“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28 (The Message)
These are not amongst the niceties exchanged between friends as we pass in the street.
“How are you?”
“Parched. Just really heavy-laden lately. You?”
“Weary and burdened, actually.”
The truth is that we do become those things, regularly. Or at least I do. A praising heart becomes a languid spirit far too easily.
I will be walking alongside Jesus, matching my footsteps to his, and enjoying the journey. And then I see something up ahead and forget to keep pace with him, racing toward what I assume is our mutual destination. Every footfall becomes heavier, until it feels I am stepping through jelly.
Or, as often happens, I will head off toward somewhere He never planned to go, figuring that I will on meet up with Him later. My steps are intentional in keeping His steady pace, but in another direction entirely. Forcing my own awkward gait, I lose sight of the unforced rhythms that are His grace.
And still….I am always surprised by the result from either choice: weariness. A tiredness that originates from the soul.
“Walk with me and work with me,” implores the God of the universe. “My ways are not your ways, you have no clue about which route to take. And for crying out loud, stop picking up rocks to carry around on the way! No wonder you’re tired!”
I have to stop and remember to read His love letter to me, to take hold of his hand for the same reason that I held my children’s’ hands when they were small. Because although they truly believed they knew better, I had the power to keep them safe on busy streets and complicated intersections. It really is that simple – stay in the Word, love God, love others, serve.
“To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.” – Isaiah 61:7
It turns from praise to languish when I make it about religion instead of relationship.
I’m fried, Lord, I tell him when I get worn-out. And he always collects the burned-out bits and pieces together, brushing the “me-dust” back into a pile and transforms it again.
Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.
Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, coworkers with Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him. -James 5:1-15(The Message)
Do you ever worry about how you will meet your needs – financially – and in every other way? Like there is a drought in the middle of the ocean in some area of your life? Do you ever feel like water, water everywhere but not a fish in sight?
The story in the Bible’s book of James became manifest to me in a way I could see, hear and touch during an evening trip to the beach last month. My husband had come home from work stressed out and I’d been writing bills, so we decided to load the jeep with a couple of chairs and journey the 15 minutes to the seashore.
Ahhhh. Restorative salt air eased our moods right away.
And then, gazing out on the water, we noticed a single fish jump – and then another and another. They were swimming quickly northward and popping out of the water as they raced, some as big as a foot long. There were hundreds, which became thousands within moments. And the most amazing thing happened. As we looked into the transparent, glassy, green waves breaking in the light of the setting sun, each was filled with fish! End to end, big silver fish formed a visible wall of life under the surface. And they kept coming – millions of shimmery fish making the waves silver, leaping and splashing. The water was lousy with fish! For a couple of hours, we sat and watched the miracle. Let’s go for a swim, I suggested. So, for a glorious time, my husband and I floated amongst the fish, trying to keep still so that they wouldn’t be disturbed. In all of my years living near the water, I had never experienced anything like it.
I’m sure that there is an explanation for the phenomenon, some migration pattern that science can explain, but for me – it was a miracle. I had been in my own pattern of worry / pray / worry / pray for months. Worried about our finances, about the economy. That day I felt so comforted, remembering Jesus and his complaining brethren, who – when asked to trust Him – said, “Ok, but we’ve already been working on it with no results.” (At this point I imagine Jesus doing a face-palm and thinking, aye carumba!)
“Trust me anyway,” he says, in essence. That’s important.
The reality is that in God’s economy, there is no drought. Our needs – so radically different from our “wants” – are met despite our concern that our nets might come up “empty”.
If I’m meeting my needs – financial or otherwise – I have good reason to worry. With not a “fish” in sight sometimes, I could easily see only drought of supply in the vast ocean. Not even a minnow!
But Jesus is my portion and prize. And His provision is perfect, trustworthy. When I’ve worried about my needs and He has (again) supplied them, I always wish I had employed more faith. “Jesus!” my spirit says, “I’m sorry …. I’m a sinner, and I can’t handle this holiness!”
And after declaring aye carumba! He steers my boat back to shore and says “Folow me.”
Oh how I love Him.
I’ve never experienced anything like the grace and provision He gives….miraculous.
What is the difference between prayer and meditation?
The other day, while sitting on the beach at sunset, I felt God’s presence in an especially tangible way. Almost automatically, little kernels of prayer started expanding in my mind until each exploded like popcorn – all competing to fill that beautiful space with request.
Quiet your mind, I felt The Father tell my spirit. And I realized the difference between prayer and meditation (to my heart):
Prayer is making request to God while I have his attention.
Meditation is making my spirit quiet enough for Him to have my full attention. And that isn’t easy.
Of course, we always have the ear and heart of the Lord; sometimes we feel it more acutely. I’m reminded of the scripture about being still and knowing I am not God:
“Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth, Bans war from pole to pole, breaks all the weapons across his knee. “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” – Psalm 46:10 (The Message)
I really needed to read that, because in this political season my emotions are popping as well.
