Weary with Moaning

Gentle Reader,

Check me out, writing something that’s not for a seminary class.

I decorated the house for Christmas last week. A sign reading “all is bright” sits on the cabinet, just beneath the television. I can’t escape the words. All – everything. Bright – light.

That’s not Advent.

This year the darkness of Advent settles around me. Candles and tree lights pierce the gloom, pointing to the joy of Christmas day and the hope of Christ’s return. But just as I can’t escape the words on the sign, I can’t escape the tension of the season. Longing. Waiting. Wondering. For what, exactly, I think cannot be defined. Something – a peace, a fulfillment – that is just beyond the brush of our fingertips.

Humanness, aching for ultimate reconciliation with the Divine.

Words swirl together in my mind:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
    they grow weak because of all my foes.

Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

– Psalm 6:2, 6-7; Matthew 26:38-39 (NRSV)

Are you tired? Do you find yourself thinking that you should (terrible, soul-sucking word) be feeling a certain way – joyful, energized, ready – but instead you feel drained?

That’s okay.

Really.

Let that out, in the presence of God.

I can’t get the image of Jesus in the garden out of my mind. I understand that these verses speak in multiple ways. They record: Jesus wanted His friends to be with Him in His hour of need. They point: us needing to be watchful and waiting, eyes fixed on Heaven. But they also instruct, something I have not picked up on until today: Jesus calls us to stay awake not only to and with Him, but to and with each other.

So when we’re feeling tired, when we’re weary with moaning, when the darkness of Advent threatens to snuff out the candles and the Christmas lights, we don’t only need to express that emotion in the presence of God. We need to express that emotion to each other.

Be watchful, for how God moves in these days.

Be watchful, too, for shadows of grief on the faces you see each day.

The movement of God and the movement of the shadow come together in an opportunity for you and me and us together to love – really love – as we are meant to.

Five Minute Friday: Wait

Gentle Reader,

Somehow, another month has passed without my releasing words into this space. And what a month it’s been. A trip by plane to Kansas City to spend a hard but wonderful and transformative week with my classmates. A trip by car to Boise/Nampa to attend a conference for students exploring their calls to ministry. Many, many cups of coffee. Hundreds of pages read.

A deep and settled sense of joy and purpose. A knowing-in-my bones that this is what God has created me to do. Even when the days are hard and long, I am committed, because my God is so good.

Go.

There is wisdom is silence.

Wisdom in not commenting on every little thing.

Wisdom in allowing everyone in the room to assume that you agree with their position(s).

Sometimes it’s hard to keep our fingers still and our mouths shut. It’s hard to wait for the right place, the right spirit, the right time. We’re so used to jumping online to spout off about anything and everything, that to wait – to listen, to pray, to think – seems impossible.

But then, there is wisdom in speaking.

Wisdom in sharing your thoughts, no matter how insignificant the topic.

Wisdom in not allowing everyone in the room to assume you agree with them.

Sometimes it’s hard to allow our fingers to type and to open our mouths. It’s hard to stop waiting, to recognize that the place, time, and the spirit are right for conversation. We’re so used to shying away from conflict that bravery – boldness, courage – seems impossible.

So what do we do?

How do we navigate this tension?

These words float into my mind:

Don’t abandon wisdom, and she will watch over you; love her, and she will guard you.

– Proverbs 4:6 (CSB)

Ask God. God will faithfully reveal to us when it’s time to wait and when it’s time to stop waiting. God will give us the wisdom that we seek. In that giving, God will also provide the assurance of God’s presence, and therein we find the peace and safety we crave.

Stop.

I’d be no kind of Beatles fan if I didn’t include a link to this song, which is completely unrelated to the topic, save for the title.

Five Minute Friday: Success

Gentle Reader,

It’s been almost a month since I’ve published anything.

What.

I’ve been writing – discussion posts, reading reflections, a presentation, lengthy journal entries – but have missed this place and our little community. “Real life” relationships matter, we need to be able to hug and see people, but there’s something special about the way God weaves lives together across the ether.

Kate says: success.

Go.

I had to take a ministry skills assessment for one of my seminary classes. To no one’s surprise, I know nothing about leading or organizing music for a worship service. Some people tell me I can sing, but those people are liars; I do not have a musical bone in my body. While I care about theological accuracy in songs, I’m quite content to leave the guitar strumming to the talented ones. A pastor doesn’t have to do everything. That’s kinda the point of each of us doing what God created and gifted us to do.

To my great surprise, I discovered that my greatest strength is in pastoral care. Listening to people. Praying for and with them. Being present in their lives. As introverted and easily drained of energy as I am, I thought that this would surely be far down on the list. I guess none of us ever quite sees ourselves clearly.

So when I think of success, I think in terms of ministry, and for me, that means being faithful to preach the Gospel and to love others. That’s it. I am not a success if I pack out a huge auditorium with eager listeners. I am not a success if people are willing to open their wallets. I am not a success if I get a book deal, develop a following, appear on a podcast, or show up on television. Success is found only in the hidden faithfulness, the daily grind of showing up and speaking truth, whether in word or in action.

