I will, with God’s help

I have been thinking a lot lately about our baptismal covenant.  As an Episcopalian, at every baptism, confirmation and various other special days, the congregants are asked to renew our Baptismal Covenant.  It’s lovely really, the things you would expect of a Baptismal Covenant.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers?

And we as a congregation answers, “I will, with God’s help.”  

Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

                I will with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

                I will with God’s help. 

And those are really easy to say.  I love that the covenant recognizes and confesses the need for God’s help in keeping the covenant, because it gets real in the next two questions:

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Honestly, I struggle with those two.  I mean, of course I want justice and peace among people and I want to serve Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being – it is what we are supposed to do – but in practice, what does that really look like?  How do I strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?

Corruption is all over government and corporate America.  I have Christian friends both conservative and liberal, and as we choose sides, we tend to demonize the leaders (and sometimes followers) of the other side.  And the more I see memes and articles and opinions offering condemnation and/or poking fun at the other side, the more I see us divided in Christ.  We’re not striving for peace amongst ourselves, so how can we strive for peace for the world? 

But Jennifer….what they are doing is evil.  What they are thinking is evil.  We need to condemn it!   Maybe, I don’t know.   What I do know is that our Baptismal Covenant says nothing about condemning evil.  Resist evil – yes.  Fight for justice – yes.  But fighting for justice doesn’t necessarily mean that we have the right to make fun of or condemn other people.  Getting angry and condemning actions and systems of oppression may be right and appropriate, but doing that alone does not change anything and does not actually give justice to those who need a voice and support.   

 We absolutely do not have to agree with the evil we see.  But it does not benefit anyone to merely point it out and condemn it in self-righteous indignation.  I’m speaking of myself here.  It is very easy for me to see the articles and memes that reaffirm my beliefs and get angry at the other and feel justified in laughing at something stupid the other side has done, or judge another person asking if they can really be Christians if they believe/do a certain thing.  But both sides feel that way, and feel that they are the right ones.  When I cast myself as the right one, I separate myself from my neighbor and don’t necessarily promote peace.  God has been whispering to me each time I do this, “Lean into your Baptismal Covenant, Love.  How can you be justice for people?  Are you truly respecting the dignity of that person you are chuckling at?  How can you encourage peace while standing by the ones who need a voice?”

God is the right one.  And He loves everyone.  And that is our calling.  We are children of God. We are a resurrection people.  People of restorative justice, mercy and reconciliation. 

I honestly don’t know what exactly it looks like, at least in my life.  But as I lean into the baptismal covenant, as I strive to respect the dignity of every human being and serve Christ in all people, all I can say is, “I will, with God’s help.”

Darkness Acknowledged

I’ve been doing some trauma work lately in therapy. It’s been pretty intense as I have a lot of repressed anger, and processing that is actually harder for me then processing the trauma itself. Those that know me well know that I don’t do anger. Anger is one of those emotions that was pretty frowned upon in the Christian circles I grew up in.

Although anger was not explicitly forbidden, the basic teachings were that righteous anger, like Jesus’ was permitted, and then if you did get angry about anything else, well, “in your anger, do not sin.” But no one ever really explained what that looked like. Obviously, physical violence, threatening, and/or name-calling (Raca!) was not okay (unless of course you’re Jesus flipping tables and calling the Pharisees a brood of vipers). But what about thoughts? Well, even thoughts were to be suspect, because really anything you were thinking was basically you doing it in your heart. Or so we were taught from the words of Jesus in the Bible when he commented on lusting after a woman in your heart being basically adultery. And so we had to watch our thoughts, lest we do something horrendous in our hearts! And on top of that, if someone did something that injured, we were always encouraged to forgive pretty immediately. Afterall, Jesus forgave us for those awful thoughts and other sins we have done against him, so there’s no room for anger against others. In my young mind, the only answer I had when I got angry – in order to keep from sinning – was to deny I had the anger. The problem with that is emotions don’t just disappear when you don’t process and work through them. My anger got buried deeply in my brain and body, and for a while that was okay. Friends would comment on how calm and happy I always seemed. But eventually, the mask started to slip, and I found that in order to deal with the anger that just wouldn’t be shoved anymore, I started turning it against myself, working hard to numb this emotion that I had been shamed for.

