It’s my birthday. Here are my thoughts.
I’ve maybe never been more thankful for life. This year has been a doozy, for all of us. We’ve all been drudging through a pandemic and we all have our “and also’s.” It isn’t even a comparison game, “well my life is harder than yours!” It just feels plain hard across the board. I could list so many challenging things that people close to me have faced. So many circumstances that have pushed us all to the ends of ourselves. And we live in a world that is so divided, our only interaction is on social media where we don’t have conversations we just yell at each other and share our apparently always-right opinions.
Listen, I’m too tired to be a jerk. We are too overwhelmed to be mean to each other. There just isn’t room for it. We have done such a good job at politicizing things that never should have been divisive, alienating groups that should have been each other’s allies, inflicting pain over and over and over again when what we need is to be healing each other.
So I was sort of dark and twisty last week, and I am now reveling in the Colorado sunshine and the resolution of hard situations. I am looking with anticipation towards Easter and springtime and new life. We are going through a devotional currently about God’s goodness, and one day included reflecting on Psalm 145. I was so struck by the rich truths and wisdom within this passage, so inspired by what it has to teach us. (To balance out how holy I sound right now, I just need you to know that I am listening to the Jonas Brothers while I write this.)
If I was writing a Bible study, this is where I would make you go and read through this chapter and write out all the qualities this chapter attributes to God. (If you’re a student of mine, there is a good chance I will make you do this at some point.) Since you have landed here, I will do you the delight of just telling you the answer. This chapter speaks of God’s greatness, abundant goodness, righteousness, graciousness, and compassion (on all He has made!). It describes Him as being slow to anger, rich in love, good to all, and faithful. He has a glorious Kingdom, an enduring dominion, and upholds all who fall and lifts up those who are bowed down. He satisfies our desires, hears our cries, watches over us. Basically, if you need a description of who God is and what He does, this chapter is where to go.
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?!
This fall on my church retreat we were led through a meditation on the story of “Blind Bartimaeus.” This is a commonly used passage for the kind of Scripture meditation we were practicing, but I always find something new in it each time. It humbles me when I begin to think Scripture is old news or I have read it all enough; sometimes we just need a new approach, a new lens, fresh eyes. So as I let the words soak over me, this phrase stuck out:
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Mark 10:48-50
“Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” The ESV uses the phrase, “Take heart.” The Passion paraphrase says, “Have courage! Jesus is calling for you!”
I have spent some time thinking about why that particular phrase stood out this time as I read that passage. God’s call, the invitations He extends to us, are never something to be afraid of, mad about, or to drag our feet in response. It is always for our best. It always involves JOY, even when it involves major change or challenge.
I stumbled upon this fun word this week while reading an article from a friend: rumination. It stuck out to me, the way words do sometimes. To ruminate; it sounded like such a process. In its most basic form, ruminating means to think deeply about something. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think that is maybe one of my gifts that I offer to the world. So where does it go bad?
“Rumination is the focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions,” according to the Nolan-Hoeksema’s Response Styles Theory.
Yikes. That sounds all too familiar for me. How often am I focused simply on the symptoms rather than the root issue? I am tempted, in relation to anxiety specifically, to just remove the situations or circumstances or people that maybe cause some anxiety. But instead, God invites me into something better: He reminds me that the goal is not to just to treat the symptoms, but the sickness itself. For anxiety, it is not about removing any possible thing from our lives that could cause anxiety, but to fight anxiety itself.
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.