To Dance Away from the Death March

My lover is mine and I am his; … Song of Solomon 2:16

What does it really mean that “I am His”?  The fact that I belong to Him, not just as I might have membership in a club, but that I am one belonging to another…what potential does that have for shaping my perspective on each moment?  How might it speak to the stabs to my gut of various circumstances and the continual experience of hope deferred which indeed does make the heart sick?  What does it look like to know, and hang on for dear life to the fact, that God doesn’t just love us like a Father, but really, really likes us too?!

This morning when Dad and I were running, we passed an idling police car in a parking lot and joked about not running too fast as we passed him.  But I went on to ponder the implications of the fact that whenever I see a police car, even running in the dark of the morning with my little reflector vest on, I feel pretty certain I’m doing something wrong or that I will draw his attention to something for which I should rightfully be ticketed.  No wonder I’m exhausted!  I live my days as a fugitive before the gaze of my heavenly Father, guilty even of crimes I haven’t been conscious of committing.  So when circumstances take a painful turn, its not that I really think I’m being punished (my theology is too sophisticated for that!), but I assume its another early morning boot camp to get me to lose a few more pounds (of sin?). 

And oh how this thinking resonates with my stoic, “pain is gain”, conditioned approach to life.  Sure God uses suffering (and guarantees that we will share in Christ’s) to bring healing to our own hearts and the world around us.  But is His goal worn down soldiers who ultimately march in rhythm but are lifeless?  I’m pretty sure that is not compatible with the image of God, in all His glory and abundant life, that we are made to image.  As Scotty Smith and Steve Brown have both said in different ways, He has invited us to a dance, not a death march.

He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. Song of Solomon 2:4

His banner over me is LOVE.  This is not accomplished by some kind of perfectionistic, fault finding, idling in a dark parking lot celestial policing of my soul.  The troubling of life around me isn’t God’s way of getting back at me, because He has already executed all of that well-earned discipline on the only One who never earned nor deserved it, and it was finished.  It is by HIS wounds that I am healed, not some new bill that forgot to be paid.  He even satisfies the requirements of sanctification boot camp as He gives me the muscles of His earned righteousness in exchange for the fat of my self-governing sin.

“You believe at last!” Jesus answered. “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:31-33

Trouble is part of living in a world that has not yet been fully redeemed, even though we do get little tastes of redemption now.  But take heart!  The trouble isn’t waiting on me to learn a lesson, to buck up and toughen up, or to make myself more Christ-like.  He has overcome the world so I don’t have to!  I can be troubled by trouble because it is not mine to fix any more than Terrell and I would ask our children to come up with money for their own tuition (at 4 and 7) or ask them to make the closing happen on our former home.  They belong to us and we will take care of them!  And when they are sick or scared or tired, we don’t sneer at them to get over it, push through it or put on a happy face anyway (or at least we shouldn’t).  He is not asking me to stretch into His image, but to be loved as one who already has been made so and through whom He is working out His good purposes, even in times of trouble.

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3: 12-21

Should-ing on Yourself

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”   John 6:27-29

From the moment I begin to gain consciousness in the morning, my mind is bombarded by the shoulds of life:  I should really clear that huge pile of clean laundry from our floor so we could walk in a clear path and so that we can find things like our clean socks.  I should call this person and get together with her because I want to have a good friendship with her.  I should come up with a master plan for my day with Chad that will fulfill all his dreams.  I should call that banker about our potential renovation loan.  I should make sure our bills are paid and balance our checkbook.  I should respond to the many e-mails I haven’t gotten to yet.  I should get dressed…

Thankfully, for this one day, Jesus keeps asking, “Did I ask that of you?”  Now, you may think this means I’m trying to spiritualize procrastination, and that is indeed always possible and should always be worth a try, right? (:  But, for my heart, I’m learning to distinguish the voices which command my attention. I’m recognizing that the enemy of Shalom, the one who cleverly nudged Eve and then Adam to wreck shalom, doesn’t tempt me with nasty, obvious wickedness but with beautiful, mouth watering, fragrant and seemingly sensible means to get the good thing I want by my own striving.

Do I believe in the One that He sent, upon whom His full approval rests, and in whom all my shoulds can be swallowed, covered, smothered and scattered?  (Sorry, I think I’m getting hungry.)  Am I left with the shame of a home which is not remotely “company ready” or can my striving for “tidy home righteousness” and the approval of “company” be stilled and silenced by the adoring, cherishing, well-pleased gaze of the Father on me?  Can I sit, clothed in His righteousness alone, content only to do the thing His voice calls me to, leaving the other undone?