I have done this for years, so fast forward to now, and my therapist and I have come to the conclusion that the repressed anger has got to come out. It’s a very slow work in progress, because I still feel a great deal of shame and fear when it comes to allowing myself to feel anger in my body. My therapist thinks I fear that I’m going to “hulk out” and turn into a giant green monster that destroys everything in sight. He reassures me that it won’t happen, but my anger feels like something so dark and violent, that I can’t trust that it won’t happen. In my mind, that kind of deep rage that is buried there is evil, so I carry a lot of shame and I want it to stay hidden. But it’s killing me, and my therapist assures me that it’s okay for it to come out. He won’t judge me.

I’ve been praying about this, asking God to help me heal, and He keeps bringing me back to the story of the demoniac from the Gerasenes region. I’ve pondered it for a while now and there are some interesting points that have stuck out to me.

Basically this man was possessed and as the story goes, no one could control him. He would break ropes and chains. He lived amongst the tombs and would scream and slash himself with stones. In the story, Jesus had just stepped out of his boat when the man saw him from a long way off and came running up to him, bowing down.

The interesting thing about this is that Jesus didn’t come after him. Jesus didn’t command him to come to him. The man and his demons came running to Jesus. The demons knew who he was, and as we will see later in the story, they were afraid of what Jesus would do to them – and yet, they still came and fell before him. This is not the first story where a demonized person comes to Jesus out of their own free will, terrified, and yet, they come to him. There is something about Jesus, that draws even demons to himself. As he’s on the ground, the man shouts at Jesus, asking what he wants because he knows who he is – the Son of the Most High God – and he starts begging Jesus not to torture him.
Then Jesus does something interesting and quite compassionate – he asks the demon his name.

Really let that sink in.

This demon has been torturing this man, and Jesus has the power to bring the demon out, condemn him and send him to what the demon calls “the bottomless pit.” Jesus has the power to give this demon what for, but he doesn’t. He asks the demon his name. Names are important. Names identify us and connect us. Names allow us to be seen. One could argue – if Jesus had the power to condemn the demon to the pit – he likely already knew his name. And even if he didn’t – he was a demon – an enemy of God and humanity – why would his name matter?

But somehow, it did matter. When Jesus called the demon out of the man, he made sure that the demon was seen. Named. Acknowledged.

And the demon was still scared. He knew what Jesus could do to him, and so he begged Jesus not to punish him, not to send him to the pit, but instead begged to be allowed to go to the pigs on the hillside.

And Jesus listened. He listened to the pleas of the demon, and he had mercy. He had to have known that casting the “Legion” into the pigs would free them to go somewhere else, or maybe even come back, but he did it anyway. There was no condemnation of the demons or the man – just freedom for all of them.

Jesus reminded me – if he didn’t condemn demons, he’s not going to condemn my deeply buried anger. Like the demon, he will call it out and it will name itself, and he will acknowledge it, listen, and set us both free.
He has reminded me that I need not be afraid of my darkness, because he doesn’t condemn it. He accepts me as I am, and loves me into healing and wholeness. Darkness and all.

Psalm 139: 11-12 “If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

Don’t listen to the haters

I saw a video yesterday that disturbed me. In it, a couple of women were yelling at a man in a McDonalds, telling him that he was too fat to be eating there, and that he needed to leave. They even went so far as to tell him that he just needed to stop eating and that he was disgusting. It really bothered me.

A few different people stood up for him and started yelling back at the women, who were eventually asked to leave by management.

However, as all of this was going on, the man was just standing there. I had to wonder how he was feeling in all of this, because while there were people taking up for him, no one was actually talking to him or trying to encourage him. If I’d been there, I would have talked to him, and not engaged with the women, owing partly to my aversion to confrontation, but more importantly I would want to support him in what seemed like an awful situation. So, I’d like to write an open letter to this man, and to anyone else who has ever been shamed for the shape, color, gender or state of their body.

Dear One,
If I were there, I would take your hands in mine and ask you to look at me. And I would look at you – and I mean really look at you. With my eyes, I would embrace you as the beautiful, worthy person that you are, and I would try my best to reflect that back to you.

