Mine!

In my continuing quest to become a better listener, to God and to others, God speaks to me in different ways. It’s been really good for me to have quiet time with God. Set aside time where I am just still and listen. Not talking to God, about me or other people. Not, feeling virtuous because I’m praying for others (talking the whole time I’m praying and not letting God get a word in edgewise is not good listening), not, I’ll see what I can tell God about what I’m reading in the Bible today. Nothing. Just training myself to sit, to listen…nope, that’s mind talking…Shhhhh…Stop..Nope..SHHHHHH. That kind of listening. Assuming a posture of stillness, not going by my own agenda, and just…waiting and listening. It’s hard not to want to hurry God up, sometimes. But in those moments when I am still and submissive, I can feel his presence, waiting for me to be ready to hear from him.

I learn a lot about listening in those moments. I heard something interesting today during that time. It had to do with how I was listening today. Now, when I’m excited about something I really like talking about it. I met with some friends today so they could show/tell me about a great idea they had. It was a great idea and I got really excited about it. And I realized something. I can be totally inspired by an idea, hear something great, and in my excitement, stop listening. Right there, idea in, mouth moving. Have you ever been or been in the presence of someone like that? Where you had a great idea and wanted to talk it out with someone and felt that they started to run with it apart from you? I have been that person and have been with that person.

Now my motives weren’t bad, and I don’t think I went so far as to steal another person’s thunder but God did use this to speak to me about listening. When you’re talking, you’re usually not listening. Simple, I know, but even if you’re on topic, passionate about something, if you’re talking about your own ideas you don’t leave yourself open to learn what others may have to contribute. This is important in relationships with other people but I started to think “Am I doing this with God?” Are there ways that I’m so excited about him, so ready to serve, so ready to be a part of his big idea that I forge ahead and forget the source of the inspiration? How many times do we feel like God’s leading us in a direction, get a good head of steam and look back and wonder, where was God in that?

When I was pondering this a phrase came to me. “It’s not yours, its mine”. Hmmm. God to me saying that HE is the origin of ministry, of movement, of inspiration, not me. It was said more gently than it may sound but really, if I’m not listening to God all during a process upon which he has set me, am I taking over where God should lead? Now I’m not saying that God doesn’t inspire us and we go forth, but there are times in my life where I’m doing and talking and rushing along a path God has set me and realize that I haven’t consulted with God for a very long time. That I haven’t sat with him in quiet submission, and asked the question “What do you think/want/see/desire, God and what do You want me to do?”

Humbling. Realizing you haven’t been listening is humbling. Realizing that you’ve been talking with your mouth full in your excitement and looking across the table realize that you’ve taken over someone’s dream. That you’ve taken something, taken an opportunity where you could learn and grow and made it about you. Not maliciously, but maybe ignorantly?

I’m learning that there is humility in listening. Not listening in the way that you’re waiting for a break so you can speak, but listening to learn, to grow, to follow, to get on board and support but not lead. I’m learning that there is more growth in listening because I’m making myself open and available to new ideas, new movement, new inspiration, from God and from others.

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I Pride Myself

I pride myself on… Is not a phrase that I hear very much anymore. Why is that? Well, pride is a bad thing, isn’t it, in Christian circles? Pride comes before a fall, etc. We hear all of these shortcomings about pride and therefore have exhumed it from our Christian culture. There is a culture of humility that has been developed. A culture where we cannot take a compliment because it might make us look prideful. Where we don’t want to be competitive because we’re all the same, aren’t we?

There is something in this culture of humility that has always sat a little false with me. I do acknowledge that we are called to be humble, that the meek shall inherit the earth, but it just struck me lately that maybe this humility that we present on a day-to-day basis isn’t that real after all.

This epiphany came to me after a day not long ago where I was dealing with some news that rankled. News that made me feel disappointed, angry, uncomfortable, all those emotions that you feel when someone in your life or someone who you know does something they shouldn’t. Righteous indignation? Justifiable disappointment? How would you define it? I was disappointed with another person’s decision and was wishing that they were JUST DIFFERENT!

I wrestled with these feelings during the day, praying, trying to have an attitude of kindness towards a person who was clearly in the wrong. The time came for my quiet time and I knew that I would be asking God to help me with this issue. Help me to realize that I can’t change that other person and ask him, once again, that he would allow me peace on this issue. Peace was not to come, however.

During these times when I encounter another person’s struggle that is not my struggle, I realize that my first go to response is not necessarily compassion. Ok, that was sugar-coating it. Sometimes I am flat-out mad that the person just can’t change, just doesn’t make better decisions. I always couched it in terms of “I am a person who seeks justice and when I see sin, my response is that reparation is made”. Nice way of putting it, isn’t it? After all, justice is a good thing. We are called to seek justice.

