Community Versus Individualism

For many of us, today marks the beginning of our seventh week of isolation. We’ve begun working from home, lost or been furloughed from our jobs, or continued working with jobs that have been deemed essential. If we have children in the educational system or who are college students, we’ve had to get used to them being home all the time and make sure they’re following their online educational requirements. All the places we consider important have closed down, and our lives have moved online. It all boils down to this. Our lives have been upended. What I want to talk about today is how this has affected our thinking about community versus what we can accomplish as an individual and how this meshes with my own experiences.

Community. For a while, I’ve had two different communities. One is mainly online consisting of homeschool mom friends (from when I was homeschooling), writer friends (who I’ve met in different places), and people who I’ve known since college (and no longer live in the same area with). It’s quite a diverse set of people, and I’ve gotten comfortable with online interaction more comfortable, I thought, than others. I’ve known some of these friends in real life in the past while others I’ve never met and probably will never meet. Some share my religious faith, and others don’t. Some share my writing and nerdy geekiness, and others don’t. It’s diverse like I said.

The other part of my community consists of people I know in real life. In my life, those groups of people tend to be the same. But, I interact with them in different ways because I do know them in real life. We go out for a meal or coffee; we might go for a walk together; we meet up at church or for a writing group, or we might spend time in one another’s homes. We use technology to keep in touch, but we see each other on a regular basis.

But, that has all been upended now because of the pandemic and the quarantine. The two groups have been mushed together online, and I don’t quite know what to do with it all. It’s hard, to be honest, and it feels weird. I’m alone with the thoughts in my head for long stretches during the day, and they invade my heart and soul. Thoughts like ‘This pandemic will never be over, and you’ll never know the pleasure of real-life friendship again.’ Or ‘This country is going to fall into a depression. How will you survive?’ Imagine those thoughts being on a constant replay through your head. Then, imagine the thoughts of not feeling worthy to be around other people or that other people even want you around. Those are hard things to think, and I don’t even feel like I can tell other people because why would they want to know. They’re all busy with their own stuff or struggling with fears of the pandemic itself.

This brings me to the individualistic part of this post. If I don’t feel like there’s anyone I can talk to about my deep feelings of depression and anxiety, then the only choice I have left is to handle them by myself. Handle my faith by myself. Handle my writing by myself. Handle living by myself. And I’ve done okay with that. I don’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter. But, I do pretend…pretend for the people I need to be around that everything is okay. Isn’t that what individualism is about? What my country, the United States, was built on. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with individualism. We are all the ones that have to live our own lives after all. I can talk to God by myself. I can write by myself and usually do.  😉 I can experience the world by myself. And, in some ways, that’s more desirable to me. There’s no risk of getting hurt or doing or saying something someone disapproves of. I don’t have to be real with anyone either. So, right now, I’m confused between the two and unsatisfied with all the options. I want community, but feel like I’ve lost the realness of it. Frankly, there’s a part of me that wants to give up. That feels like I have nothing left to offer.

But, God…and maybe that needs to be my reason right now. To depend on Him to supply my lack. To read the words He has given me during the last few days. The Word Porn meme I found on Facebook yesterday said this. “To everyone with a mental illness who is currently in quarantine, sitting with their thoughts every day, be kind to yourself and hold on. The world needs you.” I cried when I read it because it’s very easy to think the world doesn’t need me. Then, there were the words said to me by an author who is getting ready to launch her book this week. You might have read the review of her book I posted a couple of weeks ago. From Rachel Macy Stafford referring to me, “Your vulnerability is a GIFT to this world!” I read these words again and know that my Lord and Savior gives me what I need when I need it. So very thankful!

When this quarantine is over, I will be a different person. We all will be, and I’m praying for all of us to have the strength and courage to move in the direction God wants for us.

God bless you!

 

 

What Happened to Love in the Christian Church?

