The Weight of Our Decisions

My husband and I are in an ongoing process of discerning our future life and ministry. This Spring, after feeling God calling us away from a church that we loved, its been four months of regrouping, grieving, discerning, and looking ahead to what God might have for us. It’s an extraordinarily difficult process. The difficulty for me lies in seeking God not only as a family but for me. Within two years all of my children will be in school and then what? This degree that vocationally I’ve put on the back burner will be dusted off and I’ll look out into the ministry or secular world and say “Now What?”. It’s very very intimidating.

And as I seek God I’m striving to find balance between how he’s called me in my own right to serve him, and how he’s called my husband, and not to mention our kids! It feels like there’s so much weight in this decision that at times it’s overwhelming. What if I’m wrong about this course of action? What if I choose X and not Y? And all the wise and loving opinions of the people around me. They help and hinder in equal measure sometimes. Because when you’re seeking clarity, more options can seem to muddy the waters.

As I am wrestling these difficult decisions, help has come from an unexpected source. Devotionally, I’m reading through the part of Exodus where it discusses the instructions for the Israelites in building the Tabernacle and the ceremonial aspects of priesthood and sacrifice. A verse jumped out at me that I hadn’t focused on before. I love how God does that. When we pray for the illumination of the Holy Spirit as we read Scripture, he offers us new eyes and new understanding.

“Fashion a breastpiece [for Aaron] for making decisions – the work of a skilled craftsman.” Exodus 28:15

This breastpiece of Aaron’s was to be used in discerning God’s will on behalf of the people of Israel. He was to enter the presence of the Lord and seek God’s wisdom on what the Israelites should do and how they should proceed. This breastpiece was probably pretty gorgeous, gold, blue, purple, and scarlet. And covered with four rows of three stones each. One stone for each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Whenever he entered the Holy Place, Aaron would carry this representation and reminder of all the people whom he was responsible for. And these were not quick either/or decisions. These would determine the course of action for the entire nation on matters of justice, future direction, weighty decisions that you really wouldn’t want to misinterpret God’s word about.

Just like when we make life altering decisions, we carry the weight of others with us. I carry the weight of my husband’s, children’s, mother’s needs. Maybe you carry the weight of aging family you are caring for, friends, people you minister to and serve, employers, employees, people who depend on you and for whom you’re responsible. And that breastplate can get heavier and heavier, especially when you include the weight of people’s opinions and ideas.

And no one is really immune from bearing others in their decisions. We don’t live in a vacuum and the web of our interactions and connections plays a role in our discernment. 

And it can be overwhelming. It can be overwhelming because as we seek God these other voices can cloud out his voice and weigh our decision. Too many times I’ve let the responsibility of the breastplate make my decisions for me and didn’t even really enter the presence of God. And though those decisions weren’t always disastrous, they weren’t always in the pocket of God’s will and best plan for me.

So what did Aaron do when bearing the weight of the Israelites and their decisions? God provided simplicity in the process. Aaron bore the Urim and Thummim (possibly these mean curses and perfections in Hebrew). These were sacred lots, Urim meant no, Thummim meant yes. Yes or no. Simple answers to the big questions.

What if we approached our decision making before the Lord differently? What if was less “What should I do!?!” and more “What do you think about this?” and sat with God in that small piece of the very large decision. Then maybe we can start to whittle away at these very large decisions, start to refine them and narrow down more closely to what God has in store for us.

Because I’ve found through this process that yes, God does point his finger and say “Do This!” but he also gives his answers in a way that takes us on a different journey. A journey where we seek for longer, our trust is tested and strengthened, where we ourselves are refined by the process. Where the hum from all the voices represented by our breastplate dim as we seek God’s will.

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Outside the Tent Hospitality

My three year old daughter is teaching me things. She’s teaching me about how to play puppies, that trying on skirts requires a pirouette, and that the best way to take down her unsuspecting daddy is to jump on him while he’s sleeping and Hulk-smash his stomach. But last night at gymnastics she taught me something about how to love other people.

One of the things I’m grateful for about the family I grew up in is an awareness of appropriateness and social niceties. What we do and do not do around others. It’s important and something that I’m trying to instil in my children. But sometimes it can go to far. And last night at gymnastics there was a situation where this sense of appropriateness was a little offended.

There is a little girl there my daughter’s age and she’s very very friendly. Everyone and anyone is her friend. And my daughter is the same. But last night some of this little girl’s behaviours rankled with me. She would come over and scoop up my son’s book without asking, and take my daughter’s toy. Nothing mean-spirited, but I didn’t like it because it’s ours and she’s not supposed to touch our stuff. And I tried to be nice. I tried not to care, but I did care. I cared that she was crossing those boundaries that I had set up in my mind of how we do and do not interact with people.

