Choosing TRUST

In the Potter’s Inn podcast on “Stress and the Soul,” Steve Smith reminds us that stress is not new to God’s people. In the Old Testament, particularly in Psalms, we often hear of “distress,” “trouble,” and “disaster.” Famine, plague, battles, struggles, abuse, persecution, and even pandemic are part of life in this broken world.

What makes us in the Church different from non-believers in how we respond to stress and distress? Our normal human responses are anxiety and fear. Even Jesus felt distress and dread when facing great trouble. But he showed us how to respond to these very normal thoughts, emotions, and body responses—by choosing to trust God. 

Trust is not a feeling. Trusting does not necessarily involve peace or calm. Jesus never stopped trusting His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, yet he was not feeling calm when sweating blood. Trust is a choice. In anxious days like these, trust is a spiritual discipline. 

Steve Smith encourages us to develop the daily disciplines of T-R-U-S-T prayerfully in our own way. The following disciplines are the ways I turn daily toward trust: 

“T” is for “Thanksgiving.” I choose to give thanks daily for God’s gifts, which continue even today and tomorrow. In studies of Holocaust survivors, the most reliable indicator of survival was an ongoing “attitude of gratitude” despite hardship. Start a gratitude journal, and write at least one entry a day. In all things, give thanks (1 Thess 5:18).

“R” is for “Resting” in the promises of God. I have uploaded to eyesarentenough.com a partial list of the promises Christ fulfilled. Remember these promises. Rest in these promises. Choose a promise each week for which you feel a particular need and allow God to “speak” those words of truth to your mind and heart repetitively. Read the words out loud. Post them throughout your dwelling. Say the words first thing and last thing each day.

“U” is for “Understanding.” I cannot understand much in the midst of this pandemic, but  I can understand God enough to know that He is “working all things together for good for those who love Him” (Rom 8:28). As Prov 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Instead, as Prov 3:6 instructs, we are to submit to (turn to, seek, acknowledge, remember) God. Pray that we all (believers and unbelievers alike) would “awaken” in new ways to God and to understand spiritual realities that are so often hidden when we feel safe, comfortable, complacent, and in control of our lives.

“S” is for “Serve.” This is the time for Christ-followers to serve others. Christ gave Himself up for us, and we in turn are to give ourselves to others, to proclaim the gospel by words and actions. But Jesus also tells us to be “wise,” so we need to serve wisely, with care. The young can carefully fetch groceries or medications for the elderly. And  even the elderly can serve others from home through prayers, phone calls and emails. A very good “general” list to pray is available at this link—“Twenty Prayers to Pray During This Pandemic.” Make your own specific prayer list. Pray at the same time daily. Call those who may be isolated and lonely. Listen to them. Encourage them. Read Scripture to them. 

“T” is for “Turn OFF.” We need to saturate our minds and spirits not with secular input but with spiritual truth (worship music, Scripture, Christian podcasts, sermons and webinars, encouragement, prayer, and silent attentiveness to our loving God). We can intake the news in adequate quantities to be wise without letting this be our predominant mental input each day. Instead, embrace the spiritual discipline of turning off or away from social media and news reports for the majority of each day. 

For example, I have set a personal two-hour daily maximum for national, world, and medical articles on the pandemic. We falsely think we gain control (and understanding) by “keeping up with the news,” whether by TV, internet, conversations or social media. Instead, put into practice Philippians 4:8: And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

God is completely good, loving, and trustworthy. God is all-powerful. God is not surprised by our circumstances or our responses. Our Good Shepherd sees us. He knows us. We are the beloved of God. Jesus has chosen to join us in our suffering. Join me in choosing to TRUST Him.

Promises Fulfilled in Christ

2 Cor 1:20: For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

Promises of God in the OT

Gen 12:2-3b: And I will make you a great nation; and I will bless you and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing. And…in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

Lev 26:12:  I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.