And this is what I would tell you:

Your body is a good body. As it is. It does not need to be changed to be worthy of food, pleasure or respect. Don’t listen to them.

Your body does not determine your worth.  You being alive and breathing – your very being determines your worth, and it’s complete. Your body is perfect the way it is. Don’t listen to them.

Your story – it’s yours and it’s amazing. These people telling you how you should be don’t know the blood, sweat and tears that you have poured into your life. They don’t know the experiences that have made you and are making you. They don’t know what you need and they don’t have the right to tell you what you need. Their opinion does not matter, because they have not walked with you all the way. Don’t listen to them!

Your body has walked long with you though. Your body has been there for you through the good times and the hard times. Your body values your life.

Your body is a record of all that has been in your life, and that’s amazing!

Listen to your body. As it has walked with you, walk with it. It’s voice is far more important than the voices shouting around you, trying to shame it into a different state. Feed it, move with joy in it, give it rest and listen. Listen. It will tell you what it needs. And that’s enough.

You are worthy as you are. You are beautiful as you are. You are enough.

Don’t listen to the haters.

Rachel Held Evans and Community

When I found myself sojourning away from Evangelical Christianity a few years ago, in search of a way of relating to God that was not heavy laden with constant guilt, shame and fear, it felt very lonely. My husband had his own sojourning that has ended quite differently than mine, but he expressed that the one thing that scared him the most was losing community and the friends he had at church. He had read so many accounts of people losing their faith and automatically losing their community because of it. I vehemently argued that this wouldn’t happen. Not with the Christians we knew and had come to love. I remember him shrugging and saying that he was preparing for it, so that when it happened he wouldn’t be upset. And when it happened, I was the one that wasn’t prepared. I was also not prepared when I lost cherished friendships because my beliefs had merely changed into a different flavor of Christianity. It felt isolating, and it made me question the path God was leading me down, because I felt so alone in it. And yet, I knew it was the way He was leading me, so there was no turning back.

But, God had not led me down that path to be alone with Him. He opened my eyes to the great community of believers, sojourners, wilderness children thought to be lost, but found in the great love of Christ our savior. The church I have settled into holds lots of space for everyone, and so I found a place where I could ask questions and be who I am without worrying about losing friendships or being judged.  I have found my people for this part of my journey.

I also found an online community of the wounded, the doubters, the joyful, the sorrowful, the wanderers, the mystics, the hopeful, but most importantly the beloved ones of God who are fervently seeking Love in yet undefined spaces. Rachel Held Evans was one of the prophetic voices curating this space for us, binding wounds, opening doors and making room at the table for anyone starving for the living bread and water of life. And she died this weekend. She was my age, with two very small children, and my heart is just broken. So many people all over the world were praying for her healing from sickness, not expecting this sickness would actually lead to her untimely death.
And the community is mourning at large, together. I have seen so many tributes to Rachel, testifying to how she walked with us on our journey and/or led us wilderness children back to the water we so longed for and needed. At first, I felt very alone in my grief. I only knew her through her words, and through hearing her speak at the Evolving Faith conference that was held last October. Why was I taking this so personally, when she has close friends and family that definitely have the right to be devastated? But as everyone has been mourning, and sharing their very vulnerable thoughts and fears and doubts, I started hearing the same things I was feeling. And there was encouragement that we are allowed to feel how we feel. No shame. There have been no cheap platitudes or coffee mug verses being thrown around; just a deep sitting with the heaviness we all feel. An acknowledgement that life isn’t fair and that there is so much we just don’t understand. And I started drawing comfort from the togetherness we have in this great sorrow, even though we are all over the world. Somehow, it feels like we have been drawn closer together in this, and it feels like a great force of love is growing out of the void of Rachel’s death. Because we are being real and honest with each other. There is no posturing, no hollow words of comfort. Just togetherness in sorrow. And that is Church. That is the Body of Christ. There lies hope. Because, just as Rachel was in her own way being Christ to us, we are being Christ to each other, and His love courses through us, wanting to be poured out, with more than enough to go around.