That night I got an image in my head. As I closed my eyes and prepared to seek God, it was as if he took my face in his hands, looked me in the eye and said “You need to show compassion.” Now, usually how I and God handle my righteous indignation (notice the I and God order there, that’s truthful) is that I get to grumble about another person’s failings for a while and then God reminds me that he forgave me…and then I resign myself to getting over it. That changed. God showed me something that was truly and biblically humbling.

Pride. Now there are some things that I think are ok to be proud of. Accomplishments, hard work, etc. But God showed me that I was prideful. I was prideful in that I could look at another person’s sin and think “never me, I would not ever, (insert head shake here), How could they? Don’t they know? It is so easy for me to take pride in my not-me sinlessness. My indignation was a form of judgement because if I thought I was capable of such a thing, would compassion spring from those feelings, from that acknowledgement? Compassion was not my first response because secretly, inside I thought that my small sins were less than their very big sin, the very public sin. Sure, there were sins that I did, impatience, selfishness, small sins, really. But these were nothing in compared to that person’s sin.

Pride. I pride myself. I pride myself on the fact that my sins are less obvious to the public. Less noticeable, more easily covered, more forgivable. If I truly saw myself as a sinner, not just a small time sinner but as a person whose sin is no less painful to God then that person’s sin, I could not react as strongly as I do. By seeing myself as I truly am, sinful as everyone else is sinful. Realizing that all sin separates from God, realizing that though my sin is different I am still someone who needs forgiveness and needs the compassion that at times I am so reluctant to offer others.

It was humbling. Humbling to realize that my righteous judgement is not acceptable in God’s eyes. To see that I really do not separate the sin from the sinner in my heart. God reminded me that I need to hate the sin but love the sinner. To love them as he loves me. To see myself in his eyes, a loved person who sins, in need of forgiveness but worthy of compassion.

I cannot show false humility and harbor pride in my heart. I cannot show a false face of compassion and secretly think “I would never” because even though I might never do that particular sin, my own sins are worthy of judgement but are shown compassion. To see past the plank in my own eye, which is pride in my own plank (convoluted I know) and realize that my response to other people’s sin can be sinful.

The Grace of a Sunset

A busy mind, supper with friends. Kids in bed, tired and breathy

Calming light of early Spring through the window; Hope of warmth

The grace of a sunset

The promises of beauty and creation seen in the peace and

tranquility of an early spring sunset.

Where all things are suspended for a moment to allow for the intake of breath.

Not spectacular and breathtaking but peaceful, full of promise.

A sign of contentment for a day well spent and the recognition

of a life well-lived, in progress.

A reminder of a Creator’s grace that is monumental and all-encompassing

yet still and mindful.

A moment to breathe, to be still and know.

To live in complete peace and contentment with that knowing.

The love of a Father reflected in the grace of a sunset.

God’s Anti-aging Treatment

At the urging of a friend and in collusion with an assignment given to my students by another teacher, I have just completed my first foray into an extensive period of silence and solitude. This is a practice that goes along with something that I believe God has been calling me to do, which is start practicing the Spiritual disciplines in order to be obedient to God and make myself available to God for spiritual growth instead of being a hopeful passive bystander in my own development.

I have been starting some of these disciplines, mostly in the form of silence at least 5 times a week. A time where I don’t talk, don’t act, don’t do in front of God but just start training myself to listen to him, listen for his voice. I am out of practice. I find that in times where I’m doing so much for God I sometimes forget that it’s not action without relationship that he wants. My physical acts of worship should not come at the expense of my spiritual acts of worship. In the noise of ministry and life and do-goodingness, I lose track of God’s voice and in that, lose myself and any sense of direction. This leads me to spiral into a cycle of frantic action in order to cover up for my lack of clarity and connectedness to God which in turn leads to less clarity and connectedness to God. You see where this takes me? My soul gets bed-head and sweatpants and stained t-shirt. Ever had that feeling? Like you’re just a mess on the inside and you need to get it together? Yeah, that feeling.

More of my journey with Spiritual disciplines will come later, I’m sure, but in relation to this interior messed-up good intentions that my soul experiences, I came across an interesting idea during my long silence and solitude session. Funny how that happens…

Mark 2:21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

I ask God for clarity. I ask God for purpose, for direction, for the opportunity to use my skills, giftings, talents to serve him. But, sometimes I need to remember that God, in his infinite wisdom, does not give these opportunities to me. Sometimes, I am an old wineskin. When I have been going, going, going, not connecting with God, not taking care to seek him and a deeper relationship with him, dodging him so that he maybe won’t notice the raw and submerged areas that need work but would take too much time and distract me from my purpose.  When I try to convince God that I’m alright because of my frantic activity. At those times I’m an old wineskin.