Deut 4:29: But if from there you will seek the LORD your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Promises of Jesus in the Gospels

Matt 6:31-33: Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans strive after all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

Matt 11:28-30: Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matt 28:20b: And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Mark 10:29-31: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Luke 4:18-19, 21: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. . . Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

Luke 10:18-19: Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lighting from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

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.

John 4:14: But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

John 8:12: I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.

John 8:36: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

John 10:10b: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.

John 10:28: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

John 11:25: Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.

John 14:2-3: In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

John 14:6: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:12: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

John 14:16: I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

John 14:26: But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to remembrance all that I said to you.

John 14:27: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 15:5: Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

John 16:33b: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!

Shadows

We were in Ecuador at the time of the March equinox, one of the two days each year when the sun is directly over the equator. Tour guides repeatedly noted that on that day at noon on the equator, we cast no shadows. How intriguing to cast no shadow in broad daylight!

When you hear the word “shadow,” what comes to mind? How do you feel? Warm and fuzzy? Safe? Afraid? Cautious? What about when you consider your own shadow? Affectionate? Ashamed? Amused?

Poet Robert Louis Stephenson evidently felt whimsical, playful, curious, and a bit conflicted  about his own shadow. In the first two verses of his poem, “My Shadow,” he writes:

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, 
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And to see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow— 
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play, 
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nurse as that shadow sticks to me!

On one hand, shadows are a blessing. In the heat of the day, we find shade and relief in shadows. The psalmists speak with joy of “hiding” (Ps 17:8) and “abiding” (Ps 91:1) in God’s shadow. Scripture describes the Law (Heb 10:1), religious festivals, and the Sabbath as shadows of the good things to come in Christ (Col 2:16-17). In other words, we can appreciate and benefit from these shadows of the Real and the Good, but we do not want to mistake them for Jesus, who provides all good things and fulfills them.

Even my own spiritual shadow can become a blessing. When I look at my shadow, I see a replica of my real shape, the true “me,” the new creation I am in Christ (2 Coe 5:17). Seeing my shadow (the broken, unhealed or sinful “form” I still sometimes take) can help me understand the “real” me, the way God designed me and is helping me become more fully. Seeing my shadow can actually be helpful in directing my prayer.

For example, when a Christ-centered mother struggles with an impatient, critical attitude toward her son, what might examining her shadow (brokenness, sin, temptation) reveal? Perhaps the mother is very afraid her son will fail in life. So what the mother really needs is to stay in touch with her love for her son and turn her fear over to God. Or perhaps the mother is afraid of failing in her role as parent and what she really needs is to turn to God for wisdom and strength in parenting. Or perhaps the mother is afraid of what others might think and what she really needs is to turn to Christ’s unconditional love to find her unchanging value.

When I look at my own shadows, what do I learn? When I see how much agitation and anxiety I feel in the midst of conflict, I see how Christ formed me to work for unity and kindness. When I see how depressed I get when over-busy and over-stressed, I see how God formed me to enjoy Sabbath and to receive His rest. When I see how sad and hopeless I feel for those who have never experienced intimacy with Jesus, I feel Christ in me longing for them to know him. I realize I need not despair because God loves them even more than I do. When I see how prone I am to feel shame and self-condemnation when I do not perform perfectly, I am reminded to find my real value in the perfect, unconditional love of God for me and to rest in the arms of my loving Father/Shepherd/Friend/Savior/Lord.

What are your shadows—your besetting sins, temptations, or unhealed woundings? What do these dark places tell you about the way God made you, where God wants to heal and transform you, and what to pray? 

For God, “darkness is as light” (Psalm 139:12). Even our fears, temptations, suffering, and sin become opportunities for God to transform us. Into what shadows do you want to invite God today?

Yes, we cast no shadow on the equator twice a year. But the only way to cast no shadow of sin or brokenness here and now is to surrender fully to the living Light of the Spirit of Christ within us. With the Light of the World within us, shadows are no more. We shine.

Enough Already

Enough is enough. Good enough. Leave well enough alone. Had enough yet? Fair enough! Enough to make your hair curl. 

