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.

Where is God in Unanswered Prayer?

 

In some of the early mid-stages of my mom’s battle with dementia, she would have delusions and hallucinations.  She believed that there was a conspiracy to kill her and that my dad was sometimes a part of that conspiracy.   Sometimes my dad would have me come over to their house and I could calm her down.  As the disease progressed though, it became increasingly difficult to calm her.

There was one particularly bad episode in which he called me to come over, and this time I became a part of the conspiracy to kill her.  She paced non-stop, angry and terrified, and nothing me or my dad would say could calm her down.

My mom was one that always drew comfort from God and from the Bible, especially the Psalms.  So, I began reading her favorite Psalm out loud, praying with all my heart that she would calm down.  I just knew with everything in me that God would answer this prayer.  After all, she was such a faithful follower and prayer warrior, I knew He loved her, I was reading from His Word, and I had all the faith in the world that He was going to hear and answer my cry.

She didn’t calm down though.  If anything, she seemed to get more agitated.

God did not answer my prayer.

No one had prepared me to deal with that.  There had always been an answer.  There had always been a reason for things.  This non-answer made no sense to me. I felt utterly betrayed and not for the first (or last) time did I cry out to God, “Where are You?!”

And yet.

My faith was in Him, and not in His answering prayer.  I knew God was real and was there, because He held my faith.  I knew He was there, because I couldn’t walk away.  I was so angry with Him, you better believe I wanted to walk away! I wanted to say He wasn’t real and just be done with Him. It would have been easier to say that He wasn’t there, then to try and grapple with why He wouldn’t hear my prayer.   But I couldn’t.  Because in the very depths of my being, I feel Him.  He’s how I breathe, and while I felt deeply wounded, I knew it would kill me to walk away.

This happened over 5 years ago. And I still wrestle with this situation.  Over the years, I have come to believe that prayer is not about changing God’s mind, but more about shaping who I am in God, and teaching me about who God is.  For me, prayer has become an acknowledgement and seeking of God’s presence, opening myself more and more to Him.  I’m learning to accept situations as they are, although I will still pray for God’s goodwill and mercy.   But I don’t necessarily look for a specific answer anymore.  I just want to walk with God, whatever may be going on.

In light of the ways my prayer life has changed, I was thinking back on that situation, and asked myself, if this happened now, how could my response and prayer be different then it was 5 years ago?  What if I had gone into the situation acknowledging that God was already there, instead of looking for Him in an answer to prayer and a removal of suffering?

Because He was there.  He was there in the suffering.  But we have such an aversion to suffering, and can’t see how God could be in it! I had always been taught to try and pray it away.  But sometimes, bad things just happen.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, God doesn’t remove it.  But we aren’t alone.  Because He loves us, He suffers with us.  He was born out of suffering, into a suffering world, where He touched and walked with those who suffered, and He then experienced great suffering at humanity’s hands.  Our God knows suffering, so we are not alone.

And that day, my mom was not alone.  In love, we did everything we could for her, and my dad patiently stayed by her side, enduring accusations and her terror, until the episode finally subsided.  And there was the evidence of God and His love.  As He suffered with us, we suffered with her.

Do I still question God about that situation?  Yes.  I’m human, and I don’t totally understand the whole idea of suffering, so I will probably always have questions and get angry at God.  But He is gentle and He holds my faith.  My hope is in God.  Not in what He does for me.  Not in His protection.  Not in His blessings. Not in God’s promises from the Bible.  I’m thankful for them, but my hope does not lie there.  My hope lies in God alone.  Because when all else falls away, God remains.

