“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”C.S. Lewis
Author: Charis Psallo
I was thinking about images for this word on the list for creative Lenten meditations when I ran into a prime example in front of my own apartment building. Two large construction projects a block on either side of our building mean the road is frequently closed, but not usually at the same time. Today they were. One building going up is for commercial purposes. The other is a dense housing development. That’s not going to improve traffic around here. Another even bigger development a block to the northeast is expected to start within the year. Oh boy. I may never be able to turn left on Springfield. I had a moment of panic when I thought about more cars and more people blocking the roads and beeping construction vehicles in reverse interrupting our peaceful life. (Well, relatively peaceful. Noise is a constant when you live on one of the three blocks between two major arteries.) Then I got to thinking.
We moved to this location because we were planning ahead for the day when neither of us may be able to drive. At the time we purchased our condo, we hadn’t heard of “the fifteen minute city” but essentially, that is what we were looking for – a neighbourhood where all our most commonly needed services were accessible on foot. I can’t really complain about more people moving into an area called “City Central” when we moved in ourselves only eighteen months ago.
I was talking to a friend who was part of a rapidly growing – explosively growing—church after God started doing amazing things in their midst. Parking became hard to find, the bathrooms were overworked, cleaning staff was exhausted, and tithe-paying members of the congregation couldn’t find a seat even when they arrived an hour early. She said they noticed that people on the volunteer ministry teams had reserved parking, and that’s how they got into ministry. Step up or miss out. They stepped up and have been blessed by opportunities for growth ever since. They are still active in ministry.
Sometimes interruptions mess with our plans. Sometimes our plans need to be messed with. Anger is often the result of something being demanded or taken from us without our consent. People interrupted Jesus when he was on his way to do something important. He stopped and healed them on the way. The story of the woman with the issue of blood and the story of blind Bartimaeus and the story of mothers upsetting the disciples’ agenda by bringing their children to Jesus for blessing are examples of this. We know because their stories were important enough to be included in a record of Jesus’ life and times.
What if the reasons for these interruptions in the neighbourhood are signs, not of the place going downhill, but of the place rising up? What if, like the crowds following Jesus, we stopped and made a time and place for other people like us who arrived only 75 weeks ago? What if my response to “road closed” and “detour” was to happily make room for more locals instead of complaining about delays in my plans? What if blessing these construction projects is a better, less selfish response to sharing love in a community that sees beyond my own priorities and makes room for others?
Lord, teach me to see the big picture. Teach me to love the way you love.
The lesson in our painting class was on portraits. Portraits are hard! One slightly wrong proportion can change an identity. One difference in angle can create an unintended expression. After an embarrassing failure some years ago, I thought I was ready to try again.
I can assure you that this painting does not look like the model. I didn’t throw it out though, because there was something about the expression that did look like the model’s. I changed details like hair, face shape, colouring, and clothing so she couldn’t be identified, but I kept the expression. The side glance and slight sneer reminded me of the look of jealousy. The painting sits on my dresser as a reminder that jealousy is not becoming to anyone, no matter how attractive they are physically.
I’ve often wondered why Jesus told people not to tell anyone about what he had done for them when he healed them. It would seem like a good P.R. move to advertise by featuring the familiar lame man’s new dance moves or the mute woman’s singing. In the early days of his ministry, Jesus emphatically did not want the kind of attention fame brings.
Fame can bring attention and revenue and influence, but just as often fame creates toxic atmospheres and attracts hatred. As Proverbs 27:4 says, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?”
A few moments spent reading the comments section of almost any popular publication will reveal that. I am convinced that a great deal of nasty criticism and slander aimed at popular Christian speakers and writers is not motivated by the belief that they are irredeemable charlatans, rather it is propelled by jealousy toward the target that success and attention has painted on their backs.
People may insist that they are merely “rightly dividing the word of truth” or “just being Bereans” or “declaring the whole counsel of God” when they walk away from the bullet-point ridden body left bleeding in the dirt, but jealousy, envy, or covetousness lingers in the eyes and on the lip. It tells you there was no love in this exchange, no desire to create a relationship that encourages change or growth or rewards indications of acts of greater goodness. The jealous want the object of their envy to be hauled away and never heard from again.