Never enough…

Oddly enough…

A little over a decade ago, a few months after our youngest daughter left for college, I was circling in a depressed funk. Despite doctoring a day or two a week, I had found real joy in mothering. Our four wonderful daughters were now independent adults living in other states. The fun, fulfilling years I had spent as a church youth advisor had just ended too. Who was I now? At fifty, I felt lost, useless, the most fulfilling part of my life’s work done. What should I be doing for God now?

One Sunday morning in early spring, I settled down into the smooth wooden comfort of our usual pew. As prelude music played, I leaned over to greet Char. Though we sat at opposite ends of the same long bench every Sunday, Char was a fellow worshiper whom I barely knew. However, she was always friendly and smiled during our weekly, “Hello. How are you?” 

This day, Char surprised me. 

“Hello. How are you?” I greeted as usual.

“Doreen,” Char responded a bit hesitantly, “this week as I was praying, God told me to tell you something. I don’t have any idea what it means.”

Ears perked and body tensed in anticipation, I waited. This was completely out of the ordinary for quiet Char and our established church routine. A prophetic word?! For me?! No one ever had a prophetic word for me. Certainly not in our church, and certainly not Char, who barely knew me (and who otherwise seemed so sensible!).

“God said to tell you, ‘Enough already.’ That’s all. I don’t know what it means,” she said, almost apologetically.

I did. I knew what it meant. Immediately the tears began. And they continued gently, persistently all through the worship service that followed. 

I heard “Enough already” on two levels, God speaking. “Enough already with the circling around in self-pity!” was a gentle but clear call to reorient towards God.

But even louder was “You have done enough already. You do not have to do anything more. I am pleased with you already. No worries. You have done enough already.” In this “enough already,” I heard permission and power to explore—To what new ways of loving God and others might I be invited? What might be icing on the already tasty, fully-baked “cake” of my life? I felt freed from striving to make my life sufficient to earn God’s approval of me. I already had God’s approval.

Never enough…

This “enough already” from God was the seed that grew into my attending seminary and then training to be a spiritual director. I felt loosed by God to follow paths with Him that gave me great delight—learning and studying the Bible, theology, spiritual formation, and spiritual direction. Eventually, I quit my career in medicine entirely to follow Christ’s way of asking questions and listening. The yoke of responsibility for using all that medical expertise was removed from my shoulders. I could complete the work for which God made me in a new and different way.

Perhaps Jesus knew he had “done enough already” those many times he left the needy, noisy masses to pray in silence and solitude (Lk 5:16). And perhaps Jesus also heard his Father say, “You have done enough already,” just before he turned his face toward Jerusalem for the last time (Lk 9:51). How could he walk toward death on the cross (Lk 18:31-32) when so many despairing people had not yet heard the good news of the Kingdom of God? How could he who embodied compassion in every healing touch ever choose to stop making people whole?

Oppression, poverty, confusion, hopelessness, disease, disability, and demons still abounded. Yet Jesus knew that the teaching and healing part of his call on earth was completed; he had done “enough already” in these particular ways. So, he walked the path toward crucifixion to complete in a new and different way the work for which he had come. And finally, right before breathing his last, Jesus himself proclaimed “enough already”—“It is finished” (Jn 19:30).

Over the years, God’s “enough already” message has gained many meanings for me. But for now, enough said.

What might “enough already” mean if God said these words to you?

What Do You Expect?

Our daughter is expecting. She is large with child, “all baby,” obviously waiting for something to happen. The clothes, diapers, and crib are ready, expecting to be used. The older siblings are ready, expecting to hold this wee one who has made them “Big Brother” and “Big Sister.” We are ready, expecting a successful labor and delivery, a healthy baby, a new child and grandchild to bring us great joy.

Expectations are powerful. God uses promises, but the enemy so often uses expectations. We expect so much—trains and buses to arrive on time, cars and trucks to stay in lane, children and adults to stay in line.

We expect to live long, satisfying lives. We expect God and/or medicine to heal us. We expect to be happy. We expect our parents, spouses, friends, siblings, grown children, and pastors to meet our needs. 