So let us follow Rachel’s example of being Christ to everyone, even those who cursed her or disagreed with her, and let us continue to draw closer to each other as the body of Christ – differences and all.

Love and Holiness

I have been thinking about the holiness of God lately.  Specifically how does the holiness of God work with the love of God?

The meaning of “holy” is “to be set apart.”  When we think of God being holy, there is an idea that He is set apart from us.  Which granted, He is in a way, which I will explain later.  However, what I have experienced in the church and my background is the idea that God is so holy that He is untouchable and/or unapproachable.  This particular idea of His holiness seems to negate His ability to love and forgive us freely.  Holiness and the wrath of God intertwine so tightly that there is no room for love.  When one hazards the legitimate question of how a loving God can send people to hell to burn for eternity just for not believing the exact right thing – the answer is always, “God is HOLY.”  Because He’s holy and we are utterly depraved, God feels pretty wrathful towards us about that, so not even His love can protect us from His holy wrath.  His holiness and wrath demand blood one way or another, and only then can he offer his love and forgiveness to us, assuming we believe the right thing about all of this.  If that doesn’t make you nervous about God’s holiness, then word pictures from the Bible and from some well-known pastors can help you move in that direction.  I’ve heard descriptions of God’s glory and holiness being so unapproachable and overwhelming that we would burn in God’s presence if we were even allowed there.  Not much indication of unconditional love there.  This is an exclusive holiness.

So I’ve been wrestling with the idea of God being Love and Holy and what that really looks like.  I have concluded that it is because of God’s love – because He is Love – that He is holy.  He is set apart from us because He loves us perfectly and unconditionally. He has the kind of love that we cannot seem to manage even under the best of circumstances.  But God – He does it in the very worst of circumstances!  That is holiness.  That is the glory of God!  I find it hard to see any wrath in that kind of holiness.  His holiness is not something that excludes us.  The virtue of His holiness is that He wraps us in His love and calls us His own.  We are the ones that have created the language of Holy exclusion – not God.

And some would argue that the Bible says that He is untouchably holy…..And to them I say, the Bible says a lot, but most importantly that God is Love.  It tells us that God is so in love with us that he became one of us.  Born in dirt, made with dust.  Suffered with us. Touched and restored the ones deemed untouchable and unclean. The ones excluded from a holy God that demanded sacrifice.  Turned that idea upside down by reminding them that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. Told a “this is God” story about a rich Father that loved his wayward son so much that he swept him up – pig stink and all – into his arms and welcomed him back lavishly.  And when they killed him for turning the ideals of power upside down, for letting all in, he did not invoke the wrath of God with His dying breath, but instead asked God to forgive them.  That is holy.

When I watch the way my dad is with my mom, how much he loves her, reaches out to her, and stays with her in the midst of her disease, I witness God’s love in action and those are the holiest of moments.  When I feel compassion or watch my husband’s gentleness with my child during a difficult moment – God’s love is real there, and it’s holy.

I have come to the conclusion, through my experience with this holy God, that His holiness is defined by his love, not the other way around.

Late Thoughts

I haven’t been writing all that much lately. I put way too much pressure on myself to try and say something profound each time I write. Lovely husband says I should just write anyway.  He said that a few months ago.  So here I am.

I think I feel this pressure to be okay when I write. I mean, sure I struggle with my faith in God at times, but I don’t write about it until I can tie it up in a nice neat bow at the end.  Because it doesn’t seem encouraging to say “I don’t know where God is.”  The end.

You ever notice how best-selling stories of faith and overcoming ALWAYS end with the redemption in the story?  The “I’m angry with God” parts are, at worst, completely left out or at best skimmed over – a stepping stone to the redemption.  I’m all for redemption stories; after all my faith is based on one.  But what happens when the story doesn’t end in redemption?  But Jennifer – you may say – what about life after death?  God will redeem and reconcile all to Himself.  I will give you that hope, but it is not a comfort in a raw moment where you are watching your mother cry and suffer with some sort of pain that she can’t even articulate – and you can do nothing to ease that suffering and you wonder how much longer she must endure.