I discussed this at length in my journal earlier, but the topic won’t let me go. Of course, it could also have something to do with the fact that Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. So, I thought this would be a good topic to explore in the blog. I decided to take it, run with it, and see what happens.

As I said, it’s almost Valentine’s Day, and anything media-related is full of ads for the perfect gift for your romantic partner. To a lesser extent, there are also valentines for your child to pass out in class and gifts for you to give to your family. It’s another media-hyped holiday to get us to spend our hard-earned money in the name of love.

But, love…that’s an important thing. God loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for us and be resurrected three days later. It’s the basis for this faith we practice as stated in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” So, we should know. We should know how we’re supposed to love people.

What’s happened then? What’s happened that’s made it so hard to state and show love in the Christian church? There are many reasons the first of which involves sin nature as if you didn’t know I was going to say that.  🙂 When the Fall happened, when Adam and Eve sinned and were forced out of the Garden of Eden, everything that God had made was perverted including love. It’s why Jesus had to come here and die for us. He was the only One unselfish enough whose sacrifice God would accept. Humans make it hard and are hard to love, and sin nature has made them that way.

That’s why we, who are Christians, need the Holy Spirit in our lives to help us love. Having the Holy Spirit in our lives is the only way we can love others. His presence is the only way we can love through the selfishness, the brokenness, and the impatience we all show on a daily basis. Some of us are better at expressing this than others, but we can all be better. How are we going to attract the world to Jesus if we are no better than the world? Not very well, I think.

Then, there’s the way the English language has mangled love. Speakers of this language only have one word to describe this feeling–love. And, I think we can all definitely say that the feelings we have toward our romantic partners are different than the feelings we have toward a piece of apple pie and everything in-between. At least, mine are different. 🙂 Couple that with sin nature, and you can see all the problems that could come with saying ‘I love you.’ to our Christian brothers and sisters. Even with all of the qualifiers which I can’t stand anyway. (Especially with the sex trafficking that’s going on worldwide.)

But, we need to try–to express love and to show love, and to do that, I thought it would be helpful to define the ‘types of love’ that exist in the ancient Greek language. They had more than one word for love which, I think, might be helpful in how we think of love.

The first kind is eros, and this resembles what we, in the West, think of as romantic love. The kind of love that Valentine’s Day is meant to celebrate. This word comes from the word erotas which is ‘intimate love’ and which represents sexuality. But, as I said earlier, this is NOT the only way we’re supposed to love.

The second kind of love is philia. This, in today’s terms, represents something like brotherly love. It shows loyalty, sacrifice, and appreciation. More of a familial or close friend kind of love, if you would, where people would take care of each other and show love to each other because of the kind of relationship they had.

There is nothing wrong with either of these kinds of love. In fact, I would argue that God knows they exist and that they help us build bonds with each other which are necessary and helpful in this fallen world. But, and this is a big but, these are NOT the only kinds of love we should have. It’s the third kind of love that represents what Jesus did for us on the cross and how He wants us to love each other. The word is agape. A word that any of us who have been Christians for a while are probably familiar with. It means universal love, charity or altruism essentially a love that we give freely to others regardless of the relationship we have with them. This represents how God wants us to love and how He wants us to show Him to the world. We need to love this way in our churches first though, and this is where, I believe, we are sorely lacking. How can we love the world if we can’t even show love or express love in the church?

So, on this Valentine’s Day, I issue a challenge. Let’s take time to show love in the way God wants us to. I think we’ll all be glad we did.

God bless you all!

 

Word of the Month – Discipline

As I’ve been debating on where I want to take my writing life and this blog, in particular, in 2020, I’ve come back to a concept that’s been popular for the last few years. The concept is to pick a “word of the year” that represents what the person hopes to achieve during the year. I do see the wisdom in it though. By thinking of a word for the year, a person can think of how they want their year to go and choose accordingly. But, I decided to take the concept a step further. I have many things I wish to work on this year, and I thought dividing my words into monthly emphases would be a better idea. It also will give me an automatic blog topic for the first blog of each month. So, with all that said, my word for January is discipline, and my post today will explain how I decided on this word and what I want to do with it during this month.

