Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wisdom from Dallas Willard

"When we are alone, do we constantly recognize that God is present with us? Does our mind spontaneously return to God when not intensely occupied, as the needle of a compass turns to the North Pole?" Dallas Willard, Hearing God (p. 153)
In September, God brought to my attention that I was living with a very self-centered mindset. Selfishness is not something that I thought I struggled with. Pride, yes. Selfishness, not particularly. I give to people: time, gifts, energy. But I've been convicted: I am selfish. I live with the desire to fulfill my own wants and look out for my own rights, the compulsion to take care of myself first of all, the fear of risking my comfort and security. And that is not who God made me to be.

I am called to die to myself. What? Die? "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). I don't understand what that really means, but I understand that I'm not doing it now, and that God is at work to make it true in me. (Thank God I don't have to do it myself, because I can't!)

And so these questions from Dallas Willard are great, because they are the complement to the negative of "Don't be selfish." Here is the positive space: Be centered on God. Turn to Him as naturally as a compass needle turns north.

Fill me. "I am wholly Yours."

Friday, December 11, 2009

[Question 3: What are you doing to reduce the level of stress in your life?]

Listening to the little whispers that could be God guiding me in the right direction. Trying to yield to the nudges that tell me, "Contemplate this," "Read that later," "Sleep, not Facebook." Keeping my journal. Trying to eat right and pause beforehand to appreciate everything.

Praying to God about Who He is, not about what I want or worry about.

Feeling the wind as I walk home. It's frigid but it shouts to me that I'm alive, alive! As my face freezes, I am aware, suddenly, that I am wrapped in skin. I am living in this body and this physical existence is a gift. And yet I am more than this moment, more than this body. I am in God's hands, and that is the only peace that matters.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Crucified, Died, Buried, _____

Tonight was Intervarsity's last meeting of the semester, and we spent it in prayer and worship, which was definitely good. The leaders had good things to say about letting go of all the things that may come between us and God, and focusing on Him, and trusting Him. And of course, praising God always does my heart good. "How good and fitting it is to sing praises to God," we heard (Ps. 147). Amen.

But something later on confused and troubled me. The night was split into times B. titled "focus," "reflection," "worship" and "love." Focus and reflection were so on target. To start the worship section, B. read Phil. 2:9-11 and Isaiah 53: also good. But then B. launched into a graphic and painful description of the physical agony of the cross. The nails, the blood, the suffocation, the splints, the scourging. I began to feel sick.

I don't watch zombie movies or suspense movies, and I do not know if I will ever bring myself to watch "The Passion." There is a reason for this: I have a very low gore and distress tolerance. Granted, a 3 minute verbal description is nowhere near as intense as a 3 hour movie. But still, it's disturbing. And I was disturbed, partly on a gut level, that twisting sensation. But partly also because I felt bad that I was feeling sick hearing about the crucifixion, that I wanted to get up and leave, that I wanted him to stop talking about this, stop! This was the "real worship"? I had this interior debate--
"I don't want to hear about these details. I know them. It's not good to meditate on disturbing and wrong things."
"But what about the Good Friday service? That's all about the crucifixion."
"But... that's different."
"Is it?"
"I don't know! ...I don't want to hear this."
I didn't get up. I agonized in my seat and waited for B. to talk about the triumph at the end: that Christ suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried; but that on the third day he rose again! I waited for the good news.

But B. never got to that part. The entire "worship" section focused on the crucifixion with absolutely no mention of the resurrection.

Is it just me, or is that screwy somehow?

Moreover, B. only invited us to meditate on the physical suffering of Christ. But the physical suffering and death of the crucifixion were nothing special. Hundreds or maybe thousands of criminals experienced that torture. Christ's suffering is different because of its spiritual dimension: the devastation of being separated from the Father with Whom Christ had been in perfect union for all eternity.

