Let Him Sit Alone in Silence

IMG_1595 sunrise lake march2 ch

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

These are such lovely words, often printed on encouragement cards and posters. But they are in a context that is seldom quoted.

I tried for years to read the Bible straight through, but I couldn’t. I always got stuck with Jeremiah’s story. He could see a dramatic course change ahead for himself and for his people (a course change that would involve God’s choice of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon as his “chosen servant.”) I felt Jeremiah’s sorrow entirely too much.

Some people can pull themselves out of feeling godly sorrow by clapping to happy songs or waving banners or doing something equally distracting, but it feels a bit like the tail wagging the dog to me. Weeping lasts for the night;  joy comes in the morning. Very few people want to hear about the weeping part. I don’t.

Sometimes it takes more courage to walk into powerful emotions than to walk into a line of guns and bayonets. It’s easier to pretend they don’t exist, to run away, to shove the shame that comes with having them into yet another closet.

The next part:

 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
    while he is young.

 Let him sit alone in silence,
    for the Lord has laid it on him.
 Let him bury his face in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.
 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
    and let him be filled with disgrace.

 For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

(Lamentations 3)

Discipline feels horrible. And when voices other than a kind parent’s jump in to administer it, it is easy to feel utterly rejected, cast off, condemned.

Many people don’t know what it is like to have had loving correction. They may have been ignored until something they didn’t know was wrong caused them to have great trouble making friends or going to school or keeping a job. They may have been beaten physically or verbally. They may have been shamed or received the silent treatment. They may never have known understanding or compassion. They may never have received forgiveness; it could seem like a much-regretted incident would be brought up like a trump card indefinitely. They may never have received acknowledgement of attempts at change.

For people who have never received enriching, encouraging parental discipline the process of submitting to the ministry of a loving God so that they might have a heart change is utterly, utterly terrifying. It takes trust, and for those who have had trust betrayed by authority figures in the past it is a tough, tough step to take. They’ll do anything to avoid it, including hurting people who want to help.

The Bible says whom the Lord loves he disciplines. The result is the gift of godly sorrow that leads to change. Ungodly sorrow results in shame that cripples with lies about how God really feels about us. Big difference.

Change (repentance) hurts, and pretending it doesn’t is cowardly. Repentance means dropping defenses, and no one likes feeling defenseless. Don’t ask someone the Lord is doing a deep work in to fake feeling cheerful to remove your own discomfort. Let them sit alone, face buried in the dust and learn they can trust the compassionate Father.and giver of life to be their portion. Drop your own stick and walk away. It doesn’t help and in fact, increases defensiveness and slows down the process.

 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all…

  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:5-8, 11-13)

Bluer than Blue

Kootenay Lake

Bluer than Blue

The artist leading the workshop in the desert city looked at my paintings and asked, perhaps facetiously, “You use a lot of blue. Are you depressed?”

I looked around at the other participants’ work, mostly done in earth tones –beiges, browns, greys –with occasional splashes of red and yellow. Desert colours.

“No,” I said, “Not anymore. I just come from a place that is mostly blue.”

When I arrived home a few months later, deep lavender blue skies, shifting azure-blue lakes, paler and paler layers of blue mountains and sparkling blue snow shadows seemed even bluer than the paintings.

Bluer than blue.

I come from a place that is mostly blue.

To some blue communicates serenity. To some blue communicates depression. I come from a place that was mostly depression.

A while ago I was told in a dream, “Look to the area of your greatest failure, for therein lies your greatest success.”

There was that night.

That night when I bowed on a stage before an audience jumping up to shout “Brava” and throw flowers. Most of them didn’t know I was balancing on one leg the whole time because I had broken the other one only a few days before.

Then there was that night.

That night, in a locked ward where a silhouetted person behind a flashlight peered in my room every fifteen minutes to make sure I was still alive.

That night on the stage, the night of  “my greatest success,” was actually my greatest failure. That was the night when I identified myself as a strong-willed, disciplined, overcomer. That’s when I was foolish enough to think that if I just worked hard enough I could earn love, respect, and adulation.