It’s these moments that I don’t know where God is; that I don’t want to hear anyone try to make it okay with Christian platitudes.  Because sometimes, it’s just not okay.  Sometimes life is awful and unfair and there is no pretty answer to make it all okay.

I am learning that God still meets me in the ugly, and that doesn’t mean it’s warm and fuzzy or that things get “fixed”.    But He’s there.  Just like I can sit with my mom in her suffering, when she has no idea that I’m even there.  Just like I can try to stay in the moment with my kiddo when s/he is having an all out melt-down and can’t hear a word I say. Would it be nice to hear God and have His comfort in those moments?  Absolutely!  But it doesn’t happen that way a lot of times.  Sometimes I feel alone and I doubt that God is there and I wonder at God’s goodness in a world with so much suffering.  And there is no pretty bow to tie it up in.  It’s just the way it is.

 

 

 

To Be Known

I have been deconstructing my faith for over a year now.  It’s taken me a lot of trust and healing work with God to come to a place where I’m not afraid or mired in guilt or shame anymore.  I don’t know how a religion that is supposed to set people free and be such good news can hold one in so much fear and guilt.  Unfortunately, I’m not alone in my experience.

There are still times I feel a resurgence of fear though.  Old habits die hard. I know that fear is not from God.  There’s a difference between the Holy Spirit convicting me and fear that comes from religion, so anytime I feel old fear rising from stuff that always terrified me before, I take it to God and ask Him to speak freedom to me.

I recently heard a talk by a pastor that quoted the following verse and went on to say that he guaranteed there were people hearing him right then that this verse applied to, and they would be shocked to one day find themselves in hell:

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to  me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’  Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

This verse has always scared the crap out of me because, as the pastor pointed out – these had to have been church people that were deceived.  I mean, they were casting out demons and prophesying and doing amazing things – but that wasn’t enough.  My question was always, how on earth can someone be doing these amazing things and not really have a relationship with God?  I had always struggled to just read the Bible and pray consistently – what hope was there for me if these people were doing these awesome things and yet didn’t know him?

But, in my time of deconstruction, I have come to trust that God holds my salvation. He loves me and is guiding me.  And Jesus’ one commandment was to love.  Love God and love people.  Even Paul admits that love is the fulfillment of the law and that it’s more important then prophesying, speaking in tongues or even martyrdom.  So, that’s what I do. I love God and people and trust that God helps me when I falter in that.

I recently heard an interesting Maundy Thursday homily given by Nadia Bolz-Weber.  She was talking about how Jesus had issued the command to love, and how he showed the depths of his love to his disciples by washing their feet, even though he knew very shortly that they were going to betray and deny him.  There was no limit or withdrawal of  his love though.

She said that part of fulfilling the command to love others is actually being the others that are receiving love, and that’s hard.  She said that she could accept people loving her for her writing, or her pastoring or her art or when they didn’t really know her that well or when she had done something for them.   Earned love is easy to receive.  But she said she had a really hard time receiving unconditional and freely given love from those who really knew her – her good and her bad, and yet still loved her for all of her.  She pointed out that it stings, because we have this sense of unworthiness and of not deserving that kind of love.  We want to work for it.  And God immediately brought the end of that terrifying verse back to my heart, “Then I will declare, ‘I never knew you…'”  He didn’t accuse these people of not knowing Him – He instead told them that he had never known them.  He whispered to me that people don’t want to be known by Him because they are afraid and don’t trust his love to be enough.  They want to work for it.  It may sound funny to hear Jesus declare he never knew someone, because He’s God, so He knows us anyway, right?

But there’s something about being known in relationship. Being known in a relationship requires being vulnerable and trusting the other person.  It requires trusting that the other person will love and accept you as you are. It is an openness that allows you to be yourself and then to receive the love freely given from the other person. We have such a hard time with that though.  Look at how hard we work and posture for people to try and be seen as worthy in their eyes.  And so it’s even harder to accept that I can go to a holy, perfect God and offer my whole self to Him and not have Him reject me if I open my most ugly and vulnerable parts up to him.  It’s even harder to accept that not only will he not reject me, but He loves me and delights in me, even though he knows my ugly parts.  His love doesn’t require me to change. His love doesn’t require me to do things to please him.  It’s that unconditional.