And even more important, Christ's death matters because He was innocent. Unlike all the other people who experienced the nails, the whip, the blood, the cross, Christ did not deserve his punishment. He bore our punishment. "The chastisement for our peace fell on him. And by his stripes, we are healed." Our healing: that's the point of the cross. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, [...] if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things." The torment of cross was not good. But forgiveness and reconciliation to God certainly are! Think about these things--who Christ is, why He died, what His death accomplished.


Or am I just shrinking away from the pain of truly contemplating Christ's pain? Am I citing Phil. 4:8 just for my own ends, to block a difficult emotional encounter with God?

Or maybe it's both. I need to die to myself and be willing to experience emotional turmoil. I need to be willing to be in pain for the right reasons. But B. also should have placed the focus elsewhere. Most of all, B. shouldn't have left us at the cross, Christ's blood dripping on us as we stare in horror. He should have led us down from Calvary and taken us to the empty tomb, or to the closed room into which Jesus appeared, or to the road to Emmaeus--or back to Phil. 2:9-11. Christians are supposed to be a joyful people (not that we can't or shouldn't mourn, but that Jesus came "that your joy may be full") because we rejoice over God's triumph. God is the victor in any and every circumstance, and my mind should be fixed on Who God is, more than anything else.

What do you think about B.'s focus / message / section title? What would you say a Good Friday service is for?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

(De)Compression [Question: How does your personality change when you feel under pressure?]

[Another question from the Ten Thousand Questions blog.]

When I'm under pressure, I tend to shut out everything else and just get things done. I wake up and think immediately of the next task to accomplish. I stop getting enough sleep, I don't hang out with friends. I keep reading the Bible but I don't spend the time to really absorb, to really listen. I don't invest the time and energy it takes to seek the truth, whether via Scripture or simple reflection, prayer and a pen. I compress the tangled expanse of myself into a compact ball, and go bouncing from appointment to assignment to accomplishment. I ricochet off deadlines and collide with my body's needs. With my person crushed into a sphere, life is so much simpler.

Of course, it's not real life, either. With enough pressure, I begin to fall apart. After too many collisions, my compacted personality begins to unravel. I have to untangle myself. I tease out strands and lay them out carefully on the table, following each to its end and easing out all the pieces connected to each. Everything is crinkled and bent. Decompressing, unfolding, I smooth myself out and look for the patterns. . .

Monday, December 7, 2009


Scream to me, wave your hands. Grieve out loud about the injustice of it all. You apologize for being upset and I tell you: No, you should be upset. This is wrong. They are not being fair to you, they are wronging you. This is not the way the world is supposed to be.

Stand up and reach out for me. I'll wrap my arms around your thin body and hold you tight, as you cling to me, collapsing, bent. Your head is heavy on my shoulder. You shake in my arms, in this storm of sobs. I will hold you as long as you need. . . Come, sit with me.

Tell me. Tell me your sorrow, your dreads, the grief that stalks you even in the sunshine, the fury that throws you directions you don't mean to go. You end up on unfamiliar paths, unsure of your footing. I don't know where to turn, you say. I feel so stuck. All I can do is listen, twine my fingers through your hair and hold your hand. Lean on me, cry on me, hide your face in me: I'm here with you.

I want to say I'll always be here for you, but only God can do that.

And God, where are you in this? If your eye is on the sparrow, why does the sparrow fall in the first place? What good is it to be watched by your loving eye, if your hand doesn't reach out?

Dear one, cry, it's all right. Selfish? You? We all are, I suppose, but to rage or grieve over injustice and brokenness, over betrayal of someone you love, over betrayal by the ones who are supposed to keep you safe, that is not selfishness. Grieve. Let it go. . . Release the guilt, please. It's not your fault. You're not in the wrong.

I want to rescue you but only God can do that. But I can hold you and love you and whisper truth to you as God gives it to me, and that is enough. The best I can do is enough. The best you can do is enough, I tell you, and you cry some more. Eternity is in this moment, when we cling to each other. Touch is the most fundamental language, and I am telling you: It will be all right. I am with you. I will not abandon you. You are loved. I love you. (Is this enough?)