First, the word discipline has two different connotations–one negative and one positive. The definition of the negative connotation of the word is this. Discipline is “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.” While I believe in the practice of discipline to train people on how to act in society, this is not quite what I had in mind when I chose discipline as my first word of the month. No, I had a more positive connotation of the word in mind. Nowadays, it’s hard to think of the positive aspects of discipline since we hear so much about the negative ones. But, positive is what I was thinking of, and here is the definition. Discipline is training ourselves to do something in a controlled and habitual way. And this is where I thought I needed to begin as I start working on what I want to accomplish in 2020.

I started writing the list of things I want to do in my planner and was surprised by the number of components it had. Most of them had to do with my writing–finishing my novel, posting regularly in this blog, writing in my journal, and writing more stories. Then, there are the activities that go with my writing such as reading and research and the classes and workshops. It looked intimidating without a plan.

I also wrote down my goals for the other parts of my life such as self-care, spending time with family and friends. and the most important part of my life–my faith practice. I want to let God’s voice lead me in all the aspects of my life; in my writing, in the places I go to serve Him, and in the things I do for Him. It’s my desire to reflect Him and who He is to me with everything I do in this life.

This takes discipline which is why I chose the word. I need to train myself physically, mentally, and spiritually as I write, as I practice my faith, and as I live for Him. Training my brain to focus on the tasks I want to accomplish instead of letting myself be distracted with what the world thinks I need to do. It is hard though. So hard to have discipline in my life though I can see the benefits once I learn and apply it. Being disciplined about working towards my goals will do nothing but help me, and help us all, as we move forward in 2020.

God bless you all today!

Words When There Are No Words

I haven’t done the best job of keeping up with this blog recently. I haven’t planned for topics; therefore, posts have gone unwritten. But today…today, I feel the necessity to try and write words where there are no words. Thoughts where there are only tears. Good where I can only see evil.

In case you don’t live in the United States, or you haven’t kept up with the story, a young girl with the sweet nickname of “Cupcake” was kidnapped from my home city. For two weeks, many people have been hunting for her and praying for her safe return. But, last night…last night that ended with the finding of her remains. My heart hurts for this family. It hurts so much. It hurts that I can see the evil present in this society and not know what to do about it. It hurts that times like these seem to be the only times we come together.

And I don’t know what to do about it. Isn’t it funny that I can sit here and write these words and still not know what to do? I feel paralyzed, and yet, I don’t think God wants me to feel this way. He has a purpose for me as I reflect on this tragic event. First, He wants me to pray for this family and all who knew this child as they mourn. I cannot and will not try to imagine their overwhelming pain. But, I can approach the throne of God on their behalf. I can ask Him to give them peace and comfort as they cry.

I can also love and appreciate my family and the community around me more. I know I’m imperfect at this, but, at the same time, I know that the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life and heart can and will help me to love better as long as I don’t get in the way.  🙂

Being a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem is another way I can have an impact. Our world is so divided, so torn apart. Satan wants it that way, you know. He doesn’t want us to know about the incredible love Jesus offers to those who believe in Him. And, if we do believe, Satan does everything he can to make sure that people don’t see Jesus in our lives–don’t see His love or His grace. We can change that. We can mourn with those who mourn, and we can grieve with those who grieve no matter how uncomfortable that might make us. And, we can cling with all our might to the cross, the cross where Jesus demonstrated that love, as I am doing this evening. Oh Jesus, come quickly!

Rugged Love

This title has been in my head since last week through the things I’ve done for my family and friends. It has followed me through my devotion readings. It even made an appearance as I listened to last Sunday’s sermon. That’s when I knew it would be a good title for today’s blog.

So, what’s rugged love? It’s a term I made up so I want to take my time laying out a definition. First, and foremost, it has to do with the Scripture lesson I heard on Sunday. From Luke 6:27-28, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Jesus’ own words to show us how we need to treat everyone who comes across our path.

