
5) Last thing I love about Valentine’s Day is its celebration of love itself. The history of Valentine’s Day is far from the romance and roses we expect today. Yet, if there is something worthy of setting aside a day, it is love – real, deep, sacrificial and satisfying love. Maybe it’s a stretch to consider that sort of love on a day that’s been riddled with commercialism, but that’s where I would like to end. Today, more than anything I celebrate the God of love who teaches us best how to love. First loving Him and then, because of Him, loving each other as we love ourselves.
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never fails. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8