There is hope. But how can I make you see it?

I can't. Only God can do that. But I can love you, and that is enough. By the grace of God, we are both doing enough.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

December Rain

The rain is very cold tonight, a chill that seeped through my coat and spread across my skin. The starless sky is weeping, I fear. But inside, the lights are on and the air is dry. Back from a concert that I fell asleep during; away from the cold and the rain and the dark; out of the mass of people: I finally stripped off my wet wool coat. My feet escaped from their black boots. I struggled out of a wet clothes and put on freshly laundered pajamas. The world seems so much friendlier, the dark so much less daunting, when I'm warm and dry. Is my soul so intimately tied to this body that I need those outer protections to find inner warmth? But I do have these material wrappings, and I can be grateful for them.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Not Pretending [Question 1: Today's New Experience]

So I randomly found this blog that gives you a question to reflect on every day, and today I actually felt like answering their question, which is:
Every day brings new challenges and new experiences. What is something that you did, yesterday or today, for the first time ever?
The short answer: For the first time, when feeling troubled about a romanticky relationship, I didn't pretend to the guy that everything was okay or try to make him feel better about where things are and the fact that I'm unsettled. I am letting uncomfortable, unwelcome feelings stay, and I'm not pretending to myself or him that they aren't still with me.

Of course, I need to work through them and really bring everything before God so His light can illuminate the dark corners and creases in my heart.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Avoidance Strategy

I never want to deal with the cup of pain. When I've taken a sip and recognized the sour taste, I put it down on the table straightaway. (Its bottom clanks against the solid wood. The collision shakes the table, just enough.) Instead of thinking about the nuances of its flavor, the way it flowed through my mouth, in the crevices of teeth and tongue; instead of tasting its residue and pondering the places this brew must have come from, the barrel it was brewed in; instead of remembering the micronutrients this cup contains, remembering that it's good for me: instead of pursuing any of those paths of thought, I launch myself into demanding, to the empty room, who gave me this. Who poured me this cup? How did it get into my hands? Why is there pain in my kitchen in the first place? Where did the bottle (if it came from a bottle) even come from?

I should know at least how the cup came into my hand, but mostly I don't ever remember that much. As in a dream, I simply look down at my hand and find it there.

Having set the glass down, I am loathe to pick it up. If I leave it on the table long enough, all the liquid will evaporate. The cup will be empty. (Nevermind the stains and stickiness that will remain inside.) I should drink this, drain this cup, I know.

And so I sit at the table, pondering, in the vacant room, staring into the cup, trying to see my reflection in the pain inside.

{Thanksgiving: not because I feel like it but because I should}

So many good things in my life, things I am grateful for. But everything good here holds a seed of complication. Does the seed sprout because my character waters it, nourishes it?

I hate that I am finally getting around to writing a complete (if brief) post only now that I am upset. But this is my confession, my record of where I am, my bare heart, turning toward the One Who made it. "Why are you so downcast, o my soul? I will yet praise Him, my Savior, my King."

So many good things in my life. Thank You, Lord, for sunshine, for safety, for fresh food, for garlic and green pepper and lentils and onions. Thank You for the crashing waves, the green and blue water roaring shoreward from so far away, the foam riding the muscles of the ocean. Thank you for the reflection of the sky on the wet sand, for the resplendent clouds mirrored on the earth, for the grit of silicon between my toes, for the stretch in my legs and in the arches of my feet as I walk along the beach. Thank You for my family walking beside me, for the joy we find in each other's company, for the love that binds us, for the plans you have for us, to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future. Thank You for Your mercies, new every morning, for Your faithfulness when I am blown and tossed by the wind, tumbled by the waves.

Uproot the weeds in my heart. Wash me in Your water.

Let me praise You first. You are first and last in my life: be the first thought in my mind when I wake, the last before I slip into sleep; be the first shelter I run to, be the last home I return to; be Alpha and Omega, Creator and Judge; be Who You Are. The great I AM. You are God, and You are good, and You are more than enough.