I had never thought of myself in these terms before. Had never acknowledged that at times I’m feeling stretched, old, cracked, taut, and ready to burst of one more thing is added. Because I’m doing all good things, right? Serving, helping, busy. But I’m not placing myself in God’s hands for renewal and growth and stamina and direction. Picture yourself at these hard times when you feel stretched and like you are ready to snap. If you are that piece of cloth, then even if God brought you a new and good opportunity, would you be able and ready to honor that new opportunity in the state you are in?

I want these new opportunities from God. I want to be involved in what he is doing, great plans he has for me. But what I need to realize is that I need to let him work on me, not only let myself be available for more work to do. I need to let God take the part of me that feels like old cracked leather and bring healing, restoration, to provide balm to my weariness and bring me back to a state where I am available and healthy to serve him. I guess it’s the idea of restoration. I used to ride horses and taking care of the tack was very important. If I didn’t take care of the bridle and saddle, cleaning, oiling them, they would be of less and less use to me as time went on. Our souls are like that. If we busy ourselves and do not seek to let God grow us and nurture our souls, then our usefulness may not match our desire.

We all get to the point where we realize that we need less of what we’re doing and what we have and more of God. I believe that it is in these times that we begin to open ourselves to what God truly intends for us and this is more than my busy distracted head and heart could ever imagine.

When I Grow Up

I’ve been lost for the past couple of months. My sense of direction has been off, I’ve been going around in circles. My compass isn’t tracking North. I’m not usually this way. Usually my sense of direction is really very good. There’s been a plan laid out before me by God or by me, I go along my merry way following that plan. But recently, that plan, that trail has been faint.

I’ve tried to identify why I’m spinning in circles. I’m doing all the normal and right things. I serve at church, using my gifts, pray, read my Bible (most of the time) but for some reason the same old same old isn’t working like it normally does. If I had to describe it I would use phrases like “cat on a hot tin roof”, antsy, discontent, uncomfortable in my own skin. What to do?

Maybe I need to get more organized. Maybe if I use my time wisely, schedule myself differently I’ll get on track. Maybe I need to work out more, eat less, pray more, play less, play more, work less, work more, sleep more or less. Nothing was working.

I would hear pings of information that would stir something in me. Usually having to do with Spiritual Disciplines. I worked that around on my mental tongue for a while….hmmm…more discipline in my spiritual life? So I stuck that idea in my cheek and left it there to dissolve while I went about my merry way. But the discontent grew and I must admit it was starting to make me a little cranky.

Doing all the things I had been doing wasn’t doing it for me anymore. Something was missing. I needed to be doing something that I wasn’t doing.

At a retreat I had a very interesting experience where God used another person to speak to me very clearly. I went to speak to a man I knew for a spiritual consultation. This was new for me and I didn’t know what to expect. This man, a man I knew and trusted, a Godly man spends time with people, listens to them and then if there’s a word for them from God, presents it to them. If not, he prays for you at the end of your time.

Sometimes God sends you experiences out of your norm because you’re not able to hear him in all the normal ways. What I learned from God during this experience had an impact on me. Not so much a lightning bolt type of experience but more of a falling into place of ideas and words God had been presenting me with at different times through different people. Things that he had been murmuring in my hear clicked into place that day.

There are different elements that he said to me that I’ll talk about in different posts but one that stuck with me resonates and guides all the other ideas so I’ll start with that first. The message to me was “You know what you can do, you’re a woman of action, people know what you have to offer. There are so many things you can do, so many directions your career, ministry, life can go. But have you ever stopped to do an inventory of desire? You know what you can do but do you know what you want?”

That stopped me. It’s been so long since I’ve evaluated what I want to do as opposed to taking every opportunity to use in all different directions the gifts God’s given me. Having your fingers in so many pies means that you might not know what kind of pie is your favorite or if you even like pie! So many times we hear the phrase “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” but what about “just because you can doesn’t mean you should want to”.

So, I’ve started a new stage in my spiritual journey. It’s leading me I don’t know where but one thing I know, it’s part of figuring out who I want to be. Who I want to be in God’s eyes, who I want to be in my husband’s eyes, my children’s eyes, the eyes of those I serve, and who I want to see when I look in the mirror. It will be an interesting journey because I’m excited to see God’s plan for me in this. Who has God created me to be? Created me to be that incorporates my likes, dislikes, skills, failings, giftings, struggles, all of these things. Ways that I want to grow, mature, refine, develop. This doesn’t look like it’s an instantaneous epiphany for me. I think it’s going to take some work and I have no idea where I’m going to end up. We’ll see.