Luke goes on to share the examples Jesus shared so His listeners would know how He meant for them to act. From Luke 6:29-31, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

I read Jesus’ words, and rugged love immediately comes to mind. Loving our enemies. People who don’t want good things to happen to us. We’re supposed to do good things for them and love them. I don’t know about you, but this is a hard thing for me. Especially if I know the other person has ill will towards me. I need to reach deep into myself to live these words. To that place in my soul where the Holy Spirit resides. For those of you who are believers, you are probably saying, “Of course. Relying on God’s power is the only way we can love our enemies.” Bear with me though. My point will become clear in a minute.

As I think about Jesus’ words, I think of rugged love as being a love that is forged in a fire. Not dependent on feelings or warm fuzzies. Just wishing for the best to come to that person no matter what they may say or do. That love is a strong love, and that’s why I call it rugged. I don’t succeed at doing or being like that all of the time, and I’m pretty sure the rest of us don’t either.

I want to add something else to my definition of this kind of love. I believe rugged love also comes into play with those we say we love or those we’re supposed to love like our families, friends, and Christian brothers and sisters. There have been plenty of times when someone I love has asked me to do something, and I haven’t wanted to do it. There have also been times I should have reacted to someone with a loving attitude, and I haven’t. I think those times require rugged love as well.

Then, there’s the other side. I’m sure those of us who are parents have told our children no or disciplined them for something they weren’t supposed to be doing. And then there’s the time when it would have been better to keep my mouth shut, and I didn’t. In this life of ours, there are plenty of times where we can speak love and give love to the people around us. For a lot of those times, that love needs to be rugged.

As I said before, we fail at this most of the time. Our pride makes us think of all the ways we should show love and not the ways Jesus tells us to show love. (Love, regardless or rugged love in case I haven’t made the connection clear enough. 🙂 ) We also are selfish and don’t want to take the time to show love unless it can benefit us.

But, when we fail at showing rugged love, God gives us something I want to leave you with. Grace. God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8-9, the theme verses for this blog, say this, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works so that no one can boast.” We can’t show this love by ourselves. It has to come from where God has planted Himself in our hearts.

God bless you all!

 

Difference Maker

Over the past few months, I’ve been praying for something fervently. The specifics are not important. What is important is that God has said wait. That hasn’t sat well with me. This was something I felt like I urgently needed. Well, I wanted it urgently anyway. How’s that for honesty? 🙂 I wanted my request as fast as God could possibly grant it so I wouldn’t feel different anymore. From other people, I mean. I wanted to fit in and not be noticed so I could go about the business God had for me to do. But, as I’ve thought about my request recently, it’s not something God can do quickly. He’s teaching me lessons about prayer, about being different, and about being molded into the person He wants me to be. So, that’s what I want to talk about today–about being a difference-maker.

During my life, I’ve suffered for being different. I wasn’t the most popular child or teen. I wasn’t a cheerleader or a homecoming or prom queen. In fact, I’ve stayed in the background for most of my life much to the chagrin of some of the people in my life and of the world, in general. This world is made for people who are at the forefront or who want to be at the forefront of whatever is going on. People who want to stay in the background are generally not noticed which, I guess, is the point, but bear with me. I do have a point.

God has called us to be different whether we are introverts or extroverts and whether people think differently than us or not. We’re different races, genders, sizes, live at different income levels, and have different interests. He made each of us differently. I get that. I can see it anytime I go outside. What I don’t get though is why we, in the church, insist on classifying everything into a certain order. Our children are in age-classified or grade-classified classes, and we expect the adults we hang out with to have children the same ages as ours. We expect them to have the same life status as we do and the same income level. In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. said this fifty-five years ago. “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” And, this has been true over my entire life as it has been a lifetime since this statement was made. In all my years of being a Christian, I only found an integrated church seven years ago. Pretty sad, isn’t it?

