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

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Five Minute Friday: Invite

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

No preamble. I’m nearly asleep.

Kate says: invite.

Go.

Sometimes you just have to break down and take the legal, prescribed narcotics.

I lay in bed Monday night, doing battle with the Witch-King of Angmar (second Tolkein shout out of the week; the image of an invisible nazgul stabbing me in the head is just the perfect way to describe this headache and I don’t care if you label me an ultra-nerd). The medication haze had descended but I was not yet sleeping. I inhabited that fuzzy, frothy place filled with pink elephants on parade. Then – BAM!

Genesis 21:31. Genesis 21:31. Genesis 21:31.

I said, out loud, “Yeah, okay,” and went to sleep.

Looked up the verse the next day. It reads:

Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because the two of them swore an oath there. (NKJV)

Sooooo….what?

I opened up my atlas and my commentaries. Searched the original Hebrew online. Read the context. Haven’t the slightest idea what it is that I’m supposed to glean here. I know the Holy Spirit dropped this into my mind, because it’s far too obscure and weird and disconnected from what I’m currently studying to be anything that I’d come up with. I’m sure this is the start of something, some lesson that I need to learn (or, potentially, relearn, because God is both patient and a perfectionist).

Why share this with you?

Because, dear reader, this month I’m writing about theology, and part of the pursuit of knowing God more deeply is understanding that we’ll never reach the bottom of His well. There’s always mystery. Always things that He knows that are beyond our grasp. The moment we take Christ’s hand, we are set on a never-ending journey (hence the title of this blog), with just enough light to take the next step. No doubt days, months or even years from now, some switch will flip in my head and I’ll think, “Ah, yes. That’s why I needed to know this verse.”

The mystery, God Himself, entices. He invites. He draws us inward and onward. Trust Him, little human. You cannot see the whole road, but you’ll always see exactly what you need to see, when you need to see it.

Stop.

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The Marks of an Angry Woman

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Gentle Reader,

I’ll try not to tread the same ground we already covered together in this post, but, you know, there are times in life when clear themes emerge. God is obviously talking to me – quite loudly and repeatedly – about anger and choices. We could place both of these topics under the heading, “Responsibility.”

What is my responsibility?

What isn’t?

Let me just throw something out there: Do you suppose that a lot of our anger comes from not knowing what we are in control of and what we aren’t? Do you think that much of our anger is misplaced? Clearly I am not addressing what is called “appropriate” or “righteous” anger. You should feel angry when you’ve been violated or abused. That kind of anger motivates you to address the wrongdoing.

I’m thinking of a more vague, bubbling kind of anger. This is the kind of emotion that makes you want to blow up at your coworker for being slow in his tasks or shake your kid for talking in that weird accent. It’s too big for the moment. It doesn’t really make any sense.

This is the kind of anger that’s actually looking for a fight.

An angry [wo]man stirs up strife, and a furious [wo]man abounds in transgressions. – Proverbs 29:22 (NKJV)

I wish I could be all saintly and say that I’ve never felt this way or been motivated by it, but, sadly, many times I find myself acting out of anger. I can’t point to any person other than myself when I think about the marks of an angry woman:

1. She is subtly cutting. She will sound sweet, but she isn’t.

2. She freezes you out for no apparent reason.

3.  She delights in playing people off each other.

4. She wants to be crabbby.

5. Her sarcasm knows no bounds.

6. Nor does her appetite for juicy gossip.

7. She is flat-out MEAN. Hurtful-on-purpose.

I don’t like that portrait. I don’t like it at all. I don’t want that to be me.

This has got to be why Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, wrote that we should “not let the sun go down while [we] are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26b). Anger that isn’t immediately and properly dealt with quickly becomes controlling. There’s no way to keep this tiger in its cage. The original offense might be stuffed into the subconscious, but the world and everyone in it is going to pay for it!

I have chosen to feed my anger. I have often been incapable of setting appropriate boundaries, in knowing what I am and what I am not responsible for, because of this monster. Make no mistake: it is a monster. A dark monster that clouds the vision while convincing the mind that all is clear.

There is something particularly vicious about a woman’s anger. I can’t define the difference between what I see in myself and what I see in my husband, but it exists. Perhaps it is the length of time or the tightness of grip. How quickly can a woman dredge up five years’ worth of offenses in answering the question, “What’s wrong?” I don’t know a single man with that ability.

I don’t want to be the woman who stirs up strife. The kind of woman who delights in making people fight… That makes me shudder. How  manipulative! No wonder anger and sin are so closely linked. It’s a short step from one to the other.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. – Galatians 5:13-15 (NKJV)

Sweet friends, let’s not destroy each other!

My journey to faith. (15)

Thoughts on Faith

along-the-way-mlsgregg-com

 

Gentle Reader,

With his kind permission, I take thoughts which my dear friend posted on my last note and formulate them into something of my own making. Thus, it is named in his honor and should not be construed in the least as an attack upon his person.