We expect life to be fair, at least to us. We expect not to feel lonely, not to suffer long, not to be broken or scarred irreparably. We expect to overcome our circumstances, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, to live independently. We expect to succeed more than we fail, if we just try hard enough. We expect a return on our investments. We expect God to answer our prayers in a way we can see that makes sense to us. We expect God to fulfill His promises in a certain way and in a certain time.

Yet we have a very surprising God. In essence and character, God is constant, unchanging, dependable, and trustworthy. He always keeps His promises. But His ways, especially His Why’s (“Why did You do that, God?”) and His How’s (“How will You do that, God?”), are inexplicable and unexpected. God is beyond our understanding and beyond our ability to predict or control. 

Indeed, one of the few things we can predict about our triune God is that He is so very unexpected. Who would expect God to pursue fallen humanity relentlessly with His love, down the meandering, often backtracking, disappointing halls of history? Who would expect God to choose for Himself a small, stubborn group of nomadic shepherds and bricklaying serfs when He could have chosen the wealthy, learned, and successful Incas, Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, Romans, or Americans? Who would expect God to keep His covenant promises when we, the weaker party, did not and do not and will not? Who would expect God to value slaves, women, orphans, widows, aliens, and the poor? Who would expect God to tell us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors, like Jesus did?

Who would expect God to become a defenseless, droppable, discardable, hungry baby? Who would expect God voluntarily to humble Himself, to give up His power, to take the form of a servant in order to die a death of humiliation on a cross (Phil 2:6-8), to be limited in human flesh like us? Who would expect God to be like us—to age, to need to grow in wisdom, to hunger and thirst, to be so tired he naps in a wildly rocking boat, to dread the future so much he sweats blood?

God specializes in the unexpected. He specializes in silences that teach us, in wilderness experiences that shape us, and in long centuries of waiting for promises to be fulfilled at just the right time, in the best possible unexpected way. He specializes in babies born to unlikely women—the barren (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth), the widowed foreigner (Ruth) and the unmarried, shamed young virgin (Mary). 

Mary showed me how to respond to the unexpected—with trust in God’s goodness, love, power and sovereignty. So I am approaching the delivery of our next grandchild holding my expectations lightly and choosing to trust God regardless of results. I want to shift my focus from unfulfilled expectations to gratitude for what I have.

What expectations of You, surprising God, would You like me to let go? What expectations of myself? Of others? Of the world? Change my expectations to rest in Your promises. Open my eyes to see Your presence, particularly where, when and how I least expect.

 

A Children’s Story: The Boy Who Loved a Chicken

When the miracle of God’s incarnational love becomes too familiar to shine brightly, I remember a story my dad used to tell about the boy who loved a chicken…

Once upon a time, a boy loved a chicken. Nothing was particularly special about this chicken except that she was so extraordinarily loved. She was speckled, brown, average in every way. Unfortunately, as chickens go, she was also average in intelligence, which is not saying much.

In loving his chicken, the boy had a problem, a very serious problem indeed. Instead of eating grain and worms and fat, juicy grubs, his dear chicken ate only stones. Day by day, his little chicken was growing thinner. Though the stones filled and satisfied her for a while, they were gradually killing her. The boy’s beloved chicken was starving to death, stone by stone.

The boy did all he could to fix this frightening situation. First, he tried talking to her. He scolded her, pleaded with her, and told her how much he loved her. He pleaded and pleaded, scolded and scolded, talked and talked. But, being a chicken and not a human, she understood nothing. In fact, she barely noticed the white noise of his love as she busily continued eating stones. 

So the boy developed a plan. He put his precious fowl in a comfy, large, safe pen. After carefully removing all the rocks and stones, he scattered corn, wheat, worms, and fat, juicy grubs all over the ground. The boy spent quite a lot of time, effort, and his entire allowance on strong fencing and the best quality food. “Now,” he thought, “Now my chicken will eat and grow strong.”

