Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

I was looking for something to watch on TV. I needed a break from the world’s problems, and I just wanted an hour or two of uplifting entertainment, something to make me smile and feel good inside. Years ago, a counsellor told me, “You are entirely too sane. A little fiction-inspired denial might help to lighten things up a bit.”

I have access to multiple streaming services, but I couldn’t find anything that would “lighten things up a bit.” I love a good film, but these didn’t hold out the beauty I was looking for. Instead, I ended up entertaining myself by listing themes from trailers and the blurbs on trending movies.

Have you paid attention to the themes of films lately? When I was depressed, I used to watch a lot of TV. My standards were not high. When things were really bad, I could lose hours to the weather channel. Whether TV-watching was a cause or effect of the depression, I don’t know, but I haven’t paid nearly as much attention to television or popular films since being set free from the pit. 

I looked more closely at the offerings. The same kind of stuff kept coming up. This survey is not remotely scientific. It’s just what I noticed today. Most themes could be reduced to a few broad categories:

Dark secrets: Someone is lying to you.

Someone is trying to steal from you.

Someone wants to use you, or your loved one, for their own power or pleasure purposes.

Off-world or external forces beyond your control are bent on your destruction.

So much for escape from the news cycle.

Responses to disappointment and pain included: the celebration of absurdity; angry humour; creative revenge and one-upmanship pay-back; exploration of the dark side; not-so-noble means to earn public approval; accumulation and protection of wealth and the spending thereof; escape through mood-altering chemistry: and sexual hedonism involving every possible option but a happy marriage.

I’m sure there are films with themes of nobility, altruism, forgiveness, hope, and physical or emotional or spiritual healing, but they weren’t in the first forty on the “trending” list.

As my little granddaughter observed, good stories need problems. Understood — and a well-developed villain is often the character that keeps us coming back. I only looked at the written and visual enticements intended to draw us in like a carnival barker’s call today. I hope many of the issues in the storylines were resolved and brought great relief to the audience before they trundled off to bed. I just didn’t feel like taking the risk that the offered solutions came at the expense of bystanders. I decided not to saturate myself in despair as was once my habit.

As I thought about it, the word saturate reminded me of this advice to new believers meeting together in Philippi long ago:

“Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ,” Paul wrote.

“Keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.” 

“Put into practice the example of all that you have heard from me or seen in my life and the God of peace will be with you in all things.” (Philippians 4: 6 -9 TPT)

I’m not looking to escape, Pollyanna style, the reality that evil exists everywhere in the world. I can see that level of reality in my own dishonorable responses to fear that is the result of continually hearing the message, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

I choose to fasten my thoughts on every glorious work of God. It might seem boring to thrill-seekers, but my wanderings and simple photos of flowers and mountains and sky are reminders to me of a greater reality, the one in which the Creator and Lover of my soul says, “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

I’m shutting the TV and the computer off and going outside now.

Oh, and in other news, the orchards are starting to bloom.

Forgive

I thought I had forgiven, but it was hard. Every time some innocuous thing triggered a painful memory, I prayed hard to forgive again.

I thought I had forgiven, but I hadn’t. I forgave them for bumping into me and knocking me off balance. “There were extenuating circumstances,” I reasoned. “I’m sure they didn’t mean it.”

I thought I had forgiven, but I hadn’t. I thought I was just knocked over, but I wasn’t.

I couldn’t ignore the damage done. I had been trampled, broken. My trust lay in the dust in too many shattered pieces to fix. Even the desire to be the good person in this scenario was not a strong enough glue to hold my heart together. I wanted revenge. I wanted payback!

I made up an invoice and looked squarely at the cost of repercussions from their actions that played out for years.

“Oh God,” I cried. “This is too much! I can’t get by without what they owe me!”

“Take your hands off their throats,” He said. “I forgave you. When I was on the cross, I said ‘Tetelestai.’ It was finished. Done. All legal requirements met. I paid your debt. I paid their debt. Take your hands off their throats. Give up any expectation that they will someday apologize or give what they owe.”

“But how am I to live?”

“Empty your hands so I can fill them. I am your provider. I will give you everything you need.”

“Really?”

“Listen, beloved, I am telling you the truth.