Objective thought and temperance. Are these ideas divorced from the realm of faith? Perhaps in some. I do not understand, however, how any person might come to faith without thinking about it objectively. Weighing the options. Considering the alternatives. I do not think that faith is as rash or simple a decision as some would think. On the other hand, there has certainly be a backlash against higher education. Perhaps such anti-intellectualism is what has come to mark people of faith. This should not be so.

This, really, is not what I want to write about this evening.

Should one left in the silence of God speak up for herself? I say both yes and no. I have never held that God cannot bear up under questioning or intense scrutiny. If so, the entire book of Psalms, much of Job and quite substantial chunks of the rest of the Bible should be edited out. If I am to accept the sufficiency of Scripture, then this leads me to conclude that it is perfectly acceptable to speak up. Ask the questions. Make noises of frustration. Moans of woe. Sighs of longing.

On the other hand, silence is not at all a bad thing. If we all spoke just a little less and listened a little more…. I’m sure you catch my drift. To rest the voice and tune the ears for the faintest whisper is an exercise in trust, patience and even tranquility. Just how still and just how quiet does one have to get to truly hear something or someone? Listening is an art best perfecting by the sealing of the lips.

I suppose, then, that discernment is in order.

The real question: is God really there? Is it possible that all of this is in my head?

Don’t balk at that; it’s a very fair and honest question. Time would be when I would try to convince the non-believers of my acquaintance. Now, I only say that He is there and He is outside of me. I have seen His movements; things too “coincidental” to be mere coincidence. Do I believe that we are all controlled by Him? Not in the slightest. I simply believe that He is highly vested and interested in us. I throw myself upon your mercy, reader, and declare that I can offer you no evidence to satisfy, because…well, I think that you would not be satisfied by any. I do not know what your parameters are.

I daresay, however, that last Wednesday was enough for me. Without going into detail, out of respect for those involved, I watched several women – of all ages, experiences, backgrounds, etc. – try to find words of encouragement for a struggling friend. They each turned to the Bible, looking for a verse to couple with their own words of support. From beginning to end, the stream of love and fellowship flowed effortlessly and seamlessly. Not a single phrase, whether quoted or original, was repeated. Each word, carefully weighed and measured, met her deep need. For the briefest of moments, a look of hope appeared in eyes darkened too early by the cares of the world.

That is God. He is real, and He is outside of me.

I know myself. I am not naturally inclined to say, do or participate in many of the things which have been my privilege to in the last few years. This isn’t self-abasement; I’m just being realistic. I know what I am capable of and what I struggle with. And I know how God has changed my heart. If I may be known for anything, let me be known for that. Let me be known as a woman who loved her Savior, and allowed herself to be shaped by His hands.

Is my fate in the hands of another? Is this what gives me great ache? I cannot clearly articulate an answer here. I am neither entirely deterministic or entirely on the side of free-will. I do not think that anyone really is. However, those words “carpe diem,” they ring wonderfully through my soul. God may be silent, but I am not doomed to immobility. I have tools. I have knowledge. I can continue to reach out and serve others in joy. This is the part of faith that, I think, we lack little common practice or experience of. I can smile at the sunset, revel in the beauty of music, sigh with contentedness. I am blessed.

Am I weak? You, reader, depending on who you are, may not like the answer. I am. I am terribly weak, left to my own devices. We all are. Name one person who depends only upon himself – I repeat, only upon himself; no friends, no lover, no family, nothing – and I’ll show you the biggest liar and possibly the biggest sociopath on the planet. Our greatest fear is aloneness. Why else do we constantly seek to fill the silence? Two are better than one, and three are better than two.

To pick myself up instead of waiting for someone else to do it for me is an interesting thought. Again, I fall on both sides of it. I will wait for God to move. Within my spirit, I am firmly planted, waiting. On the other hand, I do not expect anyone else to do my living for me. I am weak and thus need support, but I am not a baby. Nor am I drama-queen. (I say that with a smile, because I really used to be one.) There is no person on this planet who’s going to come along and make it all better.

This is me and God. That’s it. At the end of all things, that’s what matters. Did I stand with my two feet consistently near His?

On an unrelated note, do we begin with behavior, or do we begin with love? Can we understand behavior until we understand love? I am thinking on this often, in a society in which one is often expected to “clean up” before one walks through the doors of a church. Jesus came and did what He did before anyone got cleaned up. In fact, cleansing lies only in Him. Yet, to neglect the behavior after accepting the cleansing is to get up and put your dirty clothes back on. Why not put on new ones, better ones, properly tailored ones?

To a large extent, I expect that I sound foolishly mystical or even outright ridiculous to many of you, dear readers. That is okay. There is something to this life of faith that leaves even the most loquacious of authors without the right combination of words for descriptors.

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