Above everything, I have to deliberately turn my attention to God; take a long, loving look at Him above everything else. Meditate on His goodness, which is overflowing….He is good ALL the time.
I just happened to be watching the news while having my coffee at 9 a.m. The reporters on the morning show said that there was breaking news from the World Trade Center in New York City. An airliner had run into the North Tower. What a horrible accident! What a strange accident.
The pilots and co-pilots must have lost control of the plane, or had heart attacks simultaneously – or some other freak incident that made it impossible to avoid hitting the building. I was listening to the commentator suggesting that it may have been aircraft trouble when I walked into the kitchen to get a bagel. It may have even been the angle of the sun, he was saying.
Then another commercial airplane hit the South Tower.
By the following cup of coffee, I would live in a different nation.
We all would.
The flames of the first tower hit licked upward through the massive cavernous hole with tragedy. After the second plane hit, the giant plumes of black smoke burned with evil.
With the attack on the second tower, the news reporters knew. The people on the streets of New York City, all gazing upward into the endlessly blue September sky? They then knew, too.
Watching the towers burn, I stood with my hand over my mouth, not daring to breathe; the air too thick with denial and then dread to inhale. I am not seeing this…I cannot be seeing this.
And then…I am seeing it. But before I could process it, another breaking news report…
The Pentagon! Another airplane has crashed into the Pentagon!
This was not random. This was not an accident.
I ran into the next room to wake my brother, who was visiting my family at the time. The Pentagon! I yelled at him, until he opened his eyes. The twin towers and the Pentagon!
My brother and I, like so many Americans, watched the news all day. We smoked one cigarette after another, even though I didn’t allow smoking in the house, because it didn’t seem to matter anymore.
Our hearts heavy, we watched and cried and touched each other on the shoulder from time to time to make sure that we were real.
We saw people jumping out of buildings and delicate papers flutter from the same floors, watched rescue workers walk into towers that would soon collapse.
Like millions upon millions the world over, we tuned in find city blocks in ruin, the security command of our nation burning, and a giant hole in a Pennsylvania field made by an airplane that hit the ground so hard that it nearly vaporized.
Terrorist attack. Our country – the greatest nation in the world – was under deliberate and devastating attack.
When I had taken my children to school that morning, they were careless first and third graders. When I picked them up that afternoon and they excitedly handed me their finger-paint artwork and spelling work from the day, it hit me: My beloved daughters would never know a world in which America was fireproof, bulletproof. As they were small, we tried keeping them from news coverage, but the climate of the world had changed.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, the world was justifiably obsessed with the events from that day.
On the morning of September 12, 2001, I bought a copy of the New York Times from a newsstand and pored over every page. For months, every magazine featured stories of the innocent victims, heroic responders, and of course, the mass murderers of terror.
And then – even as those in the nations that sponsored the terror joyfully partied in the streets – neighborhoods across America became a sea of waving red, white and blue.
Political parties? What differences? It was in our similarities that we banded together. We were Americans. I could not imagine how soon all would be forgotten (and even defended) by so many.
And each year, on September 11th, there is grieving, as there should be. There is remembrance, because there needs to be. I know that people move on because they have to – that horrors like the Holocaust and 9/11 cannot be fixated upon to the detriment of moving forward. I understand that.
But neither should they fade from consciousness, lest a new generation lack compassion for the events and victims’ families for whom “moving on” has meant permanent loss. It was not a freak accident or the angle of the sun that altered our history on 9/11 – but evil, pure and simple.
I’ll take a step and its right behind me
Always fighting for control
There’s a war that’s raging inside me
I feel the battle for my soul
It’s like my shadow is dragging me around
And You are my only way out – Casting Crowns, My Own Worst Enemy
Yesterday – all morning – I felt like God’s red-headed stepchild. I was being a brat, really – acting ugly.
It wasn’t because of anything He did or said, but because of my mind-set. My brain chemistry felt “off” and my hormonal balance no better and I didn’t want to talk to God about it. I felt like there was a wedge between him and me because I was so messy, even though I know that’s the right thing to do. I wanted to own my little tantrum for a while, truthfully. But after a while, I got so tired of my own tirade that I agreed to go with my husband to the beach for a little while.
“Okay,” I told him. “But I’m in a really bad mood.” (To be fair, I thought he should be warned – as if the crying and crossed arms didn’t clue him in.)
As is his way, He took my hand anyway. God love him (and He does) – that man ministers to my Spirit like nobody else because he just simply walks the walk by loving. Not by preaching or nagging or alienating me. Living with me and our three nearly-adult daughters, he cannot afford to be easily spooked by a little female freak-out.
By the first hour on the shore, sunshine on our shoulders, I felt my mind-set change dramatically, and with it came an apology to my husband – and my Heavenly Father.
