The Hard Thing

Hey, y’all! Welcome back to my blog! I know it’s been a while. I took some vacation time and then some thinking time as the world has seemingly gone to pieces during the month of June. Between Covid-19 and the resulting quarantine, the racial issues caused by the death of George Floyd and other African-Americans, and my own personal issues, 2020 has been an avalanche I haven’t been able to climb to the top of yet. As I’ve thought about these events and how they’ve impacted my life, the phrase “doing the hard thing” came to mind. The last four months have been hard on all of us, and I was struck by this phrase when I heard a review of the lessons that had been taught during the online Vacation Bible School at my church. This life isn’t supposed to be easy for Christians even though there’s a big misconception to the contrary. So, today, I want to talk about the things that have been hard for me over the past few months.

First, the pandemic itself. When this started back in March, no one knew a whole lot about the coronavirus. The people responsible for giving the orders to shut down were feeling their way around the whole situation. No one knew the best things to do or if they would even help. And, everyone had an opinion. I remember sharing some articles about how people’s mental health might be affected by a quarantine, and it was only a day or so later that people who had shared this information were being slammed by medical personnel who had no concern about how our society might be affected in other ways by this quarantine. I ignored them knowing that I would sadly be proven right at some point. And low and behold, four months later I have been. Mental issues have skyrocketed, and the rate of suicide has gone way up. I believe this is because people have been isolated from each other and don’t feel connected with anyone, cute sayings created by the media notwithstanding.

Then, there’s been what’s happened this month with the racially oriented protests and riots due to the deaths of George Floyd and others. I have seen, from both sides, the truly ugly parts of humanity during this time. And, I haven’t known how to react except for not being deliberately ugly with either words or actions. (Yes, I was taught how to be a decent human being though I know I fail at it more often than not.) But, I know racism still exists whether it is deliberate or ingrained in society. Anyway, events left me unsure of what to say or if I should even say anything at all.  I only knew that I wanted my life to reflect the life of the risen Savior I follow and to love as He does though to paraphrase a quote from one of my friends, I’m not exactly sure what that means anymore. It’s the way society is right now.

Finally, there’s the personal stuff. I am so tired. Tired of not being able to see people or even talk to them. Tired of not being able to bare my heart. Tired of not being able to worship. Tired of seeing the same people all of the time. It’s starting to make me wonder if living this life is really worth it. Whether it’s worth dealing with all the hard stuff.

But, all of this brings me back full circle to what I mentioned at the beginning of this post. “Doing the hard thing.” We can’t do it by ourselves. We can only do it with God’s help. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Then, Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains–where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” I’ve said this before. The presence of God has helped me survive this time of quarantine. It has helped me do the hard thing. This hasn’t come without a cost. My mental health has suffered. And I’m not one to hide how I feel about something much to other people’s chagrin and judgment. It’s who I am though and who I want to be as a follower of Jesus Christ. Honest about my faith, honest about my feelings, and honest about myself as I try to live this life Jesus has called me to live.

May we all do our best to do the hard thing during these tumultuous times!

God bless you all!

Fasting Regret

For Lent this year, I’ve decided to go through the book 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole again. I went through this book last year and learned a lot. I wasn’t sure if there would be anything new for me to learn this year, but I’m a few days into it, and things feel different. Between reading this book and the book Praying Women by Sheila Walsh, my understanding of prayer and its impact on my life has jumped four-fold. In the midst of thinking about regret and the other topics in Chole’s book, I hope to come out on the other side of this season with a better understanding of faith and how being a Christian really does matter in my life.

So, regret. Why is it so tough to let go of it? I think regret leeches over into the new life we’re hoping to have. I read the response I wrote in the book last year, and it brought back memories some of which were painful to read, but some that showed where I was now as compared to last year. I’ve become more and more aware that Jesus meets me in the darker places, the places where I’m not sure how to move on. What Lent does is help me move through those darker places to the celebration of Easter, to Jesus’ resurrection.

I do have regrets in how I’ve lived my life. I think all of us do. What I’ve done with them mostly is carry them with me in the hope that I can avoid making the same mistakes again. I have rarely directly addressed the situations that caused the regrets. There are two reasons for this. One, I’ve never learned how to manage conflict well. Two, my fear of being rejected is great.