We’ve seen it before amongst people who want to maintain control. When Paul and Barnabas spoke in Pisidian Antioch, the religious people in charge there “were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.” (Acts 13:45)
Acts 7:9 tells us the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph and sold him as a slave to rid themselves of their young brother whose favour with their father annoyed them to the point of violence.
The story of Jesus’ crucifixion contains this important piece of information about Pilate’s politically-motivated choice to release Barabbas, the career criminal, instead of Jesus: “For he [Pilate] knew that it was out of envy that they [the religious leaders] had delivered him up.” (Matthew 27:18)
God’s jealousy for us is a passionate loving zeal that we would not be seduced and pulled away by the evil one. Human jealousy is uncontrolled passionate hate that would harm and destroy. It is the result of already being under the influence of the evil one who said, “Oh, you’re worried that there is not enough love to go around. I can help you with that.”
The moment we become aware of that voice we have a choice to make. We can turn and run to God and ask him to heal our wounded hearts with his abundant grace and fill our empty places with his relentless love, or we can submit to a power that destroys not only the object of jealousy but our own souls.
I guess that’s why I keep this painting. It’s a reminder that every day I have the choice to bless or curse and how easy it is to make the wrong choice. I can bless because I am blessed. I don’t have to curse. I don’t work for that boss anymore. I am not authorized to listen to his voice. Jesus freed me. He is enough.
The fear of lack has always been with me. I was born in the days before Canada made healthcare available to everyone. My parents’ health insurance disappeared with my father’s former job just before I was born. My mother had many complications from my birth that left many bills. Both my parents worked hard to pay those bills, as well as bills from a failed business venture, but at ten years old I overheard a conversation I wasn’t meant to hear. It was about how much my birth had cost and how debt payments were still setting the family back compared to other people. Like kids tend to do, I thought the tension on bill paying day was my fault for being born in a way that caused my mom and dad way more suffering than it should have.
I developed a fear of lack as well as anxiety around asking for what I needed. That kind of fear can lead to an obsession with earning money and displaying what it can buy. It can also lead to not wanting to spend money and bragging about money-saving DIY skills and finding things at lower price than anyone else in the room. And sometimes both expressions manifest simultaneously in ways that thoroughly annoy others. Most of my life, I have tended to take the penny-pinching, make-do means of coping with fear of poverty.
Don’t get me wrong. We always had enough for necessities when I was a kid. Compared to most of the people in the world, we had a lot. Compared to neighbours in our community, “Things,” as the expressions goes, “were tight.”
The sense of being poor or rich often comes only in comparison to others.
Compared to my grandparents when they were living through the Great Depression, we were rich. We had indoor plumbing, more than two changes of clothes, nutritious food, a vehicle, and heat for the house that didn’t require scooping dirty coal or hours of chopping wood when you could find it. Come to think of it, we had a house, which was more than my grandparents, who spent some tough years living in two uninsulated granaries pulled together, could boast of. It seems tiny house living is most attractive to people who have options.
Families in our circle had ski hill memberships in Banff, two cars, lots of toys and sports equipment, college funds for all the kids (girls included), a mom who didn’t have to go to work, and cash in hand at the end of the month. Since I didn’t actually know anyone who still lived in a granary, this was my concept of the average family. Compared to other kids at school or at church in my affluent city in Canada, I was from a poor family.
My husband is a naturally generous person. I’ve had to work at it. I’ve had to learn to trust God with my needs by giving things away as an act of faith and obedience. I’ve often spoken Psalm 37:25 out loud as a reminder of God’s keeping power: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”
Discussions of run-away inflation and shortages in the news lately make me want to buy more things than we need before the price goes up or they are not available. I fight the urge to hit the bargain shops and buy things to stuff into bins in the closet in case we will need them someday.
(A note to clarify: I’m not talking about either unwise spending or lack of planning. Ask the Lord for wisdom and for his leading in your own life, then obey and go for it -as long as you do it in faith. For me, at the moment, the temptation to hoard is a left-over manifestation of fear that there will not be enough, that God will not be there to provide for our needs. I understand he’s giving me an exercise in trust.)