The night on the ward, the night of  “my greatest failure,” was actually the night of my greatest success. That was the night when I admitted it took more courage to live than to die. I was fresh out of courage. That was the night when my tank hit empty, when I had no will power, no discipline, no hope. That was the night when grace pulled me deep down into those depths of blue and began to show me that freedom means nothing left to lose. That was the night when Jesus Christ took me by the hand and lifted me up toward the dim speck of light. Drowning in emptiness and being lifted up to hope as a kind of baptism, if you like.

It took a while to get on my feet. I had a lot of forgiving to do. Forgiving myself was the hardest test of wrestling pride, self-sufficiency, and the albatross of potential to the ground. I still have to remember to punch it in the beak regularly.

Blue means freedom and serenity now. I understand better what Paul meant when he wrote:

Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake. Yes, and I look upon everything as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. For now my place is in him, and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ. How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead.

Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have “arrived”, spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honour of being called by God in Christ.

(Philippians 3)

Only Someone who knows the plans He has for us has the courage it takes to show us how to die so that we might live.

The Squeeze

Photo: moulded

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.

(Romans 12:2 -J.B. Phillips version)

I’m weird.

I’m weird and finally okay with it.

Some people are just meant to be on the edge of the crowd, not really out there, but not really fitting in either.

If something is trending you’ll find me wending down some other path. I figure the trendies have got that one covered.

When the tourists are snapping photos of each other in front of  iced mountain peaks, I’m focusing on lichen blanketed rocks in the ditch. I weep for the clown, rejoice for the beggar, fast at the feast,  and arise to do battle at night. When the clan gathers for a celebration in the heat of a summer’s eve, I slip out in the moonlight to breathe the cool falling cedar and pine air as it settles along the creek bed.

My poor, dear mother never knew what to do with me. I was hopelessly out of step.

I tried. I really did. I wore the uncomfortable fashionable clothes and the crippling high heels. I endured the horrid chemical smells of perms and hair dyes and nail polish. I spent far too much of my income and far too many years of my life obsessively following diet and exercise programs that, in the long run, always left me in worse shape than when I started. I listened to hours of pop music trying to understand the allure of a limited assortment of repetitive chords, rhythms and lyrics. I read the best-sellers and watched the Oscared pondering the pay-off of fear and pessimism. I paid attention to political pundits who knew what was wrong with everyone else’s ideas and I faithfully endured more sermons and devotional talks than I dare to recall. I tried to participate in the church ladies’ games (which usually involved rolls of toilet paper and or unscrambling baby and cooking related words.) The only spiritual maturity I gained from those exercises was learning how to doze with my eyes open and with an is-every-body-happy-smile on my face.

Then I realized one day I was spending a lot of effort trying to win the approval of people who didn’t really have mine -not that they were doing anything wrong, it’s just that I had no passion for the things that seemed to move them.

There is only one person whose approval I really need, and that is God’s. He likes weird. He can work with weird. When I look at the weird folk he loved in the Bible I realize I am in good company. Jesus didn’t exactly fit in either.

The crowd can move on without me. I’ll catch up later. Right now I am just enjoying watching the osprey flying a pas de deux, the daisies growing in cracks of asphalt, and working on becoming who God intended me to be in the first place.

Our Father

Photo: Daddy

The Good Father

A couple of days ago an insightful young man asked me, “Why do you think God chose to reveal himself as a father? Could it be that a perfect father is something we are all missing? Do you think that God the Father sent more than the Son? Maybe it was also about sending the relationship.”

Adam, the first father of all of us sinned. What was the nature of his sin? I wonder if it was the failure to be the father/caregiver God intended him to be.

I think Adam demonstrated three failures as a husband and father that set patterns which cause men to struggle with their identity to this day: passivity, shirking responsibility and a lack of courage.

When the serpent tempted Eve (with the oldest lie in the book, “Did God really say…?”) Adam was with her. (Gen 3:6) He had the opportunity to say, “Step away from the snake, Honey,” but he did nothing. He could have loaned her his strength to resist, but he became passive. He chose to disengage.

When God asked Adam what he had done he said, “That woman…that woman YOU gave me made me do it.” (Gen. 3:12) He was saying, “Hey, I’m just the victim here. I’m a victim of another human and a victim of God.” He could have taken responsibility, but he chose to shift the blame.