But, in the last few months, I have learned some things and am continuing to learn things about my faith that are helping with my prayer life and will help as I struggle to let go of regret. It’s not me. It’s not me at all. What I mean by that is Jesus needs to come first in our lives. Before spouse, before children, before extended family, before friends, and even before our Christian brothers and sisters. Jesus is first, and therefore, we should not expect or want to maintain control over our lives. One of the first songs Carrie Underwood sang entitled “Jesus Take the Wheel”  illustrates this vividly. This is also illustrated in Scripture. John 3:30 says, “He must become greater; I must become less.” Of course, I’ve listened to this song and read this verse many times, but it has become clearer to me what it means in the last few months. Control and the release of it. Let me explain. I’ve been praying for a situation, a situation that has caused me great grief and sorrow. And every time I’ve prayed, I’ve wanted it solved so “life would get back to normal”. God doesn’t want me to pray that way. He wants me to pray so He would be glorified whether the situation is resolved in my lifetime or whether it is resolved in eternity. This is a hard thing for me and contradicts most of what I’ve ever heard about prayer. But, it’s what God wants from my prayer life and from the things I regret and try to hold onto.

I wonder something else about the things I regret and try to control. I wonder if I take the regrets I have over certain situations or people and attempt to maintain control by avoiding them. And, if this is true, have I truly let go of the regret. I weave a delicate web, I think. But, it’s important for me to consider these questions if I want to live a life with God coming first and me coming second. Do I get involved with every situation or ministry that’s available, or is it okay to hold back sometimes? And, if I hold back, am I holding back because I have regrets about the past or the people, or am I holding back because it’s not something God has called me to? Those are hard questions for me to answer. I would like to think I’ve moved beyond the situations or the people who have caused me regret. And, to a point, I think I have. But, when I avoid something or someone for fear of being hurt again, I’m not so sure. So, I know I have more work to do–in ceding control to my Lord and Savior and in being engaged in a Christian community.

So, I come back to regret and my need to fast from it. How, I ask myself? It comes back around to what is said in Scripture, specifically in Lamentations 3. Verses 22-24 say this, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'” I’m especially attracted to the part where it says his compassions are “new every morning.” We get a new start every day, all of us. Fasting regret is possible, and I pray we can all know God’s love and forgiveness. I begin this today. Will you join me?

God bless you all!

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!

 

Be a Noticer

This week I was going to write about the birthday I had over the weekend and how it felt to be a year older. But, instead, I decided to write about noticing instead. It’s been on my heart and mind.

Noticing other people. It’s not wired in us, is it? Except for when they’re interfering in our business or keeping us from where we want to go. We find it hard to pay attention to other people when they’re speaking because we’re thinking of the next thing we want to say and forget learning what another person is interested in if it doesn’t interest us. It’s not worth our time. Then, we wonder why we’re lonely and seem to have few or no friends.

I’ve written about feeling lonely and feeling like I haven’t found my tribe before, and it’s not a pleasant feeling. To think I could only talk about the weather with someone or the latest football score has been disheartening.

But, then I started thinking about the people who notice in my life and thought I would tell you some of their stories today. The first one is my husband. We’ve been married for over twenty-five years, and he’s surprised me with almost every gift he has given me. Yes, I have made lists for my birthday and for Christmas, and he has gotten me some of those gifts. But, it never fails. He’ll notice something in a store that I touch six months before the occasion, and inevitably, it ends up in my pile on Christmas morning. He notices me and the kind of person I am, and I am grateful. I was especially grateful that he bought me an All-Access Pass to Master Class last year which I used to take several classes from well-known authors. I learned so much and was glad he continued it for this coming year.

Another person in my life who notices me is someone who I have known since college. She is one of my best friends, and I consider her an adopted mom. It’s been over thirty years since I first met her, and there are many stories I could tell you. But, I want to focus on one that happened just this week. She sent me a birthday card which she usually does near my birthday. The card had this written in it. “I can’t wait to read your novel.” I felt so validated. I don’t have many people in my life that acknowledge my writing efforts, and sometimes I just don’t feel understood. It’s a “me” thing, I assure you. So, to have her do that made me feel so good.