But my daughter didn’t care. She freely shared what she had with this other girl because “she’s my friend”. And she was my daughter’s friend without my daughter knowing her name. She was my daughter’s friend because she was there and they interacted. They both wanted to be in each other’s presence and the time and place provided for that.

And this got me thinking about hospitality. The old chorus “Freely, freely you have received, freely, freely give” started going through my head. I’m not kidding. It really did. At that moment, when this little girl was shoving her small person into my mind-constructed little family unit space. Ok, God, I thought, the song is about telling others about Jesus’ love and death for our sins, but is there more here you’re trying to tell me?

Maybe what I was being called to freely give was my time and space. Maybe what I was being called to give was my grace. This little girl rushes around every gymnastics night seeking so desperately to make a connection with people. She gets a little to close, puts her hand out, reaches for connection. And I started really looking at her. What was her story? What void was there in her small life that made her so frantic for attention and connection? Did it really matter?

What matters is that I was given the opportunity to practice hospitality. To really look at a person and let them know by words and actions that they are welcome in my space. This wasn’t my house, my yard, my vehicle. She needed to feel welcome in the space that I occupied. Welcome to share in my time, my books, my attention.

Hebrews 13:1-2 says “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels unawares.”

What if God is calling us to take hospitality and expand it to include not only extending from our homes, but extending from ourselves when we’re out in the world? Making people feel welcome in our space? Jesus never seemed to have a home, per se, all during his ministry. But wherever he was people were welcomed. They had his attention, shared his time, his space, his ear, his mercy. He shared food when he had it, but it was about more than the perfect place setting.

And maybe this can take some of the pressure off. Sometimes the bar to hospitality for people is their home and entertaining ability itself. If we need to have the home spotless and the food gourmet, I don’t know who could keep up the hospitality pace. But if hospitality can start with sharing of ourselves, and can happen anywhere and anytime, maybe we’ll encounter more angels, or discover new ways to love other people wherever we are.

Sharing the Sabbath

There are times in life when other people’s rest bothers me. The sleeping husband beside me when I’m suffering from worry and insomnia. The kids watching TV and their groans when I ask them to clean up. That person in the group project who is very willing to let others shoulder the work.

And yet, I have mixed emotions when I’m trying to rest and other people around me are working. Or when I’m seeing someone else cooking, doing dishes, serving me when I feel like I should be helping. Rest is a hard concept for us in our culture. A culture where achievement and busyness are the gods that we live by. Where we are not measured by the quality of our relationships but by the quality of our accomplishments.

When I speak to people about the Sabbath it garners a mixed reaction. The reaction is either that they know they should take a Sabbath but don’t, or that they feel guilt about taking a sabbath and resentful when other people do. I have experienced all of these things at various times and in various measures.

We know we should take a Sabbath, but don’t. We hear teaching on rest but think deep down in our hearts that it’s not available to us. I have even heard someone say that they don’t take a Sabbath because God is their rest. I don’t buy it. Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, it is important. But why?

Yes, we are wired not to work 24/7, our bodies wear down and break down when the pace is too high. But in reading through Exodus where God was teaching the people about Sabbath, I realized that there are different layers to Sabbath than our own need for rest.

” Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.” Exodus 23:12

Sabbath isn’t just about us. This verse comes in the context of other issues of Justice and Mercy. And I think this verse stretches Sabbath beyond a personal commandment to an issue of how we can promote health and rest in other people. How difficult is it when you’re trying to rest and someone is resentfully working around you? I’ve been the instigator and recipient of that. The “could we just do this one more thing before…” idea that we have that if we just have this task done then we can truly rest. But this can trap us and other people around us. If we know the importance of rest, this commandment of God for our good, we must not only seek it ourselves but make it available to others. Other people in our household. Our roommates, our spouses, our children, our parents.

And why is this so important? Besides the physical and mental well beingness of it all that God has provided for, Sabbath is intended to remind us of the state of our relationship with God. Deuteronomy 5:15 says about Sabbath “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” I haven’t been a slave in Egypt but I have been a slave to my sin, held fast by aspects of culture, to external expectations, and to my own ambitions. But in Christ I’m free. I’m free to be countercultural in how I choose to honor God and how he made us by resting. I’m free to honor others as created by God and support their need for rest as well.

Sabbath is mean to be freeing. Not guilt making in us or by us to others. God wants to show us that we are not slaves to what our lives were like before and the external expectations that can overwhelm us. And we can be freed from the pursuit of being loved by others because of how we serve them. Because we serve God and his love for us is holistic. Body, mind, and spirit.

