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

Five Minute Friday: Distant

Gentle Reader,

No idea where the last two weeks went. Hours lost to the same black hole that eats socks and hair accessories, I suppose. I thought I’d have a lot of time for writing, but nope. Here, there, and everywhere went I, and any moments left over have been dedicated to sleeping, because summer camp is next week and sleep is not a thing I will not likely do for four nights.

May the odds be ever in my favor.

Kate says: distant.

Go.

Part of my heart has been roaming around Utah, Arizona, and California, traveling with my beloved youth group. They explored Arches National Park, attended a conference with 8,000-plus other teens, participated in service projects, spent two days in Disneyland, splashed around in the Pacific Ocean at Huntington Beach and are now making their way home. I didn’t get to go on this trip, as I stubbornly dragged my feet in responding to God’s leading, but I thought I was okay with that until the vans pulled out of the church parking lot two Sundays ago.

It wasn’t the trip itself I minded missing, because I am not a woman who ever wants to go hang out in the desert in the middle of summer. It was them. I missed them.

And so I am thankful for the beast that is technology, because

Good news from a distant land is like cold water to a parched throat.

– Proverbs 25:25 (CSB)

They kept me in the loop. Shared pictures, stories, and videos. Called me a few times, both to vent about things that would make anyone cranky when it’s 114 degrees and you’re operating on very little sleep, and to share their joy as they began to hear God’s voice. That, indeed, is the best part. God is still speaking, still working. Still drawing people in.

My dear ones learned that they are not the future of the Church, but that they are the Church right now. I am delighted that they heard this message and I can’t wait to see how they begin to take ownership of their place and role. I am excited to walk alongside them as they continue to grow.

Teens are not a lost cause, you see. They aren’t useless. They can be used by God to impact their communities for His glory and everyone’s good, just as adults can. Yes, I am human and no saint and there are moments when it’s awfully tempting to walk away because they can test you like nobody else can (especially middle schoolers), but they need me. And they need you. They need those of us who are a little farther down the path to hold out our hands and pull them up alongside us. They need us to show them how and why to follow Jesus.

I am excited for them to return from the distant land. Excited to hear all the details of their grand adventure. Excited to hug them. Excited for new relationships began with Jesus and old relationships deepened.

That, I think, is one of the little miracles, the subtle touches of God’s hand, that we don’t always notice. A year ago I would have never imagined I’d feel this way or be so invested in their lives. I had purposefully distanced myself from many people because of deep hurt. I can’t say that I’m completely healed, but I can say that the in-process work of the Spirit lies in bridging the distance, in moving me toward when I want to pull away.

Simply, God is good. He has given me a beautiful, complex family, one for which I never thought to ask.

Stop.

Five Minute Friday: Promise

Along the Way Graphic Template

Gentle Reader,

I fell asleep around 6:30 p.m. last night. Woke up at 8:15, feeling confused but also deeply at one with the blanket. And I wasn’t the only one; my dog, traumatized by his visit to the groomer’s earlier in the week, snored loudly.

Kate says: promise.

Go.

I’m not a runner. I’ll do just about any other kind of physical activity. Hiking, Pilates, kickboxing, weight lifting, dancing, swimming. Hardly the best at any of these, but I’ll do them. Running, though? If nobody is chasing me, what’s the point? (And if somebody was chasing me, good chance I’d go all “deer in the headlights,” anyway). I’m just not competitive enough, with myself or others.

And yet I am a runner.

Youth ministry crashed into my life like a tornado a few months ago, almost as if God said, “Yeah, so, you’re going to stop avoiding this now.” Why He plopped these beautiful people in my lap, I’ll never know for sure, because nobody thinks “youth leader” when they look at me. Too anxious. Too reserved. Too studious. Too always trying to hide a highly sensitive heart behind an analytical, detached exterior.

Ah, but He who began the good work in me sees it through (Philippians 1:6).

That’s a promise to which we can hold. God’s ways are not our ways. His plans are not our plans. He sees things in us that we don’t see in ourselves. When we stop running, and give ourselves over to Him, we experience the strange combination of energy and rest. Passion to do what He made us to do. Peace in knowing that we do not do it in our own strength.

Why this and why me? I have no idea. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s enough for me to just say “yes” and love these people. And I do love them, fiercely. Like the proverbial mama bear, I watch as they take faltering steps to truly form community, to truly engage with the Gospel, and I know that I cannot and will not allow anything to mess with that or them, even if that means I have to access my not-so-gentle side and come out swinging.

They have my heart.

And I realize that them having it means that God has it, perhaps in a way He never has before, because i have not allowed Him to pull and stretch me like this. I have held onto the false promises of low expectations and safety.

Now?

I cling to the promise of life, rich and full, found in Him.

Stop.

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Worthwhile: Creating a Life of Purpose & Joy in Infertility

Gentle Reader,

“Are you really a woman if you can’t have a baby?”

I’ve been asked this question, in one form or another, many times. It’s on the rude end of the spectrum, and I admit to responding with equal rudeness on occasion. But mostly, I get it. The general assumption, especially within the Christian community, is that woman equals one who gives birth. This is God’s design.

“You must have sinned in a major way. God must be mad at you.”

The bolder sort move from the question to these assertions, which never fails to leave me wondering what Bible people are reading. The God I know is the essence of grace, love and truth. He is not vindictive. He doesn’t engage in tit-for-tat. Can you imagine if He did? We’d all be lost.

This, my friend, is why we must know our theology well…

To read the rest, head on over to Rachel Marie Lee’s site. While you’re there, stay awhile. You’ll find encouragement and hope in her words. Grateful to Rachel for sharing her space with me!

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