Realizing that sometimes fear is often the root of negative self-fulfilling prophecy, I asked God for wisdom. Then I had a dream. In this dream a heroic warrior looking person gave me a marvelous pair of skates just before I went into a grocery store. People in the store were fighting over items on partially empty shelves. They blocked the aisles as they argued. Somehow (I don’t know how because I haven’t been skating since I was a teen and my skills never progressed beyond moving across the rink without falling down, not to mention that skates only work on ice), I put them on and skated around all these people with issues. With these special skates on my feet I was like an Olympic figure skater accomplishing amazing leaps over freezers and spins in the produce section. I picked up the few things I needed without upsetting anyone, paid, and left. When I saw the hero outside, he gave me a hero’s welcome.
I believe the dream is telling me I can trust that my Hero will provide what I need when I need it. (Hosea records in chapter two that on the day the unfaithful woman responds to God instead of going after material symbols of insincere forms of attention, she will call him Ishi –Hero/husband and no longer Baali –Master.)
Today I read Hebrews 13:5 in the Passion Translation: “Don’t be obsessed with money but live content with what you have, for you always have God’s presence. For hasn’t he promised you, ‘I will never leave you, never! And I will not loosen my grip on your life.’”
That’s a promise that’s safe without a safety deposit box in the bank.
It is in the dark that God is passing by. The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite: God is passing by. God is in the tremors. Dark is in the holiest ground, the glory passing by. In the blackest, God is the closest, at work, forging his perfect and right will. Though it is black and we can’t see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us.Ann Voscamp
“Forget the former things;Isaiah 43:18, 19 NIV
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
Unlock My Heart
Lord God, unlock my heart, unlock my lips,
and I will overcome with my joyous praise!
For the source of your pleasure is not in my performance
or the sacrifices I might offer to you.
The fountain of your pleasure is found
in the sacrifice of my shattered heart before you.
You will not despise my tenderness
as I bow down humbly at your feet.Psalm 51:15-17 TPT
There’s a setting on the photo editing software I use that lets me make a kaleidoscope-style image using bits and pieces from my own photos. The photo I used here was of a barren tree in a snow-covered field at sunset. It feels like spiritual transformation to me.
Have you noticed that God gave many people their assignments in his Kingdom when they were at their lowest? God is more impressed by our willingness to offer him the broken pieces of our failures than the efforts that made us successful in other people’s eyes. A shattered heart? Now that he can use. He takes our locked hearts and disappointments in ourselves, tosses them around, and lets us see through a lens that transforms and multiplies our offering into something beautiful.
He takes our limitations and opens our eyes to limitless possibilities. He’s good that way.
Leaning In to Hear the Heart of God
“The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.”
Psalm 25:14 (NKJV
When I was a child, I used to have a secret place where I would go to talk to Jesus. I told him things that weren’t safe to say out loud where someone might hear. I didn’t know that was praying. I thought praying was when people recited rhymes at meal times or before bed or stood on a platform and shouted at God in King James English as if he were as hard as hearing as some of the folk in the pews (who some of us thought may have been as old as King James).
I talked to Jesus because he was someone who loved the little children. I could be very open and honest with him. Somehow, I had picked up the notion that God the Father was angry and disappointed with me like so many other people in my life. I couldn’t let him see the confusion and pain in my heart. It seemed ungrateful –and perhaps dangerous.
I’m realizing, all these years later, even though I have learned that God the Father is not who I thought he was and is loving and kind and inviting, I still don’t feel comfortable praying out loud in front of people. When someone asks, “Does anyone want to close in prayer?” I’m already avoiding eye contact.
You see, when I pray, I am very aware the moment requires total transparency. I call it praying naked. It comes from a time when the Holy Spirit spoke to me while I was in the bathtub. He’s not dismayed by my many imperfections in body and soul. Other people on the other hand…
Someone, who I’m sure meant well, once told me she had heard me pray a few good prayers in an intercessor’s group we belonged to. Then she suggested I listen to some of the more well-seasoned women’s prayers to see how it was done. I didn’t know I was being graded. Suddenly I was back in Jr. High.