But the foolishness of the boy’s little chicken was beyond understanding. She ignored the grain, worms, and fat, juicy grubs that would have saved her life. Instead, she used up her energy digging in the dirt. After much scratching of the smooth soil, she was able eventually to unearth a few small rocks, which she devoured hungrily once again.

By now the boy was very distressed. What else could he do? The chicken he loved was wasting away. He thought and thought and came up with another plan. His little hen just didn’t know what she needed. She was used to rocks and didn’t realize they were killing her. He would put other, well-fed chickens in the pen with his little hen. Hopefully, as his poor starving chicken watched them eat the good, healthy food, she would be inspired to follow their example.

So, the little boy put fat, healthy chickens into the pen with his beloved little hen. He tossed in abundant quantities of barley, oats, corn, green leaves, worms, and fat, juicy grubs. The chickens sent by the boy ate the good food happily. They grew plump and sleek, but the boy’s own chicken ignored the others completely. She went her own way, scratching in the dirt, eating stones, slowly starving.

By now, the boy was desperate. His heart was breaking. If he didn’t get through to his precious chicken soon, she would surely die. What else could he do? She wouldn’t listen to him. She didn’t understand. She had no idea how much he loved her. Then he had an idea. He would become a chicken so he could speak her language and persuade her to eat healthy foods! 

And the little boy did just that. Zip! Zap! The little boy became a chicken, a plain black rooster about the same size as his little hen. Cautiously, slowly, the little boy (who was now a chicken) scratched the ground and sidled his way over to his hen. 

“Hey, there,”he greeted her kindly. “Lovely day. [Scratch, scratch] Nice pen. [Sidle, sidle] What are you doing?”

“Oh!”she responded cautiously. “Oh, hello! I’m eating, always eating. [Swallow, swallow] Hungry, so hungry. Are you new here? [Scratch, scratch] Here, have a big, fat rock.” (The little boy’s chicken may have had her issues, but she was not selfish.)

“A rock?”asked the little boy (who was now a chicken). “Oh, no, thank you. Do you eat rocks? [Scratch, scratch] You know, rocks will kill you eventually…They are not what we’re made for.” 

As he talked, the little boy paused occasionally to peck and swallow corn kernels, leaves, and fat, juicy grubs (which was a bit disgusting since they were the only insects the little boy had ever eaten on purpose). “Here, try one of these. They’re full of vitamins. [Swallow, swallow, gulp] Quite tasty!”

Doubtful, puzzled, yet unexpectedly hopeful, the little hen watched him for a long while. This little black rooster who had come out of nowhere had no beauty to commend him, but he seemed healthy and strong. He wasn’t pushy or condescending, and he had a wise, kind, patient way about him. As she watched him, her courage grew. Perhaps she could eat just one of those wiggly things. She was awfully hungry. No matter how many rocks she ate, she always seemed to want more. Tentatively, the little hen took a tiny peck at a nearby grub.

DELICIOUS! Melt in your beak! Like nothing else she had ever tasted! A virtual explosion of energy and life coursed through her starving body.  How unexpected! What a surprise! She gobbled up another grub, and another, then some corn, leaves, wheat and barley. In fact, the little hen ate all that day, all the next day, and the next. Gradually she grew strong and healthy. As she ate, she wondered at times where the small black rooster had gone. But she was just a chicken, with very little understanding. She had gone from death to life and would never be the same.

And the little boy was very, very happy.

Deciduous

I am not an evergreen tree. Definitely not. Neither actually nor metaphorically.  

I love evergreen trees, in particular evergreen conifers. Tall and stately, they smell good, live long, and give shape to majestic winter scenes. Sporting a conical shape and waxy-coated, narrow leaves photosynthesizing slowly but surely all year round, they survive tough winter conditions. Walking on their fallen needles, my tread is soft, quiet, springy, and clean.   Conifers grow together well and seem much more likely to share space without shoving, crowding or poking each other. Evergreens behave. Even their seeds are tidy, tucked away from sight, spirally arranged in orderly, mathematically elegant Fibonacci number ratios.