Thankful

This weekend wasn’t a typical Thanksgiving. And as I write it’s with a mind and heart that have seen Facebook posts of pies and family photos and gratitude challenges.
My family, both sides, loves the tradition of same every year dishes and casseroles and Turkey comas. This year there was more family gathered together than I can remember but it wasn’t for the traditional Thanksgiving meal. It was for a funeral meal.
This year’s thanksgiving was full of family and memories, of tears and uncertainty. Grief and what ifs? Potluck and hugs instead of turkey and stuffing. The loss of an elderly woman who was my aunt, a sister, mother, friend, grandmother.
My list of what I’m thankful for is different this year. It has less of a dodged-a-bullet feeling like so many prayers can have. Glad that we made it through another year without…
In the midst of helping others with their grief, feeding bodies when you really wish you could heal hearts and sooth souls, my list has taken on a new tone. So here’s what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving season.
I’m thankful that when my 5 year old asks about heaven I can, along with his 9 year old brother, offer him glimpses of hope.
I’m thankful for the Bible, the gift God has given us to speak truth that’s the foundation for that hope.
I’m thankful for parents who lived lives through word and action that mean that I know without a doubt their love for and belief in Jesus.
I’m thankful that I’m learning to live my faith in front of my kids so that they will know of my love for God.
I’m thankful that I can love people through the loss of a parent because people loved me through the loss of a parent.
I’m thankful for family ties forged anew through the shared fire of grief.
And for glimmers in the lives of others of spiritual awakening and the potential for a change in spiritual family trees.
I’m thankful that I can hug my mom.
I’m thankful for a husband who is graced with intuition and compassion.
I’m thankful for kids who are learning to extend grace to others.
I’m thankful for friends who take us in and make space for us.

And most of all,
I’m thankful for a God who grieves, who mourns, who comforts, who seeks, who finds, who numbers our days and the hairs on our heads. Who watches over us, broods over us, covets our time, and loves us with a steadfast and everlasting love.
A God of hope, strength, future and mystery. A God of grace and power. A God of three-in-one and infinite measure.
A God who loves me, loves my kids, loves crazy relatives, of which I’m one. A God who loves more than I can imagine.
I’m just thankful, and sad, and hopeful, and thankful.

Six Week Stretch

Six weeks. Yep, that’s about right. The first two weeks of anything are the hardest but also exciting. The novelty is still there for about the first month and then reality sinks in at about week six.
That’s how long it took the Israelites to start grumbling at Moses and Aaron and wish they were back in Egypt. Six weeks and they are already seeing Egypt through rose coloured glasses and even think that it’s better to die eating meat as slaves than free and restricted. And the miraculous things that God did for them, parting the Red Sea and defeating the Egyptians, are lost in the thought that God has brought them out to the desert to starve.
This is one of the rolling our eyes at the ridiculous /stupid/faithless people in the Bible instances.
I’m learning more and more not to throw stones at people in the Bible because so often the stones ricochet off their reality and smack me in the forehead. Because I’m six weeks into a new journey, a new venture where I don’t know the outcome and sometimes my faith wavers. I look out of the corner of my eye at God and ask “Really?”
Because in foreign territory it’s so easy to forget who God is and what he’s done for us. The Israelites, and we, cry for God to act, to move, to change our circumstances, and in the midst of the change we ask “Really?”
Because God and the change and the plan are bigger than what we can imagine. And we want answers now. We want to know all the details and outcomes of the plan but it’s not for us. It’s not our timing, or doing, or even through our knowing that God’s purposes are accomplished.
And what does God do with the grumbling? He doesn’t do what I’d do, as attested to by my kids. He doesn’t rebuke them for their grumbling. He provides for them in the change and limbo. He provides meat at night and bread in the morning. And the provision will sustain them. And the provision will remind them.
“…In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him…” Exodus 16:6-7
I don’t think this is a case of rewarding bad behaviour. Because I see so many times in my life when I’ve grumbled out situations before God. I think part of what God does is remind us of his faithfulness when we forget to be faithful ourselves. That even though we don’t remember all he’s done for us, it doesn’t erase his continual hand in our lives.
So in his daily provision he reminds us of his universal provision. That he cares for us enough to guide and direct us. And teaches us that provision doesn’t always look like we imagine it should. Because we can’t see what God sees and know what he knows.
The best we can do in the midst of change and newness is strive to see his provision in the minute of the everyday. And allow those small mercies and blessings to point us toward his long term provision over our lives, as we’ve seen in the past, see in the present, and will see in the future.