Adam and Eve chose to hide from God. Who told them they were naked? Obviously the one who has been capitalizing on shame ever since. Again Adam and Eve chose to listen to that voice and the result was living in shame and fear. Adam’s legacy is the tendency to hide in shame and live in fear.

When fear becomes the motivating force in our lives we either hide or become bullies. When we are shame-based we are easily offended. Shame on a larger scale leads to a hopeless society with a desire to escape responsibility or accountability. Bullying on a national scale leads to exploitation and war. In the hands of the wicked the manipulation of the masses through shame and fear  leads to every form of depravity we’ve ever seen –and passivity and the shirking of responsibility keep it entrenched.

God chose to use the symbolism of fatherhood to convey the nature of the relationship he desires with us. I don’t think he chose it because the character traits of a good father are exclusive to one gender. (Several passages also speak of the “feminine” characteristics of God like nursing, nurturing, birthing, and comforting ) I wonder if he chose the image of father because fundamentally we all suffer the consequences of father Adam’s inadequacies. Most –no, I think all– of the patriarchs failed as fathers in some way. We see patterns of passivity, disengagement, shirking responsibility and cowardice passed down from generation to generation all throughout the Bible.

A person cannot give what they have not received.

But why would God want to associate himself with these guys who missed the ideal in so many ways? Perhaps it is because he also wants to redeem the whole concept of father. Perhaps if we look at what Jesus accomplished in relationship with the Father we can have a better idea of what a father is meant to be.

Adam was passive and silent; Jesus engaged by speaking truth in love. He never denied the reality of the consequence of sin, but always acted with compassion, and provided a way out.

Adam shirked responsibility; Jesus took responsibility for our sin. He was the ultimate example of “The buck stops here.”

Adam hid in shame and fear; Jesus courageously walked into shame and submitted to the humiliation of a mock trial and a cross of shame. Jesus agonized and sweat drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane, but he courageously delivered himself to bear the consequence of our sin when he willingly went to the cross. Do not mistake his silence before his accusers as passivity. Never did he disengage. His actions were deliberate. He was still in total co-operation with the authority of the Father when he laid his life down.

Jesus demonstrated how to use authority both when he tipped over the tables of the money changers and when he stripped down to his underwear to wash his friend’s stinky feet. He faithfully responded to God the Father’s favourite cause: concern for the widow, the fatherless, and the refugee. He loved them, healed them, blessed them, fed them, and confided in them. (James 1:27 calls this “Pure and undefiled religion.” It’s not the legalistic hypocritical attempts to appease an angry God type of religion, but the Bible does talk about religion here in a positive sense, so I personally think we need to use that term carefully.)

Jesus said that when we look at him we can know what God the Father is like. In him we find everything our lonely, unloved, orphaned, refugee souls crave. The perfect father. Someone who will fight to the death for us. Someone who will fully engage with us and speak truth into our lives. Someone who is willing to be both a warrior and a servant. Someone who embodies Love.

I believe God wants to restore fathers to their children and children to their fathers and he has shown us what this looks like. Trusting and co-operating with the type of leadership Jesus showed is not a struggle with submission to a potentially abusive patriarch. It’s a joy and relief. Women, children, and the disenfranchised long for such leadership.

looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

A lot of the thoughts in this blog were gleaned from an excellent sermon I heard this week. You know the speaker is listening to the Holy Spirit when you forget he is your son and hear only the message. God is good.

Family business

Photo: a tired building

I think the current church at large is like a business with an assignment from head office.

I see us divided into four main departments:

Those who talk about how their great-great-great-great-grandparents did it. Big on costume dramas and protocol.

Those who keep studying new translations of the instruction manual (from the Japanese) and rarely get off the cautions page. Only pop out of the book long enough to tell the other departments what they are doing wrong. Big on memos.

Those who see the need and urgency of the task. They put a lot of effort into recruiting new staff because there is a high turn-over of burnt-out employees exhausted from trying to do something/anything with the proceeds of lemonade stands and car-washes. Big on heart-wrenching commercials.

Those who are busy zapping each other with the power tools they found in the box that came with the manual. Often found lying on the floor, frizzy-haired and vibrating with that finger-in-the-socket look. Big on topping each others stories of finding cool new tools and wads of cash.

