Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Thirsty Soul

"O God you are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water." Psalm63:1

I have had nearly the same conversation three times with three people this past week. Whenever that happens I start to think I should blog about here I am.

A couple years ago I made an observation. Most of the time when asking a follower of Christ, "What is God teaching you?" Or "What is God speaking to you about?" the person pauses.
Then, the answer almost always along the lines of "I need to have more quiet time." "I'm not reading the Bible enough." "Um... I missed a couple days of devotions because my kids were sick..."

At first I thought people were saying, "I'm not slowing down enough to hear the voice of God." But then I noticed something else. It seemed to be that guilt was blocking any ability to hear the voice of God.
I noticed even friends who are involved in Bible Studies, know Scripture, and do have time with God (to some extent) answer the same way- with guilt and obligation. I've noticed a tendency to put God on a list along with "workout, wash windows, pick up prescription". We put in our chapter of Bible reading a day to alleviate our conscience until the next requirement pops up.

In having this discussion with a group of women, I felt heartbroken for us and for God that we reduce our relationship with Him in this way. I believe it's a trap to think of time with Jesus like I think of other to-dos in my day, or to think that the Creator could be restricted to half an hour in the morning.

I suppose the closest thing I could liken it to (flawed as it is) is marriage. It would not be constructive to S. and my relationship if I looked at my to-do list, sighed, and thought, "Well...I guess I should spend half an hour with my husband. I am married, after all. Hard as it is, I better put my time in."

No way! I can't wait for S. to get home from work so we can share about our days. I love breakfast together in the morning, taking our little family for a walk after dinner, road tripping, planning our future. And I'm not even talking about a perfect, all-knowing, Almighty God...I'm talking about my well-intentioned husband (who every once in a great while might fall a little short of "completing" me).
When S. and I are busy and aren't connecting, we miss each other. Not because we are obligated to, but because our relationship is life giving and we like each other. We might not be spending focused time together but we call each other to tell a quick story, we stay up later than we should so we can be uninterrupted, I send suggestive (er...I mean... loving...) e mails to remind him I'm his.
Then when we do have focused time or a weekend away- I soak it up. I don't spend the whole time feeling guilty that it doesn't happen every weekend. I don't worry that he will be angry when I have a day where we aren't talking as frequently.

How quickly we forget that Jesus died, rose, and forgives us so that we have a relationship with Him. I have yet to hear a pastor say "Surrender to Jesus so you can add Him to your checklist."
How much more in my relationship with Jesus should I be squeezing in every moment of intimacy? If I do this with S. then certainly wouldn't I do this with the Lord who won't fail me, knows me more deeply, who is faithful and holds all the answers?

As I've been reflecting I asked the Lord why (in His grace) I have escaped the mentality of checking Him off the list. Some days I hear His voice loudly and constantly. Other days my quiet time is interrupted by busy children; my down time filled with tasks. I resort to worship music while we clean, a Bible story from the Children's Bible after dinner, and distracted prayers as I fall to sleep. I know His love for me isn't based on my day, and regardless of my schedule...I crave Him.

I then realized that I haven't had the leisure of keeping God a small part of my life. By His grace He has allowed circumstances in my life that have stretched me, broken me, caused me to continually land on my face before Him. I don't spend time with Him because I know I should. I don't read my Bible to alleviate my conscience. I have a relationship with Christ because I need Him.
I talk to Him constantly because there is no other way for me to get from minute one to minute two without it. Without His voice I am inspiration-less, lifeless, irrational, and truthfully- a boring person. Without His Word I am rudderless, shallow, and in a constant state of confusion. Without His Spirit I lack boldness, direction, and discernment.

There is no compartmentalizing possible for me. I am unable to leave Jesus at my quiet time chair. He speaks to me in the shower (and I will continue to use that excuse for my ridiculously long showers). Today I silently cried out to Him as I sat with my oldest son waiting for him to correct a lie with truth. He goes before me as I take a deep breath and sit down to pay bills. He is in every conversation I have (even with the checker at Target when Darla wants to share about buying baby things for the orphanage in Honduras). There is nothing in my life separate from Him.

"I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget your word." Psalm 119:15-16

I love how excited David gets about God's Word in the Psalms. It's beautiful that he found so much life in God's law and promises...and this was before God made the ultimate sacrifice of His Son! David was pumped about God even when he didn't understand the extent of God's grace, goodness, and love to the degree that we can read about every single day.
I should be so grateful!

"Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day." Psalm 119:97

"Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us." Psalm 62:8

Don't get me wrong. Sometimes (like David) I don't want to hear what God has to say. Whether it is my guilt, selfishness, or fear, I have at times cowered and not wanted to come before the Lord. But...I do. Thankfully He continues to compel me, in spite of myself, to come back to Him.

"He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." Psalm 91:1
Ahhh...what a place to rest. Free of condemnation, misunderstandings, insecurities, and fear.

In this season of life I am thankful that I can delight in the Lord with my messy, inconsistent life. (Here a picture of the messiness that occurs when I'm in the next room enjoying "quiet":)
In another season of life I anticipate days that look like this:
But for now I will enjoy that the Lord speaks to me through this:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Good Grief

When a loved one has had a severe loss or is immersed in grief, how often are we paralyzed by our own insecurities? What compels us to think we need to have the right answers or should be responsible to "cheer them up"? Why are we pursuing the tidy sitcom ending and shying away from what may be messy? Why do we get so ridiculously wrapped up in our own lack of comfort that we drop the ball?

I was reading in Job tonight and found myself cheering Job on for reprimanding his friends. After Job loses everything, his friends arrive to do their best at what they perceive their job to be. They guess at why God would allow tragedy, they give tips...they leave Job feeling more beat up than he was before they opened their mouths. Job's response is,
"I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all! Shall words of wind have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, if your soul were in my soul's place. I could heap up words against you, and shake my
head at you; but I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief." Job 16:2-5

This passage resonated with me because I have a handful of people I am grieving with. It's hard.
I am thankful to my parents who taught me something about getting down into a mud puddle with a loved one. When I was in fifth grade my little brother's friend was killed by a bus. Within hours my parents packed us all up to go over and hug the family. I felt insecure, ridiculous, at a loss. What do I say? How do I handle the tears and chaos? I didn't have a thing to offer. But it wasn't up to me so off we went...just to hug, share some tears, and go back home.
It wasn't the only time I was drug along to uncomfortable situations. As hard as it was, it taught me that the most empathetic thing I can do is pull up a patch of mud and join the puddle. Not to drag out misery- but to acknowledge the loss and then bring a friend to the feet of Jesus. When you are entrenched in tragedy, you don't know how to pray for yourself and it is essential to have friends to intercede on your behalf.

In the book A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser, Dr. Sittser talks about entering grief after his mother, wife, and daughter were all killed in a car accident. He explains the temptation to run toward the sun as it is setting in the west, to avoid being overcome by darkness. But in actuality, we need to turn to the east into the darkness with the Hope and expectation that there the sun will rise. If we endlessly run west we will never truly rest and we will never watch the sun rise in our circumstance.

I thought of Dr. Sittser's illustration twice this week; once when talking with someone about dealing with and surrendering years of marital hurts, another when e mailing a close friend who recently lost a child.
It is sometimes tempting to encourage the ones we love to run fruitlessly west. It is scary to watch someone plunge into a pool of grief. We worry they might not cling to Christ, we worry that things will never be the same. (Which they won't. I'm learning that that's okay.) We selfishly think of our own comfort and how it might be awkward to have relationship with a muddy person in process.
So we resort to well meaning words that minimize the loss. We think it will help if we supply endless small talk without addressing the elephant in the room. We offer answers.

When Isaiah speaks of Christ he says, "He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." Isaiah 53:3a
Jesus knew the outcome. He knew that He wins. He knew the purpose, He knew His Father, He knew that everything He did was good and would be redeemed. Yet he was acquainted with grief. Even with eternal perspective, Jesus still deeply felt His losses.

Being spiritual does not mean that we skip over grief. It doesn't mean we say, "You'll see your baby in heaven and I'm sure you'll have more." We don't smile and answer tritely, "Well, I'm sure it will all work out." We don't talk someone out of going to God with their questions and pain because our theology feels threatened. We can understand God's sovereignty and still have a good cry.

Jesus, as one acquainted with grief, is also the one who came to "give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified." Isaiah 61:3

In the midst of grieving with friends and family right now; over lost babies, tumultuous marriages, depression, loss of ideals and dreams... I am still confident that Jesus is in the business of redemption...of our souls and our circumstances. I believe it's a privilege as a friend to walk the highs and lows, to pray on my knees for them...
and to sit with them when the sun rises again.