No, to be in full relationship, to experience the joy of God’s Kingdom, He says that I must be willing to be known.  I must be willing to be vulnerable and trust that God loves me as I am.  That’s the only way I can be healed.  Being able to step into God’s light, and acknowledge the things I struggle with, allows a healing and salvation to occur that could not happen without my cooperation and vulnerability in the relationship. I am changed by this unfathomable love that I see in his eyes that accepts me and draws me deeper into his embrace and love.

 The thing is too, the more I love God and the more I receive his love of me at my most vulnerable, the more I am healed and changed.  I want to please him and spend more time with him!   I have found that the more I allow myself to be known by him, the deeper my trust goes.   And all of this results in me being better able to love others unconditionally because I’ve experienced this all-surpassing love of God.

 

 

Worth: A conversation with God

She sat with her back up to the tree, feeling the vibrancy of life there.  She heard the grass whisper as He came and sat across from her. She gave Him a tired smile.

“You don’t seem as joyful as I wish you to be.”  There was a silent question in His statement.  She shrugged and averted her eyes. He studied her. “You still don’t believe your worth.”

She sighed and met His gaze briefly before looking back at the ground and picking a blade of grass to start splitting.  “How could I?  I’m utterly depraved, born into sin and evil. I don’t deserve good things.  I deserve your wrath.”

“Have I ever told you that?”

She shook her head and met His gaze as a tear slid down her cheek.  She read many emotions there; deep compassion and love, a great sorrow and even a hint of anger, although the latter not directed towards her.  It was silent for a beat as He seemed to be thinking.  “Jennifer, my beloved, tell me something.”

She loved how He said her name.  It was as if every time He said it, she was being made anew, recreated in a love deeper then she could even attempt to fathom.  There was a deepness to it that caused her soul to ache joyfully for something she couldn’t quite pinpoint.  She waited for Him to continue.

“Think back to the very first time you saw your children.  Describe for me what you felt and thought.”

Joy bubbled from the very bottom of her being and she laughed a bit, closed her eyes for a second and smiled, letting these scenes drift into her mind. “I remember Little Buddy being the most beautiful baby I had ever laid eyes on. I couldn’t believe the little one in front of me was mine! And I loved him from the very depths of my being at first glance.”  His eyes danced with joy as if He too felt the same way about her little son, and was pleased that she was so happy.  She continued, “And Baby Girl.  She was so precious to me.  I remember that she was crying so pitifully and my heart just broke with the love I had for her.  I remember stroking her cheek and whispering my love to her, and that I would always be there for her, and she stopped crying when I did that.  I knew she was mine and that I would do everything I could for her.   I love them both so much.”  She smiled warmly as she thought about her kids.

He grinned affectionately, but raised an eyebrow and said, “So would you say they deserve your love?”

She frowned thoughtfully.  “Well….that’s an odd question.  They haven’t done anything to deserve or not deserve my love… I love them because they are my children.”

He leaned back onto His elbows and surveyed her.  “So what you’re saying is that they are loved as they are, come what may, because they are your children, because they belong to you?”

“Yeah….” she was starting to see where He was going.

“Let me ask you a different question.  Remember the time Little Buddy got into some major trouble, and he felt so bad about his mistake that he told you that you should just make him go to hell?”  A great sadness rose in her chest as she remembered that day. “What did you think when he said that to you?   He had made a pretty big mistake, and you had every right to be mad.  What happened in that moment though?”

She closed her eyes, and fought back tears. “It tore my heart in two.  To hear him say that, and to hear how much he hated himself broke my heart to pieces.  I just wanted to pick him up and love on him so very much that he wouldn’t ever have to question again how worthy of love and forgiveness he is.  I love him, and even at my maddest, I would fight for him. Never against him.”

“Jennifer. Does he deserve my wrath?  Even if he never comes to me?”   She scrunched her eyes together and started crying. Cold voices shouted answers she didn’t want to hear. He said her name again, “Jennifer.  My Jennifer.  What does your mama’s heart say?  What does that fierce love in you for him say?”