 

 

 

The Feast of St. Stephen

Today we celebrate the Feast of St Stephen.  Yes, the one who was the first Christian martyr, stoned to death for his faith.  Doesn’t quite ring with the Christmas spirit, does it?  What happened to God with us, peace on Earth, goodwill towards men?  I was pondering on this, and then read one of my readings for this morning.  2 Chronicles 24:17-22   Talk about a downer!  It was a passage about how the people of Israel once again left God for idols, God sent prophets to them to bring them back, who they of course ignored, and God gets mad.  So He prophesies through Zechariah saying, “Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has forsaken you.”  Then the people get really mad and stone Zechariah.  As he is being stoned, he says, “May the LORD see this and call you to account.”  Yikes!  I have to be frank, God kind of freaks me out in the Old Testament.  So, I asked Him about it.  What do I do with this God?  Keeping in mind that the people who wrote these histories generally believed that anything bad that happened to them was because God was mad at them and was punishing them gave me a little room to ponder.  The people in Israel seemed to see an angry God, and my reading of the OT leads me to that conclusion too.  Who wouldn’t, when you read that God has forsaken His people because they forsook Him?  Everyone has come to the consensus that we all deserve no less.

But that doesn’t make sense because God was constantly trying to win His people back.  He loved them. He loves us. In fact, He loves us all so much that we found ourselves celebrating the arrival of God in humble human form yesterday.  A God who loves us so much that He was willing to be with us in our suffering and mess, and even suffer Himself, to the point of enduring a brutal death even though He was innocent.  And with love, as He’s dying this unjust death, cries out to His Father, “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.”   And so, what we took as an angry God was One that pursued us relentlessly, sacrificing Himself for the love of us.  A light shining in the dark!  God with us!  And now, we see a new way.  God has not forsaken us, even when we have forsaken Him, and He has promised not to forsake us.

St. Stephen points us to this new way in Christ.  He too prophesied and taught about God, and when the people got mad, and began to stone him, he took the way of Christ.  As he looked up and saw Christ standing at the right hand of God, he was reminded that he was not forsaken.  Unlike Zechariah, who called on God to bring justice, Stephen called on God to give mercy and asked that God not hold his murderers’ sin against them. And that’s what we receive in Christ – mercy.  So on this Feast day, may we be reminded of the mercy of our loving God, and walk in step with Him as we offer mercy and love to those around us.

Depression

I’m currently in a depressive episode.  I’m on all kinds of medication and doing therapy, and while I do well for a while, it always seems to circle back on me, and I find myself once again in darkness.  I’ve been here for about a week now.

If you’ve never had depression, I just don’t know that you could understand.  It’s not just sadness.  It’s a mind-numbing heaviness that makes me feel like I can’t catch my breath.  Sometimes my body hurts.  Sometimes I find myself really distracted and I have a really hard time focusing.  Sometimes I feel ultra paranoid and think that everyone hates me.  Sometimes I find myself crying multiple times a day, but for no good reason.  Most of the time I have absolutely zero motivation to do anything.  Things that I would usually enjoy or look forward to, I don’t anymore. Sometimes I feel everything and am super sensitive.  And sometimes I feel absolutely nothing and am numb.  Most of the time, I have no appetite and struggle to eat.  Sometimes I want to hurt myself.  Sometimes I do.  Most of the time it feels hopeless, like my world is never going to be okay, and I will always feel this bad.  And when a lot of those things happen together, that’s when I think about killing myself.   If you’ve ever been extremely physically sick, to the point that you thought you were dying (and maybe wished it as a passing thought), this is just a mental version of that – except that no one can see how sick you are, and there’s such a stigma when you do speak out about it.

The thing is, eventually it does get better, and I almost forget how bad I felt, to the point I can turn and judge myself for not getting over it faster, or for not doing more to help myself.  Until it comes back.  And then I remember all over again how very bad it is, and the cycle continues.   It’s really exhausting.  So in between the down times, I’ve been trying to remind myself to accept my depression when it comes along and work with it, not against it.  And of course each time it comes back, I scream and flail against it trying to get it to let go of me.