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:35-40

Shalom, Shalomy and Shaloming

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”  Luke 1:28

I had the privilege of spending the weekend with  Elizabeth Turnage where we spent an intensive weekend looking at God’s Story of grace, how it interprets all the stories of our lives, and how our stories help to tell that big, beautiful, glorious Story.  Shalom, peace, is the description of every diverse aspect of life (people, environment, dreams, relationships, activities, etc.) existing in perfect harmony and being enjoyed.  We say we exist to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but He has to ask us through Paul, more than on one occasion, “What has happened to all your joy?”

So I have gotten to spend a weekend looking at broken shalom and hoping for the restoration of a fulfilled shalom beyond any tastes of it I had before I noticed it was broken.  I’m not going to attempt to re-create nor cover all the varied thoughts from this exploration.  But here is what stuck with me about my elusive shalom: I am worried and upset about many things (the uncleaned house upon my return, the desire to have a thoughtfully engaging summer for my children, the need to create order among all my papers, to work hard to serve and protect our little church, to connect with friends I’ve missed throughout the year, and so on…).  But as He calls me out of the kitchen to sit with Him, Jesus gently reminds me that He has not asked me to “make the most of the moment”, because He already has.  He has not put the burden of shaping my children into His image on me but upon Himself.  He has not asked me to connect with every person I like or would like to know more, just to love those He has set before me and will set before me in the course of the days He designs for me.

But my inner stoic says “that sounds a little like laziness and what, are we only supposed to do the things we enjoy and just never clean the house?”  “Hmmm”, the Gospel answers, “but if it is done without love, will it bring true life and beauty?”  And so I wonder, what might it look like to live at the feet of Jesus rather than busily away from Him in the kitchen?  If He is the Prince of Peace and I find myself doing the “necessary” work with increased exhaustion, anxiety and even resentment, is it possible that He is suddenly missing? When my day screams at me, “Look at all you have to do!  Look at all you haven’t done!  Look at all you can’t or won’t finish (relationally, vocationally, and otherwise)!”, He reminds me that all those to-do’s might not have been from Him in the first place.

So then, Shalom is the Prince of Peace, the perfect fulfillment of the image of God in all His complexity and diversity, power, authority, love, control and yes, peace.  He is at rest so that my heart can be.  He tells the bullies (like my messy house), who threaten me with their demands that I do more and try harder, “Peace, be still.”  Because of the righteousness of Jesus, the total fulfillment of the Law of God’s perfections, in which I have been clothed in beauty and splendor and grace, shalom is possible even now because it does not rest on my accomplishments or attainments, but on His.  Oh might I enjoy His favor, enjoy His delight in Fathering me, enjoy His smile and see shalom restored.

About Benjamin he said: “Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” Deut. 33:12

The Massage Table of Prayer

That principle of inertia, that objects in motion stay in motion, is dreadfully true.  Even as I have attempted to stop the busy working around my home since that last post, I’ve just simply turned to other motion: I’ll get our summer calendar organized, I’ll create brilliant “lesson plans” for my children this summer, I’ll surf the web to gather all the interesting and relevant bits of inspiration to make me a more creative and productive mother, I’ll do a little more research on Uganda adoptions, I’ll plan a summer Bible study…I can’t settle my own self.  It must be a bit like trading in alcohol for smoking.  One looks a little more under control than the other, but both are slowly killing the life in their grip.

Even as I sat down to pray this morning, I resented it!  I felt like I was “doing” one more thing, and not just adding something but introducing yet another marathon to my “to do” list.  Oh, but God gently and mercifully interrupted my bitterness to remind me that I had it all wrong.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Matt. 11:28

He will GIVE me rest.  He did not say come and get it, reach a little higher for it, run faster for it, grab aggressively for it or even fight for it.  Come and I will give.

The very first year of a baby’s life, particularly if you have another child who is very young, can be very taxing.  Chad’s first year was indeed this for me, though he and Ellie were fairly easy babies.  I am realizing that this kind of year translates to many other types of seasons in life, regardless of life stage.  The demands placed on you from others can’t be ignored without great harm befalling someone, the demands are not limited to business hours but can stretch through the night, so that days become nearly indistinguishable from one another.  Besides the active demands required, there is the deficit of sleep which diminishes productivity and clear thinking.  Each small thing can begin to feel like the straw that broke the camel’s back, even if a trained animal could perform it easily.

