I have always struggled with that verse, and that line of the hymn, that God turned His face away in Jesus’ moment of greatest despair. That has never felt entirely fair or loving. It is finally landing with me, and giving me a new understanding of the Father’s heart.
In my job, and I know many others are in the same boat, I sometimes come face to face with the darkest of situations. We get the privilege often to step into people’s heaviest, hardest moments. That is a privilege, and a weighty one. Sometimes it means sitting across from someone who has wronged another person in any number of egregious ways. I have come to know my justice-driven heart much better through the last few years. I am protective and incredibly loyal to my people, and I am angered when someone, anyone, negatively influences the community of which I am in charge. I am consistently bringing to mind the Mr. Rogers phrase: “What do you do with the mad that you feel?” And if I am honest, I have not yet found the answer.
This week I came face to face with the heaviness of the broken reality of humanity — and that concept finally made sense. I wanted to turn my face away. It hurts to look right at it. I experienced a kindness in realizing that even God was unwilling to look at it straight on. His heart was so broken, and so mine can be too. And it is okay if I do not know what to do with that.
I have been asking some big questions of the Lord recently. Mostly one: “Why don’t you do what you are capable of doing?” We can ask this question in regards to a lot of things. Like when someone is sick and in need of healing; “Jesus, you healed and healed and healed. God, you call yourself our healer. So why don’t you heal?” Or when something feels unfair; “God you say you are a righteous judge – why don’t you bring justice?” Recently I have been asking this question in regards to transformation. “God, you are more than capable of changing us. You are more than able to transform us into your likeness. Why, then, does it feel like you aren’t doing anything? Why does it feel like you let terrible people continue being terrible people? Why don’t you step in? Why don’t you DO ANYTHING. DO SOMETHING.”
Even as I write it I realize how much I sound like a two year old who doesn’t understand why they cannot drink their parent’s coffee. UGH YOU ARE SO MEAN. I KNOW BETTER THAN YOU.
In the end it is, like so many other things, a practice in trusting Him and His plan. A practice of believing that He does, in fact, know better than I do. But I am just so sure sometimes that I have better ideas! I know how it SHOULD go. Jesus, why don’t you listen and obey me?!
I chose discipline as my word for the year. I chose this because I have seen in myself quite a lack – in all areas of life. In the past year or so, I haven’t exercised hardly at all. I don’t eat well (see last week’s post), and I have not been as dedicated or regular in my pursuit of Christ recently as I wish I had been. Because I felt sick for so much of 2018, I really want to make some different choices this year. What I am learning is that it really comes down to caring for myself. I am allowed (and even responsible) to take care of me. My body has put up with my poor eating and exercise habits long enough, and she needs and deserves better.
So I have been thinking about this word discipline, how really it is in no way an attractive or sexy word to choose for my year. It is so much more fun to choose a word like “adventure” or “hope” or something like that (no judgment if you chose one of those words. You get me.). But I find myself more and more attracted to normal and less and less interested in extravagance or extraordinary when it comes to most things in life. Social media world makes us think our lives have to be this over the top, ultra-significant, world-rocking thing. That makes me feel…tired. Normal feels beautiful and lovely and – enough, I guess.
One of my favorite book quotes is this one from Tsh Oxenreider in her book At Home In the World. During their month visiting China, she wrote herself this reminder:
“You’re in China, which is hard. But you can do hard things. You won’t be here long. Lean in to the struggles; give thanks for the easy times. Hard doesn’t mean wrong. You’re on the right path.”
Hard doesn’t mean wrong. I cannot tell you how many times I have repeated this phrase to myself in the past year.
We tend to glorify the easy; if something comes naturally we assume it is right. So then with that logic, if something is hard, it must be wrong. I disagree with this on a theological level. It’s sort of like the “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle” pseudo-verse that I still can’t locate anywhere in the Bible. And, from my semi-short life experience, I have already seen numerous ways that He has, in fact, given me more than I could handle. It’s just that He actually holds those things for us, and walks with us in them, and with that we actually can handle them. We just can’t handle them alone. He tells us that life will be hard – in this world you WILL have troubles! So we do ourselves and everyone around us a disservice if we think He won’t let us walk through hard things. Then when those hard things come it just makes us bitter towards Him instead of what it is intended for, which is to invite us to trust Him more.
When you look back on your life, are the things that have shaped you, most impacted you, changed you for the better, were those the things that were easy? When I look back it’s the challenges, the frustrations, the hard relational moments, the stepping into the unknown that changed my life and made me who I am.
What I am learning: in a world filled with constant change, to choose to stay can be a brave choice. While we celebrate new things, we need to recognize what it takes to stay. Moving to a new city, staying where we are; starting a new job, staying where we are; ending a relationship or choosing to fight for it — it is all brave.
We glorify change, and obviously those big life decisions are incredibly courageous and important. I have made them in those seasons and have learned and grown in exponential ways. But right now I am learning how much courage it actually takes to stay when that is what we are asked or invited to do.
I woke up one morning and it suddenly felt like spring in my heart and soul. If you’ve been reading along this year, you’ll know it has felt like a hard, deep winter. The reality is that spring does always come, which is such a sweet promise. There is also the reality that after every winter new and different flowers may grow and bloom, and some that were there last spring may not be there this year.