On my walk today, I sensed God telling me I am more like a broad-leafed deciduous tree. Though of course He was right, at first I was disappointed. I am intense, active, spreading, always changing. My emotions and thoughts catch the wind like broad leaves, sometimes blowing about and scattering, often creating crackling untidiness underfoot. My life is lived in seasons, with great variability in fruitfulness and beauty, but rooted in one surety—before long, I will change once again. 

Yet, in His tender kindness, God also showed me ways He formed me that He pronounces  “good” along with the rest of Creation. Unlike conifers, I bear fruit, sometimes sweet, sometimes sticky and messy, but ripe with potential to feed others. I don’t hold tightly to my leaves but am willing to let them drop and disperse. Broad leaves may just photosynthesize seasonally, but quickly and efficiently.

Broadleaf deciduous trees live in tune to the seasons. In spring, they are brilliant green and unfurling with hope. In summer, they offer abundant shade and respond readily to the slightest whisper of Wind. In autumn, as their productive green chlorophyll breaks down, red and yellow pigments which had always been present become unexpectedly visible. And finally, in winter, the now naked tree is dormant, resting and readying for whatever God brings next.

I still want to be tall and majestic, with less rapid change, more quiet gentleness, less drive to productivity, more unassuming ability to withstand raw winter blasts. But overall, I just want to be more deeply rooted in the reality of our triune God, more quick to absorb all He offers—whether sunlight, rain, the expired breath of humanity, or earth’s nutrients. 

As I age, I become increasingly grateful the Body of Christ boasts such variability and beauty. The human forest which springs from the life Jesus laid down is alive and lovely with all kinds of trees, bushes, flowers and plants, and we are rooted together. I am increasingly awed to discover myself a unique and valued part of what God is up to in this world. And, though our daughters don’t like to hear the words spoken aloud, I am ready (whenever God wills) to fall to the ground, donating all of who I was in this earthly body and opening up space in the canopy for others to take my place.

 

I Hide

I hide. I hide who I am. I hide what I think. I hide what I feel. I hide my strengths, lest they threaten others or make them feel inadequate. I hide my weaknesses, lest they repulse others or give them weapons against me. I hide from others. I hide from myself. I hide from God.

Where did all this hiding begin? In one way, my hiding began in childhood. I was afraid of criticism and anger. I was afraid of being bad. I was afraid of being wrong. I was afraid of not pleasing my parents and not pleasing God. I was afraid of not being enough. 

How did I hide? I stopped trying to share my thoughts and feelings lest I be wrong or misunderstood. Hiding my thoughts and feelings, I disappeared. When tired, I disappeared into books and TV shows. When energetic, I disappeared into constant activity and hard work, physical and intellectual. Occasionally I showed glimpses of myself to friends, but friends safe and constant enough to not harm me were rare.

Hiding, I lived at half mast. I lived furled, folded over. Trying to avoid failure and rejection, I lived in retreat, afraid to move forward, afraid to risk. I lived covered, neither fully seeing nor fully seen.

Where did all this hiding begin? In one way, my hiding began in adulthood. I was afraid I was failing—failing as a wife, as a friend, as a parent. I was afraid of losing—losing my reputation, losing love, losing myself. I was afraid of both not being enough and being too much.

Hiding, I stayed where I knew I could succeed. Hiding, I took care of people instead of letting them care for me. Hiding, I wanted love and acceptance, not respect. I hid my needs and denied my desires, even from myself. Hiding, I tried to please God.

Where did all this hiding begin? In one way, my hiding began in Genesis. “Where are you?” God asks, though He sees all things, even me. “Why are you hiding? What have you done? Why are you not walking and talking with Me in the cool of the evening in our beautiful Garden?”

Like the Good Shepherd searching high and low for one lost sheep, God seeks me, calls for me, waits for me to respond to His voice. Yet, I hide from the One who wants to save me. 

Afraid I am not enough for the God who lived and died for me. Afraid He will ask too much of me. 