I’m sorry I pouted with you, I told God silently. But He was already over it. I love that He is so forgiving.
This morning, I picked up my Bible and read in the book of Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God. The scripture reminded me that no matter how I feel on any given day (it changes constantly!), His WORD is fact. And I know that, intellectually…I’ve read it 100 times. But I am still learning to fully accept that in my spirit (it’s a journey).
It isn’t trouble or hard times, or hatred or hunger….or homelessness, bullying threats or backstabbing that makes me feel that chasm between the Father and I.
No…. It’s me. Often, I do it to myself.
Still, no matter where I stand crying, arms crossed and ornery, when I turn around He is there. The enemy tells us that we are separated from God at our worst, and we feel that it must be true. But the enemy is a liar.
Here is what The Authority says:
“None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I am absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable – absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” Romans 8:31-39 (The Message)
He is our only way out, carrying us in an embrace.
Having just finished a fantastic book that talked about – among many other things – whether Christians should “keep it real” with the world, I felt as though I should blog about my entanglement. Not because it’s so interesting that a middle-aged woman would get so worked up about what amounts to normal, first-world problems, but because I wanted to share a vision that God is giving me to deal with feeling this way. (Spoiler: it isn’t His magically making things perfect….that miracle is for the next world, not this one).
When I went to bed last night, my More Spiritual Self was kinked up.
After instigating a mild argument with my husband, I had tried to sleep. When that failed, I tried to pray. Fitfully, I asked God would He please give me a break here? I know we are not supposed to let the sun go down on our anger, but I am clearly in the right!
That small, still voice didn’t chastise me anymore. Still, I quit trying to pray because I was so out-of-sorts and jumbled up, I couldn’t tell where one request started and another whiny demand ended. Frustrated, I tossed and turned all night. Tomorrow will be better, I told myself.
But this morning, nothing in my closet fit me – The Fat Fairy neglected to visit me during the night to relieve the body-issue angst that is the hallmark of my Selfish Self. (If she would only come and take my fat away while I was sleeping and leave money in it’s place, it would solve TWO problems simultaneously!) All day, worry entangled me. Issues big and small (and all out of my control) tormented me and I walked around in a cloud of menopausal grump.
By noon, I had myself so knotted up with stress that I broke out in tears at Costco while waiting to purchase toilet paper and cat food. The check-out girl was very friendly, in a “I’ve no idea what to do about this” way, which made me cry harder because I felt sorry for her. She didn’t tell me to have a nice day.
But on the way home from Costco, I had a random memory about a short exchange between my daughter and I earlier. When I had taken her to school that morning, I complimented her on her outfit (which really was lovely) and she held out her necklace for me to see and said, “It’s my favorite.”
I also remembered that it was the same gold-toned necklace with beads and feathers on it that sat on our kitchen table for a week, knotted up in a ball. My daughter had gotten it tangled up at the bottom of a bag and asked me to unravel it, which I’d tried to do several times.
“You should really take better care of your stuff,” I had told her, when she’d given it to me and asked me to fix it.
And each time I would try to untangle it, the frustration mounted. Within minutes of not being able to tell where one link started and another began, I’d leave the project out of sorts, the necklace jumbled up worse than before. She’s just going to have to throw it out…it’s unsalvageable.
As a last resort, I enlisted the help of my husband, who patiently untangled the entire chain and left it for my daughter to find on the kitchen table. He didn’t fuss at her for letting it get that way, he just solved the problem behind the scenes. Which brings me back to today, when she wore her favorite piece of jewelry restored to it’s former glory.
I’m trying to untangle my chain, I realized. I’m knotted in a ball and don’t even know what to pray for.
“Perhaps,” said my More Spiritual Self. “You should give the big ball of it to God and let him untangle it.” And my Selfish Self, after reeling from the sting that my husband would be God in this analogy, had to concur that I have to bring my anxiety, pain and restlessness while I am still frustrated. Nothing is unsalvageable to God, but when I try to untangle myself, I make the knot bigger. He will be untangling my messes all the days of my life, but I have to leave it on the kitchen table, so to speak – and not as a last resort.
Sometimes I fail to take my issues to Him because I know He has every right to say, “You should take better care of your stuff” and I’m afraid He will.
But He never does, He just loves.
I’d like to say that VOILA! I am in a fantastic mood now that I had an epiphany, but I’m trying to “keep it real” here. I can tell you that this afternoon, I’m not crying anymore and that when I got home from Costco, I broke down and changed into sweatpants with an elastic waistband. I texted my awesome husband that I love him twice today and I am still sober, which doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal after eleven and a half years of not drinking, but trust me – sometimes it still is. All of these things (yes, even elastic waistbands!) are blessings.
And God is still on the throne and loves us even though we are messy, knotted-up things.