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 who God 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.

Thank You!

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Today is the second anniversary of the day I was afraid I might not see another glorious autumn in the Kootenays. On that day surgeons removed a malignant tumour from my abdomen. It has not returned.

I’m still here.

I’m still rejoicing.

I’m still learning about confident trust.

I’m still changing.

God is still magnificent!

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Behold—God is my salvation!
I am confident, unafraid, and I will trust in you.”
Yes! The Lord Yah is my might and my melody;
he has become my salvation!
 
With triumphant joy you will drink deeply
from the wells of salvation.
 
In that glorious day, you will say to one another,
“Give thanks to the Lord and ask him for more!
Tell the world about all that he does!
Let them know how magnificent he is!”

(Isaiah 12:2-4 The Passion Translation)

 

Note to Self

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Someone sent a note. I love notes. She noticed I haven’t written much lately and was concerned for my health.

Thank you for asking. I have some health challenges, but not enough to keep me away from the keyboard. I haven’t posted as regularly as usual because, well, I needed to stop talking, hit delete, and go listen to people I care about – to good friends, to not-so-good friends, to strangers, and even to my own heart. I especially needed to take time to listen to the Holy Spirit. I still do.

It’s been a noisy time. I hear fear. So much fear. I hear anger. This kind of anger is not aimed just at the people in authority in government. This kind of anger has roots tangled with other roots of offense that go deep. These roots, extending for miles, connect with many disappointments in people and institutions we trusted. They extend so far back into the faded past, many are not sure where it all started.

I found myself swept along by the mob, demanding justice and payback for the sins of people who were themselves demanding retribution for the dishonour dumped on them – for years. I was also not-so-secretly cheering at the public revelation of moral failures on their side.

I was about to enjoy tossing off a good rant, when one of my own older blog posts popped up and arrested my attention. It was about the importance of waiting on God for wisdom and discernment and asking better questions. (You can find it here.)

In a dream, an exasperated voice asked me if I even read the stuff I write. Oh dear. It seemed like a good time to go back and read some sermons to self. I realized that wisdom and discernment are getting lost under a stack of my personal opinions and offended reactions. Note to self: Pay attention. Prioritize.

I also listened to a friend who suggested looking at a well-known story about Jesus differently. A group of men dragged a woman, caught in the act of adultery, before Jesus. It wasn’t about the woman. They didn’t care about her. They wanted to trap Jesus into doing or saying something politically inexpedient. It was a set-up to catch him making a self-contradicting statement. Not an unfamiliar scenario these days.

The mob raged. Jesus said nothing. Instead, he stooped and wrote something in the dirt.

Many people have speculated about what he wrote. If it was important, I’m sure it would have been included in the narrative, but that hasn’t stopped me from speculating too.

“What if,” my friend asked, pausing in a way that gave weight to what he was about to say next, “What if Jesus was just doodling?”

“Doodling?”

“Doodling. You know, drawing sheep with silly grins or maybe writing a Latin lesson. “Amo, amas, I loved a lass…”

“I doubt that. Your point?”

“What if the point of writing in the dirt was to break the momentum of the mob? Have you noticed that mob mentality provokes you to throw decorum aside and say or do things that, given the opportunity to think about it, you realize would probably embarrass you later?”

“Are you saying that when people stopped shouting and leaned in to see what he was doing, he gave them time to think independently?”

“Well, when he gave the ones who had never sinned the opportunity to cast the first stone, he hinted that maybe they should examine their own hearts for impulsive, rebellious, evil, or just plain stupid decisions they have also made.”

“I think I see,” I said. “And when the momentum was broken, when they stopped running with the mob, they could think about their actions.”

“He told the woman not to sin again,” my friend said, “so he wasn’t affirming her choice. But she wasn’t the one who asked the question. She wasn’t making demands on him with a disingenuous motive.”

Note to self: Don’t let the mob think for you.

It’s election season in my country. ‘Tis the season for striving for positions of power and, by virtue signalling or opponent bashing, divide the population into cheerleading teams for a winner-takes-all verbal battle.

Integrity seems to have vanished in the dust-up.

The questions behind the question of whose team to root for are probably more important than we realize. Why are we afraid? Where did the anger come from? What happened to hope, to trust, to goodness, to love? Why do we put our trust in mere mortal, obviously fallible “kings” to save us?

No. I’m sorry. Not we… I.

I have to stop the ranting and examine my own heart. Why am I afraid? Why am I angry? When did I lose trust? Who am I expecting to be my saviour?

My country needs good, faithful competent administrators who will put the needs of its people ahead of their own. Integrity matters. Character matters. Trust matters. I have a responsibility to pray for discernment and vote wisely. But I don’t need a father or mother figure, or a pope or a guru, or an indulgent Santa Claus or any other idol. I already have a God. My hope is in him.

I’m going to stop talking now and go for a walk. It’s time to seek the Lord.

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Resting in Greatness

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Ever lift Thy face upon me

As I work and wait for Thee;

Resting ‘neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus,

Earth’s dark shadows flee.

Brightness of my Father’s glory,

Sunshine of my Father’s face,

Keep me ever trusting, resting,

Fill me with Thy grace.

 

Jesus, I am resting, resting

In the joy of what Thou art;

I am finding out the greatness 

Of Thy loving heart.

 

(From Jesus, I am Resting by Jean Sophia Pigott. 1845 -1882)

All the Way

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I held the hand of an elderly friend after she learned her disease was in the final stages. She asked me to sing for her.

“What would you like me to sing?” I asked.

All the Way My Saviour Leads Me,” she answered, without hesitation. I sang.

All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

After the second verse she said, “It’s true, you know.”
She smiled. “Sing that verse again.”
I did.

All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread,
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living Bread.
Though my weary steps may falter
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see;
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.

As I looked through a cache of photos I took of a winding country road near Turner Valley, Alberta a little while ago, I thought of her. It wasn’t until her home-going celebration that I included the last verse. With tears rolling down my cheeks I sang:

All the way my Savior leads me,
Oh, the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way;
This my song through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way.

It was as if all nature was proclaiming with her, “It’s true, you know.”

 

All the Way My Saviour Leads Me, lyrics by Fanny Crosby