I will give you what you need. I will even give you the trust you need to trust Me.

I give you My love first, so you can then love.

It all comes from Me.

It always has.”

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt word: Forgive

Fully Where I Am

“When I trust deeply that today God is truly with me and holds me safe in a divine embrace, guiding every one of my steps I can let go of my anxious need to know how tomorrow will look, or what will happen next month or next year. I can be fully where I am and pay attention to the many signs of God’s love within me and around me.”

– Henri Nouwen

The smoke has cleared and I was feeling well enough to get out of the house and drive to one of my favourite quiet places, little Munroe Lake. This area suffered the ravages of wildfire a few years ago. I enjoy the contrast between old growth on one side of the lake and new growth on the other.

Circumstances in my life require letting go of things I used to be able to do without much planning or thought. Mourning is involved any time we let go of the old to make room for the new, but we can’t get a grasp on the future when our hands are desperately hanging on to strands of the past.

This new terrain is giving me a greater appreciation for stillness. It is reinforcing the importance of something the Lord has been teaching me for many years: trust.

How will things look in the next few months or years? I don’t know, but the words of an old song by Ira Stanphill play in my heart:

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

Surrender Anxiety

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“I can tell when you’re worried,” my friend said. “You repeat yourself. A lot.”

It’s called ruminating. Ruminants are animals like cattle and deer which bring up the substance of their last intake to chew over again. Rumination in humans means obsessive worry about something, going over and over the details in your head.

Have I told you this before? Sorry if I have, but it helped me understand something. I heard a podcast speaker (I think it was Bill Johnson) say, “If you can worry, you can meditate. Meditation is like worry, but with better subject matter.”

The first time I tried to meditate on scripture I chose a verse in Psalm 46. “Be still and know that I am God.” To be honest, I chose it because it was short. I didn’t feel like memorizing anything longer, which might explain initial results.

I heard, “Be still,” in the exasperated whisper of an adult to a child who wouldn’t sit still in church. I viewed “and know that I am God” through the lens of a squirmy child who was bored out of her mind as she sat on a hard pew with nothing to do but wonder what would happen if the dead fox decorating Mrs. McSomebody’s coat collar suddenly came back to life. (In the fifties trauma-induced weirdness in the adult population was as common as, well, accessorizing with dead animals.) I think I was poking it when I was told to “be still!” The consequence was that, yet again, I missed knowing God.

I tried pondering different translations. That helped. One version said, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.” Meditating on those few words took years. Who knew? It turns out that worrying, ruminating, and striving were kind of a package deal with my temperament. Personality tests didn’t give me much hope of unplugging myself from that slot.

Finally, I realized that knowing who God is means unlearning ideas that hold me captive and unable to change. Unlearning requires meekness – the humility to know that I don’t know and the courage to know that by grace I can know. Learning what God is actually like is basic to learning how he sees me. Being still and ceasing striving now means letting go of defensiveness and giving up attempts to earn God’s love. On my own, trying harder will never be “good enough.”

And that’s the beauty of it.

God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge!
You’re a proven help in time of trouble—
more than enough and always available whenever I need you. (verse 1)

Today I read another translation. Apparently, I am not finished meditating on the simple easy-to-memorize verse. The Passion Translation reads, “Surrender your anxiety.” When Jesus said he gives peace that passes understanding, it’s not an invitation to get back on the worry track for a few more laps. Peace that passes understanding comes as a result of surrendering anxiety that rises from not understanding. Here comes paradox again. Loss is gain. Surrender is winning.

Not that I haven’t noticed before, but this time I was struck by the importance of context. “Surrender anxiety” is nestled in a Psalm about the kind of  divisive war-threatening conflict and climate disrupting-level natural disasters we see around us now.

When the nations are in uproar with their tottering kingdoms,
God simply raises his voice
and the earth begins to disintegrate before him.
Here he comes! The Commander! (verses 6 & 7)

He’s messing with my theology again. Disintegrate?

Then I remember Jesus talking about tearing down and building up. He told people, who asked for a sign, if they tore down this temple (he meant his own body, but they didn’t know yet) he would raise it up again in three days.