My point with all of this is that we are different, and it’s time we, in the church, accepted each other for being different. This is easier said than done though, and it brings me to my second point of the situation I’ve been praying about. Prayer. Like I said in my opening paragraph, I’ve been praying for this situation to resolve itself so I wouldn’t feel different anymore. And, of course, I’ve been praying for the situation itself. God has used this time though to teach me about persistent prayer. Praying on my knees. Continuing to pray even when it seems like nothing is happening. Learning how to wait. I liked the quote from Lewis Smedes that John Ortberg used in today’s Devotionals Daily email. “Waiting is the hardest work of hope.” I’ve had to learn how to hope in the midst of the waiting.

This brings me to my final point of being willing to be molded by God into the person He wants me to be. My devotional journal had a Scripture on today’s page I want to share here. From Isaiah 64:8, “Now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” God is molding and forming me even in the midst of this painful situation. I don’t like it. If we, who are Christians, would be honest, I think most of us would say the same. But, there is another quote from John Ortberg I want to share because it sums up everything I’m trying to say. “What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for.” It stung me as I read it. I should be celebrating the chance to wait and to be my own unique self. Because being different, in my opinion, is the only way I can be a difference-maker for the Kingdom. And, isn’t that who we all, as believers, should aspire to be?

God bless you all!

 

Lament

I experienced something I thought I would never see yesterday morning. I walked into my church’s worship service late because I was greeting and heard psalms being read that I had only ever read in the privacy of my own home. I heard songs that were full of sadness talking about sin and sorrow. It wasn’t the usual fare. I was caught off-guard for a moment, but then I heard the word. Lament. Lament was being talked about from the pulpit. I was astonished, amazed (in a good way) and ecstatic.

Why ecstatic? For the answer to that question, I needed to travel back in time over two years. The blog post search function made it easy. I found my post reviewing the book No More Faking Fine and talking about the lessons I had learned from it. (http://thrivingingrace.com/no-more-faking-fine/) I also found my post from the week before (http://thrivingingrace.com/gods-tears/) talking about what had been going on in my life. I read through both posts and remembered what a healing balm they had been. (There’s a reason God gave me this talent with words.) It was okay with God when I was sad. He listened to the psalmist in Psalm 6: 1-3, 9. “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” This is good news to me. God listens to all of it–the bad stuff and the good stuff.

So, did I have anything fresh to say about this topic? After all, it’s two years later. I don’t like anything I write to be a rehash of anything I’ve already covered. Actually, I do have something to say. We, in the church, don’t do a good job of lamenting ourselves. Oh, we read the Scriptures of Jesus weeping or God grieving the creating of His people in the Old Testament. But, it doesn’t translate to what we think we’re allowed to do as we live out our lives in this world. When we come together as a community, things are always fine. We don’t feel free to share our hurts and pains, and we definitely don’t feel free to share anything we think we might get judged for. It’s the thing that prevents us, and me especially, from being vulnerable and having a true community experience as I live out this faith of mine.

That’s why I was amazed by the subject of this morning’s service. I already knew that God was okay with lamenting, and as I’ve said on here before, I would be totally happy with my faith just consisting of me and God and not worrying whether I include others or not. The risks of getting hurt or wounded are not nearly as high. But, God wants me to take risks as much as I might not want to. He wants me to be authentic in my joys and sorrows, and He wants me to do this in front of people. Today’s service made me optimistic that others in my community might be ready to do this too.

As we begin this week, may we all be authentic as we live out this Christian life–with our celebrations and with our laments.

God bless you all!

Words and Grace

I didn’t know I would be at this place when I completed my literary quotes series, but I think God planned it that way. Through my choice of which quote to use and through my experiences God showed me that I would have words to say about this very important quote.