She practically shouted as she sobbed, “No!!  He doesn’t deserve your wrath!!!  If anything he needs your love!!!  How could you make him, with all the struggles he has, and send him to hell if he doesn’t believe just the right thing?  How is that compassionate?  How is that unconditional love?!  I love him so much I could die to show him that, so if you’re Love, how could you not feel that way too?”

She pulled her knees to her chest, put her head between them and sobbed.  After her crying was spent, she felt him move closer to her.  “Jennifer….remember love…..”  Her name came as a gentle song to her heart, and she knew Him.  She knew God as Love.  In a flash, she saw him come and be born messy in a manger of scandal. She watched him love and laugh and cry and be magnificently human, and she watched him suffer.  She watched him brutally suffer at the hands of evil men, and watched him offer nothing but forgiveness in return.  There was no wrath of God to be found – only the wrath of men who couldn’t accept a God who loved so unconditionally.  She watched and cried as he died and she felt the weight of humanity’s sin against their Creator.  She had forgotten where she was until she felt Him brush the side of her cheek with the back of his hand.  She startled and looked into the eyes of her resurrected Lord.  Love had conquered even death, and turned it upside down.

She sighed and with resolve said, “I’m sorry.  I trust you with him.  I know you love him, and I’m really not worried about your wrath towards him.”

He smiled softly at her. “And yet, you worry about my wrath towards you?”

She smiled sheepishly. “Okay, point made.”

“Not yet, Beloved. That night that Little Buddy said those terrible things about himself, were you able to convince him of your love for him and his worth?”

She shook her head. “No, he couldn’t accept it.  He was so miserable too, and I would have done anything to make him see that what he believed wasn’t true.  But I couldn’t.”

He looked at her solemnly. “My sweet Jennifer, don’t you see? It too is your lack of belief in my unconditional, persevering love that keeps you cut off from the fullness of joy that I have to offer you.  There is no wrath from me, as you fear.  Just as you love your children fiercely because they are yours, you too are worthy and well-loved because you are mine!  Your inherent light and worth are created and guarded in my love for you, so that nothing you do or don’t do can drive me away.   I love you as you are, and will always strive with you.”

“But I mess up so often!”

“You are human, love.  Not meant to be perfect, but meant to grow and learn.  I’ve given you grace for all the falls, just as you give your children grace when they mess up.  Being human is not a bad thing.  I made you and I have called you good.  I delight in you and love you because you are mine, and that is where your worth is found – and nothing takes that away from you.”

She smiled as He pulled her on to her feet and laughed, “Let’s dance!”

 

 

 