So, with this on my mind, I decided to make a point of trying this myself. If being noticed made me feel this good, imagine what it could for someone else. At the end of Thanksgiving weekend, the residents of where I live were asked not to bring any more garbage to the dumpster. It was broken, and it would take a few days for someone to come and fix it. Of course, no one listened. Everyone wanted to get rid of their trash from Thanksgiving. Anyway, I had just bought a few Christmas cookie mixes and decided to mix up a batch for our maintenance crew. They would be the ones who would clean up the mess, and I wanted to make sure they knew they were appreciated. I didn’t think a whole lot about it though. It was just…something that felt natural. I also knew I might not get any kind of response. But, I did it anyway. And I think I felt just as good if not better than the young men who received those cookies. They, and the job they did, had been noticed, something we all long for.

I also spent some time with my birthday buddy during the weekend of our birthday. She is a young lady at my church whose birthday is on the same day as mine. She, her mother, and I went to the mall, and I felt joy in noticing the little things she liked. We went up and down escalators, explored stores, and talked about the toys she had bought. It was a great afternoon! (Thank you, Jenny and Ivy!)

Finally, I want to say this. Make an effort to be a noticer. Notice when someone is happy and when someone is sad. Notice, and don’t try to fix it. Just be there. I believe that’s the way Jesus wants us to be present and to show His love to others in our sphere of influence.

God bless you all!

PS–I wrote this last week, but haven’t been able to get it posted before now because of computer problems. Thanks for reading!

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!

 

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!

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!

Thoughts and Meanderings

I have a number of titles for this post swirling around in my head, but since I can’t zero in on one, I thought I’d start writing and see where the words took me. It’s Monday, the day after what we consider to be the Christian Sabbath, and I find myself still processing what was said yesterday and regaining the energy I expended from being around so many people. It’s almost like the Sabbath is happening for me today instead of yesterday. At least, that’s when calmness and quiet invade my soul, and I feel like I’m truly able to rest which is what the word sabbath actually means.

Why is that though? Why do I feel like I truly don’t rest on Sundays when that is the day we’re supposed to rest? By the way, before I start, let me say I’m in utter admiration of all the people who work in our churches on Sundays. Those who preach sermons, those who take care of our children, even all who volunteer to make our times of worshipping our Lord and Savior the best they can be. I hope and pray that these people find times of rest and relaxation through what they do on Sundays or at other times during the week.

But this post is about why I, at times, feel like the Sabbath Day is not a day of rest for me. First, it’s the whole matter of getting up, going to church, and seeing other people. It takes a lot of energy for me to “perform” and “pretend”. We’re not ourselves when we’re at church much as we might want to be. Think about it and be honest. Do you tuck away your burdens and your heartaches when you go to church? Most of us do because of fears of judgment and rejection. Even when there is a time for taking prayer requests, people will usually only mention people who are sick or in the hospital about to have surgery. It can be exhausting to navigate through all of it.

So, that’s one reason I feel like Sunday is not a day of Sabbath rest for me. Another is the length of time it takes for me to process what was said–during Sunday School and during worship time. Every speaker usually has something worthwhile to say, but I need to listen carefully and internalize it before it becomes a part of me which can take awhile. Even, this afternoon, more than twenty-four hours later, I’m still processing what Jesus said in Luke 11:13 about how our Father wants to give us even more than we give our own children–an apt illustration of how God is our Father.

Finally, Sunday has the potential of not being a true Sabbath for me because of my confusion over my faith and the conversations I have with Jesus in my head and what “living in community” really means. It’s a challenge. Everyone is more comfortable in their own friend group and is not willing to reach out to the people who are different. I try, and then I watch, and it seems like nothing has changed. The church looks just like the world, and it’s discouraging. And, when I’m discouraged, I get tired. It’s a vicious cycle.

I don’t have any solutions to this yet. I’m sure I’ll be working through it until the day I die. But, I do feel more rested today, and I have more of an understanding. Maybe I can use the Sabbath rest I get today to try again next Sunday. Thanks for listening to my thoughts and meanderings. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

God bless you all!

 

 

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!