First, let me share this quote by Elie Wiesel, Romanian-born American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor. “Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. Now, I want to make it clear I’m not comparing myself to Wiesel. He survived the Holocaust, one of the worst atrocities in world history, and he had the courage to write about it, to put words on paper so that we would, hopefully, never repeat the experience again. Now, the jury is out on us repeating the experience of persecuting people for the color of their skin, for their gender, for their religious beliefs, or for where they were born. In fact, let me go ahead and say these are still things that happen today however much we might not want them to or however much we might think we’ve “grown”.

But, Wiesel’s words inspired me, and they preserved history. And preserved a piece of his soul, I would think. He couldn’t prevent what happened to him and his family, but he could write it down for future generations to remember. This is how I believe his words could attain the quality of deeds. They help us learn about the dark parts of a man’s soul.

A man’s soul has light parts too, and this is where I believe it’s important for us to look at how God wants us to see words. There are many examples in Scripture, but I just want to focus on two of them today. Proverbs 18:21 says this, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” I remember reading somewhere that the tongue is the smallest organ in the body, but one which has the potential to cause the most damage. I agree with that and understand why God chose to tell us to be careful with our tongues. The other example is similar but is in the New Testament. From Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” This means we’re supposed to build each other up with our words not tear each other down. Are we successful at this? Sometimes, yes, but, more often than not, no. It is something that is a work in progress.

Now, I started off talking about the written word and then switched to the spoken word. The question I want to ask now is about the application of Scripture to the written word. Is it the same as the tongue? Do we need to watch what we write as well as what we speak? I believe so. I believe God wants us to watch all of our words–both spoken and written–with the extra caveat that written words are more likely to be remembered as I’ve already discussed.

Usually, in these posts, I’ve written about how the quote relates to my life, but I’ve waited until now to do it for this one. There’s a reason for that. Sometimes, I lock up on the words I speak. I have a hard time thinking of what I want to say during the moment, and those moments usually turn out to be disasters. I’m sure that’s happened to a lot of us. 🙂 What that means for me though is that I communicate better using the written word. When I have the time to think about what I want to say, it generally comes out better and is more understandable.

Words and grace–I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded at giving grace with my spoken words and my written words. I haven’t made the effort to understand where a person might be coming from who is uttering hurtful words to me, and I’ve let my spoken words leave my tongue and my written words appear on paper faster than they should. As I end this series on writing quotes, I want to apologize to anyone who I’ve ever offended with my words–either spoken or written and pledge to make a renewed effort to be the writer and speaker God wants me to be.

Praying God’s blessings on you all!

 

Language

I’ve decided on a different focus for this month, one that I hope will better help me understand this desire I have to put words together into sentences which flow into paragraphs which tell a story. I’ve used quotes about writing before and used paragraphs to explain what each one meant to me. This month I want to take a writing quote each week and dissect it down to its bones. Explain its meaning not only to me but what I think it could mean to all of us. And, so, this week I am talking about language, the thing that allows us to write, and the thing that allows us to talk.

Before I go any further, let me share the quote. It’s from Joyce Carol Oates, and it’s the one that inspired me to put this series together. “The use of language is all we have to pit against death and silence.” I look at this quote and wonder what I would do if I was suddenly silenced. If I could no longer speak, if I could no longer write, no longer communicate at all. Or even if I was limited in what I could speak or write. Those ‘amens’ I said yesterday morning at church, the words I sang, they would no longer be possible. How would I express myself to the people I love? How would I praise my Lord and Savior? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. And, if I couldn’t communicate, if we couldn’t communicate, there would only be silence as the quote says. Because communicating is so important to us as a species, I believe death would follow shortly thereafter as the quote also says.

There have even been books written about the limitations of language. The most recent of these was the novel Vox written by debut author Christina Dalcher in which women and girls are only allowed to speak 100 words a day. I haven’t read it so I’m not qualified to review it, but the concept is terrifying. How my faith could turn into something so restrictive is almost beyond words and something, I believe, God would not want to happen.