Prayer

The first thing anyone would say about my mom before she got sick was that she was a mighty prayer warrior. My mom loved to pray. Her forte was intercessory prayer. And she loved praying the scriptures. The way she prayed was the way that I had been taught to pray through my parents’ example and through the church. But truth be told, I always struggled with that way of praying. I looked up to my mom for being able to pray like that and for loving it so much, and I thought something was wrong with me because I struggled to pray like that and it wasn’t something I loved to do. I actually found it boring, and wondered if God was as bored as I was with my prayer life.
My mom was always lauding God for answered prayer, but I never heard her talk about unanswered prayer. There had to have been times that her prayers were not answered, but this was not something that was talked about. And honestly, it’s not talked about in the church that much. When it is, there’s always an idea put forth that God has something better in store if He doesn’t answer your prayer. I have found this to be true only sometimes though.
All this to say, I have a hard time petitioning God and having faith that God will answer my prayer, perhaps due to some unanswered prayer I have experienced through the years and just the way things have turned out. I do still try, but it feels flat to me, almost like I’m asking my cat for something. I have found that prayers of supplication and petition cause me to worry more too, so I generally don’t pray like that. I struggle sometimes with whether this is a lack of faith on my part or if I’ve truly found a different way of praying that is okay.
I do trust God though, and I have a rich and fulfilling prayer life. I have found ways to pray that resonate with my soul and that draw me deeper into fellowship and trust of God; it’s just that my prayer life looks different than the ways that believers are typically taught to pray.
To me, prayer is a way of being in life and with God. Day by day, moment by moment. It is going to God as I am, with all of my emotions and messes and laying them down at His feet. It’s accepting life as it comes, not in a fatalistic way, but with grace and compassion. It’s trusting that God is present. Not that He’s in control, or that He’s working something out for good – those things don’t comfort me, whether they be true or not. My comfort comes from knowing that God is with me. When I sin, He sets me back on my feet and says with compassion, “Try again.” When I am angry, He stays through the anger, until I’ve spent myself and then there is just His love. He gives me space when I’m too mad to look at Him, but He never leaves. And when I turn my face back to Him, I find only compassion. He rejoices with me when I rejoice. The darkest of places is where I have seen His light the brightest, and I know that He suffers with me.
Prayer is being comfortable with mystery and okay with not knowing all of the answers. It’s making peace with uncertainty. It’s holding life loosely, knowing that God holds it firmly. It’s trusting that God is not limited to speaking through the Bible alone, and looking for Him where ever I find myself. It’s knowing that God is within me and that I am His beloved child. It’s hoping in God – not that He will always change my situation, but that He will walk beside me no matter the situation, carrying me when needed, and that one day I will see Him face to face, with nothing veiling His glory from my eyes. It’s holding the sacredness of all things, the spark of God light in all and allowing love to pour forth in order to guide those in darkness to the One who loves them perfectly. It’s holding space and compassion for those in my life, wishing them peace, and knowing that ultimately God holds them too.
It has taken me a while to realize that my prayer life and relationship with God doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s, nor does it have to fit a certain prescribed way of being. I no longer feel a sense of duty when it comes to my prayer practices, and actually look forward to my time focused with God.  For anyone out there who struggles with praying “the way you’ve been taught,” know that there are other ways out there.  Seek God and God will come close to you.  I am a contemplative Christian in practice, but I’m not going to lay out my specific practices, because it’s taken me a while of seeking to find the ways I communicate best with God, and these ways may not be helpful for you.  The last thing I want to do is give you another list of “how to pray” advice.  But I do want to encourage you if you’re struggling.  Don’t give up; keep seeking, and most importantly listen for God.

Silencing Demons

I had a rough weekend.  We are having a pretty challenging time with one of the kiddos.  I found myself at a point where I just felt done.  Done with experiencing all of the anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness and crazy that comes along with this particular situation.  And so I turned back to old coping mechanisms, dancing with my demons, aiming to dull the feelings and attain some semblance of control.

But then Saturday night, I was faced with the Gospel reading for Sunday, and found myself in the story.

Mark 1:21-28 They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”   But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”  And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.  They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching–with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”   At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

The Gospel story is interesting, because Jesus had not called the man to him, nor had anyone shoved him forward to be healed.   But he cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are…” bringing attention to himself, whether he wanted it or not.  He could have just left the synagogue, without speaking to Jesus, but there had to have been something about being in the presence and authority of Jesus that drew the man out.

I relate to the man with the unclean spirit. When I hold hands with my demons, God is always right there, waiting for me to engage with Him, so that He can heal me.  But it can be a struggle.  His presence draws me, and yet, my demons whisper to me, “Why would God want anything to do with you? If anything, he’s here to destroy you. I know who He is….too holy for you!”

And so, with my demons, I hear myself cry out in distrust, “Why are you here?  You’re going to destroy me! I know who You are, but I want to be in control!”

So I’ve engaged with Him, me and my demons, and as the demons continue yelling their lies, God says, “Silence!” and calls me to Himself, away from them.  And in their silence, my feelings rush in and I feel utterly out of control.  He is destroying me – my self-will and fear and shame and addiction and the untrue things I have been told and believed about myself.  He destroys my self-reliance and the control I try to maintain for dealing with the hard things in my life, and that feels like death to me.  But He’s freeing me. I can’t look at Him at first.  But He sweetly calls, “Jennifer, my dear one.”  And I can’t resist the way He says my name, so I look at Him through my tears.  And I find nothing but gentle compassion.

I know who He is – the one with authority over life and death, feelings, and my very breath.

I know who He is – the One who has called me His Beloved, silencing my demons once more.   So, I walk on in recovery and life, hand-in-hand with the One who loves me through it all.