Afraid I am too much for the God who continues to create me. Afraid I will go ahead of Him, try to control Him, not submit to His sovereignty and wisdom in all things.

Afraid I am too feminine, too needy, too unsure and therefore not valuable. Not enough. 

Afraid I am too masculine, with too many talents and too much intensity, and therefore twisted. Not reflecting His order and beauty.

What do I need from You, God, to stop hiding? What do I need to know—about me, about You? Who more do You have to BE? What more could You give than what you have already given? Help me, God!

Help me to see what I already hold and be thankful. Help me to see who I already am and be thankful. Help me to look at You and see you and be thankful. Help me to see with Your eyes and Your mind and Your heart. Help me to celebrate You.

Help me to come out of hiding.  

The Practice of Repetition

Western culture has developed a repulsion for repetition. We treasure invention, innovation, individuality, spontaneity, and newness. Yet, our minds, hearts, and spirits are formed by constancy, practice, and repetition.

Scripture is full of repetition. Repetition sometimes allows truth to spread from our heads to our hearts. Like all Jews of his day, Jesus likely repeated the Shema every morning and evening—“Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The psalms were repeated often as prayers of God’s people. In fact, so well known were the psalms as prayers that Jesus needed only to pray the first line of Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) to bring to his listeners’ minds the entire lament.

But wait! Doesn’t Jesus teach against “vain repetitions” and “empty babble” (Mt 6:7) in our prayers? Yes, Jesus warned us not to use prayer as a way to manipulate God, as if He were weak, unknowing, and uncaring like the pagan gods. Instead, with hearts turned in adoration to God, we can join in Spirit with the four living creatures in heaven who never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev 4:8). Or, like the persistent widow (Lk 18:1-8), we can keep asking God for what we need.

In what other ways can we use the spiritual practice of Repetition to allow God to form our hearts for His joy and honor? Memorize and pray the psalms, particularly repetitive refrains such as “His steadfast love endures forever” (Ps 136). Read and meditate on the same Scripture passage daily for a week or more. Repeat the Lord’s Prayer, paying attention to each word, phrase, and request. Listen to the same hymn or worship song again and again. Like a hammer striking a nail more and more deeply into the wood, allow God’s love and truth to penetrate more and more deeply into your heart and mind.

Savor God’s gifts. List them. Review them. Record them. Remember them. The Israelites often (repetitively!) built monuments to commemorate God’s action in certain places. The feasts and festivals (such as the Jewish Passover and Christian Holy Week services) celebrate and savor God’s interaction with His people. The Scriptures themselves were written to review and remember. Write down your own stories of God’s steadfast love to you, your “people,” and the world. Use narrative, poetry, or song. Draw or paint a picture. Place a memento where you see it often to remind you of God’s character, words, provision, and love.

Other ideas? Go deep instead of broad. Choose one new Christian spiritual practice (Just one!) to do daily, day in and day out. Consider examen, lectio divina, practicing the presence of God, praying the hours, meditating on Scripture, or breath prayer. Ask God which practice to choose; wait for His answer; then proceed, like a child learning to walk. Expect falls but keep getting up again. Our doting Parent is cheering for you, fellow toddler!

In Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices, author Brian McLaren tells the story of a concert violinist who gives 200 concerts a year. Three are disasters due to illness or technical difficulties. In 190, the audience is pleased because her performance is excellent, as anticipated. However, seven of those concerts can only be described as transcendent, unexpectedly breathtaking, as if time were suspended. The violinist doesn’t know how those concerts happen. She is playing the same music on the same violin. Somehow, in those concerts, God touches and infuses the notes with His own beauty, His own music.

What can we learn from this story? Neither the 190 good concerts nor the seven transcendent concerts would have been possible without the foundation of daily practice. Mundane repetition provides the ordinary human framework for God to fill and infuse with His extraordinary presence and power. God seems to love repetition. Let’s watch for God’s repetition and use this practice ourselves.

 

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation.
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

Words: attributed to St. Patrick (372-466);
trans. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)