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

Sabbath Values

Gentle Reader,

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

– Exodus 20:8-11 (NKJV)

Did you know that I’m something called a “content creator?” That I’m supposed to have 20-25 new graphics cycling through Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest every single day? That I’m supposed to respond to every tweet ever?

Oof.

There are a load of articles out there that purport to share the secrets to success, that will tell you how to do this writing thing “right.” Almost all of them encourage spending more time on the internet, specifically social media, than is healthy. How can it be healthy to dedicate most of your waking hours to attempting to “go viral” or catch clicks? Even with the use of scheduling tools, that’s a whole lot of minutes spent pinning and posting.

Minutes when the sun rises, bathing the new day in all its glorious color and promise.

Minutes when the snow falls, gently, covering the ground in a layer of pristine white.

Minutes when God beckons, His Spirit calling us to open up that Book and receive the goodness therein.

The first pages of Genesis tell us that work is God-designed and given. We get ourselves into trouble, and quickly, when we don’t have something useful with which to occupy our time. We need to live well and wisely, for the glory of God and the good of others. For me, this means writing, and writing in the year 2019 does equal social media in all of its weirdness.

What the year 2019 does not equal is a rejection of rest.

I work from home, here on this blog and as a virtual assistant for a couple of ministries. It’s hard to flip the “off” switch. Boundaries get fuzzy and the hours blend together until I’ve found that a whole day has gone by with me bent over my laptop or phone instead of actually engaging with the world. All right if this happens from time to time, but a bad habit overall. I ignore my body’s signals, the ones that tell me it’s time to get up and move around. I ignore my mind’s signals, the ones that tell me to step away and get a new perspective. I ignore my heart’s signals, the ones that tell me I’ve been too isolated and need some connection.

Worst, I ignore the Holy Spirit’s signals, the ones that tell me that I can’t serve Him if I don’t spend time with Him.

The classic, stereotypical issue for us all. The work becomes the driving force, the thing in which we invest our entire sense of self. We shift from “human being” to “human doing,” bound to ever-increasing productivity and chasing ever-elusive popularity.

Running at a feverish pace.

Into that, the Spirit whispers, “Stop.”

The command to keep the Sabbath was never meant to be a burden. The words – rest, quiet, holiness – came from God’s mouth as a way of showing us our limitations, reminding us to depend on Him for all of our needs (material and otherwise), and as a sign of His compassion. He knows that we can’t do it all. He knows that we are fragile and finite. He knows us better than we know ourselves.

And this Sabbath, it’s not just a day. Oh, it’s important to have a day. A whole 24-hour period set aside for worship and rest. (Doesn’t matter what day it is; let other people fight about that). As with all things involving the law, there is the letter and the spirit. On this side of the Cross, we seek to understand and apply the spirit behind the letter, and we see that Sabbath, that rest, that dependence upon God, is to permeate each day. It is an essential aspect of our faith.

A day, and more than a day.

A set of values. A way of walking through this life knowing that we are not defined by analytics. Or sales. Or whatever we are tempted to define ourselves by. We are, instead, defined by God Himself. And He says we are His children, the sheep of His pasture, the apple of His eye.

And so we rest.

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Five Minute Friday: Potential

Actual

Gentle Reader,

What a day this was.

Kate says: potential.

Go.

Oh, the just-so-whelming,
Maybe has an ending,
Potential love of God
How it leaves me alone
Fear to the bone
Trapped in works of mine…

Apologies to the actual lyrics of Reckless Love. (I’m not here to debate those. For the record, I do enjoy the song but think that “relentless” would have been a better word choice). As soon as I saw tonight’s prompt, these phrases immediately popped into my mind.

That’s how we often see the love of God.

As potential love. An affection, as according to the Mssrs. Merriam and Webster, that is “existing in possibility, capable of development into actuality.” It’s possible that He will really, truly love us if we get all of our proverbial ducks in a row; if we never mess up; if we never find ourselves in a position of actually needing His grace and forgiveness.

Strange, isn’t it? The entire Christian belief system centers around a God who is whole, complete, not lacking in any good attribute. When we come to the crisis point of crying out for salvation, a moment enabled by His active grace that has gone before and enlightens our dark hearts, we understand that we are staking everything on His mercy. A merciful God cannot be unloving.

Yet we so easily slip into believing that He is.

We develop the lists, the rules and the anxiety.

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that we are not to abuse God’s grace. We aren’t forgiven so that we can sin more (Romans 6:1-2). His commands are good and the longer we walk with Jesus, the more He works to help us understand that goodness. But it’s easy for us to miss or misinterpret. We see “command” and we immediately jump to “dead if I don’t obey.”

Because we see God’s love as existing in a state of potential.

And if His love is simply a potential, then His grace and mercy must have limits.

So better not mess up.

Don’t misunderstand me. I agree with Paul. We have no business engaging in presumptuous, willful sin just because we know He will forgive us. At the same time, paranoid living, wondering if He really does love us, fearing that there is a place too far, is a true misery.

His love is not a potential. It is an actual. It is realized, ongoing, unending, deep.

In that, we can rest.

Stop.

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Being for the Benefit of Madam G

Get Back

Gentle Reader,

Thank you, John Lennon. (If you don’t get the reference, please leave this site and go listen to all of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band right now).

Whenever I don’t stick to my self-imposed writing schedule, I have a sense of needing to apologize to you. As if I’ve failed. And I did fail the last two weeks, physically. An out-of-nowhere cold knocked me flat. Then the smoke of annual fires rolled in. The world is a haze of sepia and ash. My garden, vegetables and flowers alike, looks awful, as if it, too, is struggling to breathe.

As I’ve coughed and sniffed and worked to keep my lungs inside my body, I’ve thought a great deal about this blog. Something about this being its tenth year of existence is extremely bothersome to me. Instead of feeling grateful, I am discontented. I think I finally know why, or at least a bit of the why.

For so long I have kept to regular posting. I’ve worked hard to have at least two articles a week appear here, rain or shine. I like routine. I like discipline. I understand the value of both.

But I can’t do it anymore.

Authors always debate how much inspiration really matters. Many, far smarter than I, believe that it’s the grit that counts. You sit down at the same time, every day, and crack on. That has generally been my attitude. No big thing can be achieved without the small, plodding steps.

I am beginning to see, however, that there is value in looseness. Maybe it doesn’t always have to be about schedules and SEOs and striving. Maybe there is wisdom in publishing only when you truly have something to say.

I have a novel that I haven’t touched since February and an idea for another rolling around my head. It’s time to give space and energy to those pursuits.

And so Madam G, for the foreseeable future, will post only when she wants to. It is to her benefit to retreat a little. (That’s a creepy third-person thing there, but I had to reference the title somehow). Participation in Five Minute Friday will continue, because that community means a lot to me and the prompts manage to meld discipline and inspiration in a way that never seems to run to dryness. Newsletters will continue, but in a more sporadic fashion.

I continue to be thankful for and honored by your presence. The fact that more than a handful of you choose to read these words never ceases to amaze. We’ll still see each other. The journey is far from over.

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