Then there are a large number who are still listed as employees who don’t fit anywhere, those who are disillusioned or frustrated or have been wounded in the cross fire, those who work from home,  (or a mountainside, or fishing boat – or bed) and just check their emails once in a while.

Each department holds regular pep rallies or potlucks to tell each other why they are the best and why the other departments are off the rails. If abundant food (and especially dessert) is involved more people show up for these meetings.

A few try to bridge the gap and communicate with all departments. They tend to be familiar with the smell of tar and feathers.

When are we going to quit competing with each other, seek the CEO and listen to His point of view, ask Him to bring an intervention, allow Him to show us where we have gone off the rails, admit it, and change  — and then get his show in the road?

End rant.

Fix my eyes

Photo: the upward road

Today as I awake to Pentecost Sunday I feel like blind Bartimaeus.

I sit by the roadside.

I’ve tripped again.

I cry out, “Jesus, son of David have mercy on me!”

I feel like I am an annoyance and embarrassment to everyone around me,

but I don’t care.

Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!

Master, this is what I want:

I want to see You.

I see all the needy people around me.

I see my inadequacies.

I see my sin.

How can I help anyone on this journey when I keep falling down myself?

Master, fix my eyes that I might fix my eyes on You!

Surrounded then as we are by these serried ranks of witnesses, let us strip off everything that hinders us, as well as the sin which dogs our feet, and let us run the race that we have to run with patience, our eyes fixed on Jesus the source and the goal of our faith. Hebrews 12:1

As a mother

Photo: Preciousbaby's  foot charis

Mother’s Day can be horribly painful for some people.

I held more than one sobbing child in the big rocking chair during the darkest nights of their little lives. More than once I heard, “Why doesn’t my mommy love me?”

As a foster parent my own heart was torn up by the pain of little ones whose mothers chose alcohol or drugs over their kids, and with one exception all of the 24 children who arrived on our doorstep were there because their mothers’ own pain left them with nothing left to give. In the midst of drowning fear and emptiness they forgot their kids. It was hard to forgive them sometimes, but I realized that a person can’t give what they have never received, and these moms needed to be loved themselves.

God understands that too.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,

    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?

Even these may forget,

    yet I will not forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)

None of us were parented perfectly. Even the most outstanding mother in the world has moments when her own deficits get in the way. That’s when Abba–Daddy-Father God, our Mother, can fill in. The Bible speaks of his gentle nurturing motherliness –something beyond gender.

For thus says the Lord:

“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,

    and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;

and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,

    and bounced upon her knees.

As one whom his mother comforts,

    so I will comfort you;

    you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;

     your bones shall flourish like the grass;

and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants,

    and he shall show his indignation against his enemies. (Isaiah 66: 12-14)

More than a foster parent he adopts us and makes us full heirs. This is why I love adoption. It is a picture of being chosen and of lives redeemed by a perfect parent –without age limit.

Sometimes he also uses someone else with skin on to be an agent of this grace.

Paul wrote: For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness.   Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.  (1 Thessalonians 23: 5-8)

A few years ago I wrote a hymn for Mother’s Day recognizing God as a mother and thanking him for all the “mothers” –biological, fostering, adopting, step-parenting, hosting, caring and mentoring (regardless of gender) he has put in our lives who have nurtured us in some way.

As a Mother

As a mother, on whose bosom,

rests a child in total trust,

so, oh Lord, You love and comfort

‘til our earth-bound fears are hushed.

As a mother guides and teaches

little children to obey

so, oh Lord, you firmly tell us,

“Listen child to what I say.”

As a mother waits with weeping

for a child who’s gone astray,

so, oh Lord, You wait with longing

‘til we find our homeward way.

As a mother who rejoices

when her child says, “I love you,”

so, oh Lord, Your heart rejoices

when we sing, “We love You too.”

We, your children, come before You

to give honour and to praise.

Thank you for the precious “mothers”

who have shown Your loving ways.

Help us, Lord, to love and nurture

those entrusted to our care,

‘til as one united family

we will live together there.

(suggested tune setting: The Welsh folksong, “Suo-Gan” )

God is good.