And yet. The wildflower garden of life is full of beauty. Filled to the brim with the loveliest of people and experiences. As I wade through it slowly, palms stretched open, running my fingers through each petal, each branch, I experience the beauty through every sense. The sun hits it in that way that makes everything shine and as the wind blows through it shimmers and looks like the branches are doing the wave. I breathe in the scent and breathe out contentment. It is there that Jesus meets me, in my Mary Magdalene moment, where He reminds me that He is in fact so alive and He is the Creator and Author of all this beauty. And in the wildflower garden of life, space sometimes has to be made so new things can grow. And maybe this season one flower looks best paired with another type, different than what bloomed fragrant last year. There is so much grace and peace in the midst of the wildflowers.
I decided to give up distraction for Lent. (Queue laughter). I had just started to notice how often I was distracting myself with social media, TV, food, or anything else to keep from engaging in how I was actually feeling. I came home one day and said basically out loud to myself, “I just need something mindless.” I caught myself mid-remote and thought, this cannot be helpful.
So I am trying to give up distraction. This is in no way measurable or practical, but it is real. When I sense myself going to something because I want to tune out, I choose not to do that thing. This looks like sitting in silence doing “nothing” a lot of the time. It means choosing to do something productive over doing something lazy. You know me, I’m all about self-care, but sometimes binge watching a show you’ve already seen all the way through three times is not actually caring for yourself at all.
Instead I’m eating breakfast. Without my phone. And I am cleaning my kitchen while listening to worship music instead of being a couch potato. I am looking out the car window instead of scrolling social media.
Here is what I am learning. When we choose not to be numb, we feel a whole lot more. (DUH.) But really. When I deliberately choose to feel whatever I am feeling rather than stuff it down and pretend to be fine while eating a whole bag of M&M’s (ok fine I still ate the M&M’s), I realize how much I actually feel. So yes, this Lent practice is actually quite hard and sometimes painful.
So yes, last week I told you that while New Years resolutions are so good and so helpful, we don’t need a new year in order to make them. What if we sat down in the middle of September and asked ourselves, what needs some tweaking? But here we are, at the “beginning” of our year and so we do, out of habit mostly, ask ourselves what we could change or quit or improve.
I had a conversation with a friend before the holidays that sparked some inspiration for me in this area. We talked about framing our lives and needs and goals in the context of “more or less.” My students had a speaker this fall talk to them similarly about the idea of “adding and subtracting.” I’m practicing asking myself each morning, What do I need more/less of today?
This is good for several reasons. One, when we start goal setting we typically are just saying “more!!” We want to do more, see more, talk more, invest more, on and on and on. The only way we usually say “less” is if we want to quit something entirely, which, let’s be real, is rarely successful. Less cigarettes! Less alcohol! Less Netflix! And then we inevitably binge on any of these things.
Just as there is a no for every yes, there is a less for every more. You don’t want one without the other. It is similar to how we as Christians often approach Lent. We remove something, but we are supposed to fill that “gap” with a more dedicated seeking of relationship with Christ. If all we are concerned with is “less chocolate,” we are wasting our time.
I am in a season of transition. Fall, if you will. Leaves are detaching from the branches and I am feeling a little bare. So many things have changed in my life, some are really beautiful changes, and some are incredibly hard. We think fall is beautiful because the change is slow and dramatic, but then all of a sudden the first snowfall comes and all the leaves are on the ground and the trees are left exposed. Winter comes far too quickly. There is so much change. I don’t like it. Every year I write about how hard fall is, yet I never learn to be ready for it. In these seasons I am hungry for truth and guidance; I am almost desperate for it.
Through this I am learning that Scripture is exactly what we need and rarely what we want. Really. One morning I woke up with a craving for Scripture. I thought, “I’ll read this and it will tell me what I want to hear. It will confirm what I already know (that I am right and everyone else is wrong).” Guess what? It did not do that. It taught me that it should be my glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11) and that those who love purity of heart and gracious speech will have the King as their friend (Proverbs 22:11). Scripture told me that I don’t get to sulk in my anger, that I don’t get to gossip and try and make myself feel better. Scripture called me to a higher standard.
I woke up to what I thought was the sound of the boys who live above me; I started to wonder if maybe they had taken up skateboarding in their bedroom because of this whooshing sound that shook my walls. Turns out it was the wind, whistling and rattling the trees at a surprisingly disruptive volume level. I got out of bed, came and sat on my couch and as I spent some time journaling I also watched the wind pummeling the tree outside my window. I watched as the wind threatened to steal the leaves right off of the branches.
Meanwhile I was processing life as of late and making discoveries with Jesus. I have been reading Love Lives Here by Maria Goff (book recommendation of the week) and she talks about how different she and her husband are. And she says that they have learned to laugh about their differences. I started to think about my own relationships, and how often insecurity and comparison keeps us from just owning our strengths and weaknesses and laughing about our differences. I wrote about how if only we could be confident in who we are and aren’t, then we could deal with our differences and laugh at them and love each other without fear or comparison.