It was the last day of the dreaded “Extemporaneous Speech Unit” in English class. I could no longer hide behind Big Bob or make an emergency trip to the restroom. I rose. I faced the class. I pulled the topic from the hat. I spoke. I tried to be humorous. My joke fell flat. Sigh. The teacher asked me to explain it. Sigh. I did. She still didn’t get it. Sigh. Neither did the other students. Sigh. The students were invited to submit their evaluations. Can you die from humiliation?
People who know me now, can tell you I have no trouble talking about almost any topic. That’s probably because I am an introvert who learned to function as an extrovert to avoid the humiliations of youth. It’s a skill I needed when I became a singer and later a teacher. But performing can be exhausting.
Some good friends have helped me learn to pray together with them. They don’t judge. They don’t hide their weaknesses. They encourage. They challenge. They support. They give me freedom to be myself. How beautifully precious they are.
I walked down by the lake thinking about this. I love how clear the water is here. Its transparency reminds me of the hope that someday I can feel less self-conscious when praying out loud in public. I hope for unity in spirit with fellow believers who will be safe, where judgment is replaced by encouragement, where we are recognized by our love for each other, and where our focus when we pray is on God and not ourselves.
Someone told me I should write a devotional. I didn’t take kindly to the suggestion. For those of you out of the North American Protestant/Evangelical/Charismatic lingo loop, a devotional is a collection of meditations and suggested Bible readings attached to dates on the calendar. Some of them are published as monthly booklets and some as hardbound classics.
The problem for me is that “devotional” did not bring up fond memories of pleasant times of focusing on God. It brought up memories of one more thing I had to do before I could shut off the lights and go to sleep, one more tense morning around the breakfast table while Dad quickly read to us from the booklet with one arm already in the sleeve of his coat, one more packaged sermonette from the camp counsellor before we could go down to the lake to swim, one more occasion to cease the fun and get serious at youth group. In short, I associated “doing devotions” with religious duty that interfered with stuff I valued more. I needed deep healing from the ravages of godless religiosity. I’m realizing, when negative reactions like this pop up, that I still do.
I know I’m not the only one, because a brief online search for devotional material revealed a number of titles bragging about brevity. The Ten Minute Devotional. Quick Daily Devotions for the Busy Mother. Seven Minutes to Starting Your Day Right. Five Minute Devotions. I think the winner of this genre had it down to one minute. That’s what happens when a once good idea becomes an obligation. Let’s get this thing out of the way and get on with life.
The other use of the word “devotion” means a heart set apart and acting out love, loyalty, and care for a person or object. Being devoted to something or somebody means making the object of that devotion a high priority. Imagine Moses saying to his brother Aaron, “I’d love to stay with you and listen to these people complain, but I have to go up on a mountain top and watch the goodness of the Creator of the universe go by.” Imagine Mary of Bethany saying to her sister Martha, “I’d rather wash pots with you, but I have to put in ten minutes of listening to Jesus talk about his Father in heaven first.” Imagine Paul telling the Holy Spirit, “Fine. You can explain the mystery of the ages to me, but be brief. I’ve got a boat to catch.”
Here’s the thing it has taken me far too many years to realize: we cannot love God without receiving his love first. Without his love, without his grace, without revelation of his purposes since time began we have nothing to give but grudging obedience to rules and a quick prayer that nothing bad will happen to us, or our kids, if we miss occasionally. From the beginning he planned for our salvation. He has always been devoted to our well-being, our spiritual spiffing up, and satisfying eternal life with him. We can love him because he loved us first. We can respond from the heart to his invitation to go for a walk with him and ask him our questions, or we can choose to go for the record and see if we can cut down the doing devotions thing to thirty seconds next time.
One day, some years ago now, with the ugly voice of depression whispering that I would just be disappointed again, I chose to get up and go for a walk with the Lover of my soul. I’ve never looked back. Sometimes we talk about how much we value each other, but he always wins. His love is stronger. His devotion to the objects of his love is from everlasting to everlasting.