It was toward the end of this year that Terrell and I got to go away for the weekend with his future firm, back in the days when the summer associates were wined and dined.  The inn where we stayed had a spa, and Terrell treated me to a massage there for our anniversary which was a few days before.  Besides the fact that I never go to spas, as much as I’d genuinely love to, I just felt a little spoiled and self-conscious sauntering down to the spa in the morning, like that was something I was entitled to do!  And then Jesus met me there.

Somehow the guy doing the massage and I connected the fact we were both Christians almost immediately.  As I resisted the luxury of just zoning out, wanting to be in conversation as if we were at a social gathering, this man from God spent the entire time not just telling me to rest, but explaining the necessity for Jesus Himself to rest.  He went through verse after verse about rest, softly (in that low spa tone that doesn’t overpower the sound of water falls and instrumental music) telling me about the humility and holiness of rest.
I began to let go and allow rest to be massaged into my muscles as it was being worked graciously into my heart.  When that was finished, I was led back to the women’s area of the spa, floors and walls covered in stone, and there a large hot tub/pool sat empty and waiting.  I felt my body truly relinquishing the adrenaline (and anger and exhaustion and self-reliance) of the year.  As I sat in that glorious pool of hot mountain water, I actually began to sob…God had given me the permission my heart needed to finally be off duty.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  Hebrews 4:16

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Romans 5:17

I can’t grab for rest.  God doesn’t ask me to “do” prayer.  I receive my salvation, receive the Holy Spirit, receive an inheritance with all the saints, receive mercy, receive Sonship and receive from beginning to end the person and work of Jesus on my behalf.  It is not selfish or spoiled to go and receive from God what I cannot obtain by my own efforts.  It is a place of humility and holiness that I cannot fully experience while I’m yammering on.  May I bring my busy body (yes, in all meanings of the expression), busy thoughts and busy heart to the massage table of prayer, that I may receive His Lordship over all that concerns me, His delight over me His baby girl and His permission to rest in His sovereignty rather than continued efforts to grab at my own.

Fruit that Will Last

A couple of days ago, I was talking about habits with my children. Chad commended his sister for reducing her knuckle cracking habit. I said that I needed to get out of the habit of checking my phone all the time: e-mails, texts, and just addictive “checking”. Then Ellie said, “I know what else you’re addicted to…” I had no idea what would come next and was as curious as you might be. “Working. It seems like you’re addicted to working because you work all the time.” Ouch. And true.

Is workaholism uniquely American? Western? Type A? Clearly it is not limited to New York lawyers nor those working in the White House. For me, its not to make more money, because organizing and cleaning our house and all the other little tasks which occupy me aren’t rewarded with money. It is definitely a mastery of my “To Do” list over me, which promises rest at its end but only grows with each day. And no, having a “good work ethic” is not really at issue. What makes any addiction truly problematic is the associated cost and in my case, the highest cost is relationships.

Time and time again, I put off spending focused time with my children to “just finish this” as “Cat’s in the Cradle” plays in the background.

I think tasks are a form of self-protection, blocking out the harder requirement to love others as I have been loved. Tasks, though they make me sweaty and bruised at times, have clear parameters and provide visible results. People are not clear and there is rarely a point when a relational engagement is totally tied up neatly. I can measure the value of my day by the pride I feel in an orderly, clean house. And that is the starting point to begin seeing what is happening in my heart. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I treasure order more than I treasure the relationships even in my own home.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. John 15:9-17

It goes without saying that a clean kitchen doesn’t last, nor does laundry stay “put away”, nor do most of the tasks I’m so busy doing that I can’t spend more time with my children, husband, family and friends. Over and over Jesus explained that the primary product of His work on my behalf should be the extravagant way I love others just as He has loved me unreasonably and lavishly. I cannot do this, love like this, be more interested in playing on the floor with my children or listening to a friend than worried about the time I am losing for getting my own “stuff” done, if I am worshipping my accomplishments and productivity rather than God who is Love.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor. 13:8-10, 13

I cannot change my own heart in this matter. I am too magnetically drawn to completing tasks, needing clutter eliminated from my surroundings, wanting to create order more than cultivate intimate relationships. I at best can announce a resolution and attempt to discipline myself in some structured way to carve out more time for my children, etc. Yet, cleaning the outside of the dish does not equate with internal transformation and genuine enamored love that is more interested in the welfare of others than my own peace of mind.  Thankfully and mercifully, I do have One who is faithful and is working on my behalf to conform to His image, through my inevitable failure and in His perfect timing.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.  1 Thess. 5:23-24