Everyone look!
Come and see the breathtaking wonders of our God.
For he brings both ruin and revival. (verse 8)

Sometimes learning means unlearning first and sometimes building firmer foundations means tearing down wobbly bases first.

Sometimes we don’t have the means to correct problems ourselves because we have a death-grip on tainted assumptions and tottering institutions. We call it loyalty, but loyalty to whom? What if all this upheaval is about more than setting up another temporary camp that allows us to survive until the next crisis? What if God wants us to come to the end of our do-something-do-anything suggestions and let him reveal more of himself to us? What if he has a better plan? What if he wants to replace striving with thriving or coping with character?

What if  anxiety (which is actually lack of trust) acts as a barbed barrier that keeps us from going where he wants to take us?

He’s the one who makes conflicts end
throughout the earth,
breaking and burning every weapon of war.
Surrender your anxiety!
Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God.
I am the God above all the nations,
and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.

Carefree in the Care of God

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I looked out the window above my computer. This is what God’s voice sounds like — the rush of wings. This is what God’s voice looks like — birds feasting on berries in a mountain ash tree on a cold Canadian winter morning.

I was worrying. I went to the pharmacy this morning, expecting to pick up a prescription. It’s a unique medication formulated for a unique condition. (My case is “complex,” the doctors say, nearly every time I see them.)

The dear people who faithfully count out my pills told me they were just informed that the medication was on back-order and the company didn’t expect to be able to send any in the dosage I require until July. They seemed as shocked as I was.

This is not a medication one can suddenly stop taking without dire effect. I have an eight day supply left. My pharmacist is working to find a solution.

I was sitting here at my desk not feeling frantic with worry, but somewhat perturbed with worry when I heard a rush of wings and saw a flock of birds swoop past my window. The breeze they stirred up shook the panes slightly and immediately caught my attention.

In unison, they flew away, circled around the neighbourhood, then flew back. Then they flew away again. When they returned, they landed on the mountain ash tree, full of red berries ignored by other over-wintering birds and hanging from branches too high for the deer to reach.

It’s like a feast of unique red fruit was prepared months ago during the long hot days of summer and now, it beckons. A table spreads before them in the winter wilderness of snow and ice.

I suddenly remembered Jesus talking about his heavenly Father providing for the birds. All morning, well all week, really, I have teetered on the teary brink of feeling like I felt so often during my childhood — unnoticed, unimportant, out of step, and out of season in a wrong place/wrong time sort of way.

The unspoken question as faint as a birdwing fluttered in my heart: Do you see me? Do you care? Will you look after me when my own responses to “take care of yourself” are not enough?

The birds whooshed away and whooshed back a few minutes later. I watched. I listened. I heard.

“Take the carefree birds as your example,” He said to my heart. “Do you ever see them worry?”

“They don’t grow their own food or put it in a storehouse for later. Yet God takes care of every one of them, feeding each of them from his love and goodness.

Isn’t your life more precious to God than a bird? Be carefree in the care of God!”

(Luke 12:24 TPT)

He’s got this.

 

Forest Path

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“When I trust deeply that today God is truly with me and holds me safe in a divine embrace, guiding every one of my steps I can let go of my anxious need to know how tomorrow will look, or what will happen next month or next year. I can be fully where I am and pay attention to the many signs of God’s love within me and around me.”

~Henri Nouwen

 

Refrain, Forsake and Fret Not

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Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
 
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
 
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

Psalm 37:7-9

Trust and Do Good

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When those who want to exalt themselves, when the self-aggrandizing, false virtue-signalling people in power misuse the trust people have placed in them, I feel angry. I tend to fret.

When I see people who say they are following Jesus pick up the devil’s weapons of hate and slander and political subterfuge and try to use them — especially when they don’t fit — I tend to fret even more.

We are so easily captured by the spirit we oppose.

I need to remember that God is not stymied by evil.

His timing. His way. He’s got this.

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.
For they shall soon be cut down like the grass,
And wither as the green herb.
 
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.

Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
 
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.
 
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
 
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm.
 
For evildoers shall be cut off;
But those who wait on the Lord,
They shall inherit the earth.
 
For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more;
Indeed, you will look carefully for his place,
But it shall be no more.

But the meek shall inherit the earth,
And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

(Psalm 37:1-11 NKJV)