Success lies in serving Christ wholeheartedly.

Stop.

Delight and Joy, Pain and Tears

Gentle Reader,

One of my required courses in seminary is entitled Sabbath & Jubilee. In this class, we consider what it means to live within the rhythms of God’s gracious design, rather than at the frenetic pace the world sets. This has been profoundly confrontational, which surprises me greatly. For years I have thought that I rest, because I have to rest often for the sake of my body’s functioning. Surprised am I to find that I do not practice Sabbath well at all. Resting is far more than taking a nap or two. And so, these thoughts:

A Christian who desires to live with Sabbath in consistent view need not focus on what should or shouldn’t be done, but should instead focus upon God. What does God will in this moment? How is the Holy Spirit leading? Sabbath is not about a day or a list of rules. It is about choosing to submit ourselves to God’s authority. One person’s method and mode of rest will look different from another’s, and this is perfectly fine. The bottom line is to walk in sync with Jesus. 

As I begin my studies, I am faced with the necessity of sitting at the feet of my Savior and asking Him to show me what I need to let go of and what I need to take up. I desire to love, please, and serve Him, but I see that am out of step and running ragged. It is time to take a deep breath and trust that the world will keep on spinning. I am especially convicted by Wirzba’s statement that “our most important task as disciples is to open the table of welcome to others, not because the tables of gifts is ours to give but because we are always already beneficiaries of and witnesses to grace upon grace. When we do this, we say yes to God’s invitation to joy.” 1 It’s not about programs or keeping on top of every single task, though working well does matter. Ministry is about the people, me included, taking a seat at God’s table.

________

Reflecting on the concept of delight, my eyes drift to gaze out the front window, the first, whispering Autumn breezes rustling the rose bushes just outside the door. Autumn is my favorite season. The changing of the leaves on the trees from vibrant greens to flaming hues of orange, red, and yellow never fails to remind me of God’s goodness and faithfulness. God could have bathed the world in shades of gray, but instead God took the time to create the color spectrum and splash is across all that God made. My breath catches as I realize that these colors are not even displayed in their fullness; when Christ returns and restores all, I will at last see the world as God meant it to be.

In the shifting seasons, I see both delight and joy. “To take delight is finally to relish the goodness and beauty of God’s work,” 2 Wirzba writes. To slow down long enough to observe nature’s movements is surely an act of relish, surely an acknowledgement of God’s goodness and beauty. To delight, then, is to be amazed by the interworking of mystery and simplicity. Mystery, for who can know God’s mind, who can understand why God created this world as God did? 3 Simplicity, for what is simpler than to sit and watch the play of sun and shade upon the grass?

Yet, the experience of delight is incomplete without relationship. We are called to “see in each other the trace of God. … To move beyond the superficial… [W]e must learn to see every member of creation as a gift of God, a reflection of God’s love.” 4 This also requires slowing down. We must battle the temptation to isolate and choose to sit across the table from each other, looking into each other’s eyes and engaging in the kind of face-to-face relationship that our ancestors knew as normal, but from which we, in our hyper-connected age, continually shrink. In so doing, we remember that “[n]one of us can live well alone.” 5

As in all things, Jesus is our example in the pursuit of delight. After encouraging readers with many examples of faithful people, the author of Hebrews writes:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake ofthe joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 6

The joy was not the cross. No human being, Jesus included, approach that instrument of tortuous death with a smile. The joy for Jesus was found in looking beyond the moment of the cross, and into the moment when the work would be completed and relationship between God and humanity restored. Joy, then, is not uncomplicated emotion, just as delight is not. Both are tied up in choosing to believe that God does and knows what is best. Delight and joy are acts of faith.

Why, then, is it so difficult for us to delight in anything? Why does joy seem so elusive?

We have bought too far into the prosperity non-gospel. Surely we can only experience delight and be joyful when everything is going smoothly? But when is “smoothness” the default? When is life without conflict and trouble? Storms are the norm. Pain is the reality. It is time for us to accept this. We continue to live in a Genesis 3 world. A Revelation 21 people, yes, knowing that better and more is come, but not ignoring or over-spiritualizing the now.

Delight and joy, then, must exist within the context of and be part of “our response to suffering and pain. … What we need to learn is the honest, patient attentiveness that will enable us to be more merciful members of God’s creation.” 7 To learn this lesson, we need only turn our attention out the front window, taking deep breaths as we watch the leaves change and then drop to the ground. Beauty and decay, found within the same space; both may move us to praise our Creator, though that praise may come through the sound of sobs.

________

1 Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2006), 48

2 Ibid, 53.

3 See Rom. 11:34, 1 Cor. 12:16

4 Wirzba, 59

5 Wirzba, 68

6 Heb. 12:12, emphasis mine

7 Wirzba, 88