Because God created all of us with the ability to speak and the ability to write, and I don’t believe He meant for any restrictions to be put on it like the modern-day church has attempted to do. We are all; men and women, black and white; capable of using language for God’s glory. We are also capable of messing up in our use of language. Messing up through our sin and messing up because we’re not with Jesus yet.  But, that doesn’t mean we quit using language. It means that we need to make sure our language and our deeds match up so we can be the people Jesus wants us to be. It means apologizing when we mess up and doing our best not to repeat what we’ve done. It especially means respecting the gift of language God has given us and using it the way He wants us to. So, if I’ve ever not used God’s gift of language wisely, I want to apologize to those who read this blog and to those who know me in real life. The way we combine our language and our deeds can be the way God uses to bring someone to the Kingdom, and that, as Christians, should be our staunchest desire.

May we all recognize the beauty of language in our lives, and may we use it for His purpose.

God bless you all today!

Holding Space for Grief

I’ve been reading the book Inspired by Rachel Held Evans, and it has validated a lot of my own ideas about my faith and how I view Jesus, the one I call my Lord and Savior. I was inspired to start it (pun not intended) when I heard of her unexpected death last month at the age of 37. I haven’t finished it yet, but I wanted to speak to one of the topics today as I have a lot of experience with it.

So, holding space for grief. Over the past few years, I’ve learned about lament and about how many of the Psalms in Scripture are psalms of lament. In them, God is cursed, wrestled with, complained to, and doubted. It was almost a relief for me to see the words in black and white and see that they matched the thoughts that were in my head. Evans provided a few examples I want to mention.

From Psalm 139:19-22:

“If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.”

Or from Psalm 109:9-12:

“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.”

Not quite the words people usually share from Scripture. Right?

But, I find I must quote them if only to bring to light a major problem in the American church and some hypocrisy in my own life. There is a lack of lament in the American church. There is no “holding space” for those in grief. The nearest we come to it is individual counseling with church staff members or with trusted friends. We all suffer from the heaviest of burdens, but we refuse to lament with each other. We just pretend that everything is okay. Evans had this to say which says it better than I could. “That American tendency toward triumphalism, of optimism rooted in success, money, and privilege, will infect and sap of substance any faith community that has lost its capacity for “holding space” for those in grief.” (pg. 110, Inspired, Rachel Held Evans) No one is willing to sit with people in their pain without judging or offering solutions. They don’t want to share their pain either because they are afraid of being judged. This is a conundrum I’m not sure how to navigate, but I see it as a problem we, in the church, need to talk about. The comment I quoted also reflects how we choose our leaders. Because there is a veneer over their appearance in which none of their burdens are seen, we choose them thinking they are effective leaders. But then, we don’t allow them to lament or lament to them, and the cycle starts all over again

These words have resulted in another conundrum in my own life, one which I’m not proud of. There are many times I don’t feel seen in my faith community or in my life. There was even one time I was told to “go away” by someone in my faith community. As you can imagine, that comment made me feel like garbage. But, it brought me to a conclusion. I want to be important, to be an influence too. I want to be noticed and to have friends. Isn’t that what being a faith community is all about? Isn’t that the definition of community? I believe we should recognize ALL of those in our faith communities whether they are leaders or not.  But, it also made me ashamed. It made me think my wanting to be an influence was not coming from the purest of motives, that I was letting Satan influence me.

But, Jesus clarified my thoughts and reminded me of something. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to be an influence for Him. He reminded me I probably wouldn’t have done the reading I’ve done if I’d been more of a “person of influence” or “leader” in my faith community. My heart wouldn’t have been open to the changes it has undergone, and I wouldn’t have been willing to explore the concept of lament or to challenge the status quo either. He wanted me to be open to His voice.

Let me leave you with another quote by Evans to consider. “Life is full of the sort of joys and sorrows that don’t resolve neatly in a major key. God knows that. The Bible knows that. Why don’t we?” (pg. 111, Inspired, Rachel Held Evans)

God bless you all today!