But not this time.  Well Okay, maybe just a little screaming at first.  But eventually I was able to get quiet and just sit with it, acknowledging that yep, I’m depressed. Again.  But, even though it feels like I don’t have a choice in how I react, I realize I actually do. And so, everyday, sometimes every moment, I’m telling myself to just do the next thing, however small it may be.  And then I congratulate myself for doing it and thank God for helping me.  I’m avoiding things that I know make me feel bad even on good days, (like the news and excessive facebook use), and I’m being intentional about choosing things that usually make me feel good to do instead like read positive books/quotes, write, be outside, pray, meditate, listen to calming music, write some more, pet my dogs and cats, take a brisk walk, yoga.  Breaking down chores and tasks too has helped me to not feel so overwhelmed, and I can take more pride in what I accomplish because in breaking down the task, I realize how many tiny things I do that I usually take for granted.

I’m still depressed. It’s there. All of those positive things I’m doing, hasn’t taken the depression away.   So why work so hard if I could lay in bed, or scroll around on facebook, or just sit in my dark thoughts, or do whatever else it is I do to try and numb out the pain, and feel pretty much the same?  Because I know I would feel worse if I did.  Either way, I have the depression, but I feel better about myself, and it’s helping me not to spiral deeper by making the hard decision to push on and make positive choices.  I can say that I’m actually really proud of myself for all that I’ve accomplished this week, despite feeling so low.  There have been times that I feel like I’m pouring my whole energy into just getting out of bed, or making myself take a walk, or spend time in prayer.  It would be so much easier to just veg out with Facebook, or lay in bed.  But, I have not regretted any of the positive choices I’ve made this week, even when I completely dreaded them and thought that I couldn’t do them.  No regrets.  I can’t say that about facebook or laying around in bed, though.  So my path is set before me, and I will continue to do the best I can, telling myself that this too shall pass, and the sun will eventually come back out.

I don’t know if this will be able to help or encourage anyone else, but I’m planning on rereading this the next time the depression beastie comes around, because the struggle is real.  And I always need all of the help that I can get.  And I’m learning to give myself lots and lots of grace as I ride out these storms over and over, so come what may next time, I will be gentle with myself.  Please be gentle with yourself too, lovely reader, wherever you find yourself this night.

Return of the King

As of tomorrow, I have officially made it through an entire liturgical church calendar year in the Episcopal Church.  We are coming upon the end of “Ordinary Time,” which is the story of God’s people.  It appropriately ends with the Feast of Christ the King, in which we look forward to the second coming of Christ, even as we prepare and look forward to the celebration of the first coming of Christ beginning with Advent and culminating in Christmas.

One of my favorite books is the third book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Return of the King.  In it, the King of Gondor returns.  Gondor had been under a steward for a very long time, and the people had lost hope that a true King would ever come to claim his throne.  One of the passages in the book is a saying of lore that one of the wise-women of Gondor speaks: “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”   And sure enough, when Aragorn shows up, he has healing in his hands, and is able to heal those wounded in battle, and call many back from the brink of darkness and death.  Aragorn wasn’t to be known as king by his ability to swing a sword and conquer the enemy, or even in his ability to lead people.  He was known as the rightful king because he brought healing.

This passage has always made me think about Christ coming in His glory and being crowned King.  Not a King that brings wrath and condemnation, that conquers nations, but a King that conquers fear and death and hatred, who is good and loving and who has healing in His hands.  A King who has fought and loved and mourned and laughed and cried and died along with us, but who death could not conquer, and therein was our hope.  A God King – God with us, the One who has carried our sorrows and bears with Him healing and because of this, we can approach our King unafraid and with great joy!

There was great joy in the book when Aragorn was crowned king, because the people knew that he would rule them justly and with compassion and were not afraid.  They knew he would protect them and provide for their needs and they knew it because he brought healing.

When I read about that celebration, I think about Christ being crowned King of all kings, and what great joy we will feel!  Because He will rule with gentleness and mercy.  We will bow our heads before Him, but He will lift us up.  Because He brings with Him reconciliation and redemption and resurrection, and He has healing in His hands.    Come Lord Jesus, Come!