I can’t stop thinking about this image I’ve seen floating around Pinterest.
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Sometimes it seems it’s sin that separates us from the presence of God (Micah 3:4), but other times we just need to rest to hear Truth.
“And He commanded them all to…sit down on green grass” (before He fed them)Mark 6:39
“He makes me lie down in green pastures…” Psalm 23:2
“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27
And then there’s also this…
“Union with God is not something we acquire by a technique but the grounding truth of our lives that engenders the very search of God. Because God is the ground of our being, the relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible.
God does not know how to be absent.
The fact that most of us experience throughout most of our lives a sense of absence or distance from God is the great illusion that we are caught up in; it is the human condition.”
Wise words from Martin Laird (Into the Silent Land, p. 15)
“There is some One unseen, just here within reach. But somehow we don’t realize His presence. Realizing is blessed, but–rare. It belongs to the mood, to the feelings. It is dependent on weather conditions and bodily conditions. The rain, the heavy fog outside, the poor sleep, the twinging pain, these make one’s mood so much, they seem to blur out the realizing. But there is something a little higher up than realizing. It is yet more blessed. It is independent of these outer conditions, it is something that abides.
It is this: recognizing that Presence unseen, so wondrous and quieting, so soothing and calming and warming. Recognize His presence–the Master’s own. He is here, close by; His presence is real. Recognizing will help realizing, too, but it never depends on it. Aye, more, immensely more, the Truth is a Presence, not a thing, a fact, a statement. Some One is present, a warm-hearted Friend, an all-powerful Lord. And this is the joyful truth for weeping hearts everywhere, whatever be the hand that has drawn the tears; by whatever stream it be that your weeping willow is planted.” –S. D. Gordon (Streams in the Desert, Sept. 6)
The thirtieth year is upon me and I have been reflecting over the last decade. It has been one of becoming and learning. I wish I could go back to that naive girl and give her these bits of advice to help her navigate the process of figuring where and how she fits into this time and space.
1. The Lord will be the most faithful, consistent part in your life. He will sustain you through heart break, change, and loss. And even when it feels like He isn’t there, He is.
“Union with God is not something we acquire by a technique but the grounding truth of our lives that engenders the very search of God. Because He is the ground of our being, the relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent. The fact that most of us experience throughout most of our lives a sense of absence or distance from God is the great illusion that we are caught up in; this is the human condition.” Martin Laird from “Into the Silent Land”
2. You have value. You are not defined by bad decisions but as God’s own. And though the gifts you have been given are to be used for Him, you will mess up and be selfish and indulgent. Repent, rest in the fact you are covered by grace, and move on. You do not need to try and prove yourself…just carry on. This guilt is pride and a life of pride (whether in ego or self-deprecation) is really no life at all.
3. Serve others. This is one of the most important ways to utilize the inherent value you possess and most powerful way to maintain perspective. It will also feed that hunger that tells you, “there’s more to life than this”.
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” -Mother Teresa
4. Be brave and live intentionally. Meg Jay, clinical psychologist specializing in 20-somethings says it best when she describes the 20’s as a “developmental sweet spot” in which the “seeds of marriage, family, and career are planted.” Intentionally decide how to spend your free time, what to read, what music to listen to, and carefully pursue your passions. This also includes the folks with whom you spend your free time because, over time they will impact who you are developing into–you either choose that influence or it will be decided for you through your complacency.
““Thomas Merton wrote, “There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.”
There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end.” -Annie Dillard
5. Marry for love. Yes, there are other things to consider when marrying: like-mindedness on spiritual issues, child-rearing, and life goals, and I’m certainly not minimizing the undeniable importance of those things. But be sure not to intellectualize love too much. When your baby is a week old, you haven’t slept, and you smell of sour milk (when WAS the last time you showered, anyway?), you want to look across the room at a man who’s looking back at you with love.
6. Logic is not superior to emotion. A life lived in black and white is dull. While rules and facts are crucial, also consider the value of emotions and what they add to life. Consistently trying to purge yourself of emotion will undoubtedly make you a cynic. When there is hurt and it seems easier to drown yourself in logic, hurry to your piano or guitar and play. Music will always be a faithful outlet. And baking.
7. Think intentionally. Reflecting is one of the most important skills you will learn over the next 10 years. Make time for it. Spend time in nature and in the early mornings. Memorize scripture, read good books, listen to quality music, and collect quotes that speak to you deeply. When you run aground, these things will bring you back out into the deeps.
“Chaste be your mind and your body, and both in subjection, obediently steadfastly seeking the aim set before them; only through discipline may a man learn to be free.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
8. Life is dynamic. Yes, change is uncomfortable and you’re naturally inclined to resist but if you’re not changing, you’re not growing.
“Change is the essential process of all existence.” -Spock
9. Pray. Listen to the inner voice telling you that prayer can be deeper than you know it to be. It will be a source of peace and meaning. Explore it, research it, and try to understand the different methods that have been passed down from our Christian fathers.
“The Holy Spirit himself preaches here (in our prayers), and one word of his sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers. Many times I have learned more from one prayer than I might have learned from much reading and speculation.” -Martin Luther
10. “Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly.” Annie Dillard
The other day I found pentagon-shaped cloth tiles from over a year ago. These tiles reminded me of one of the most profound lessons I’ve learned during my time as a mama: be who you are.
Those pentagon-shaped tiles I found were for this wonderful ball I was going to make my baby. Since newborns sleep all the time, I was told I would have lots of free time (hah) and, doesn’t a good mother makes toys for her baby?
You see, before I had E, I had all sorts of rules.
I knew how I would discipline, feed, structure our day, what kind of toys he would play with, what kind of clothes he would wear, and the list goes on. Surrounded by women having babies at the same time, I felt even more pressure to perform correctly. And then I had my sweet boy. I quickly discovered that I don’t have time, I make time. Everything is a sacrifice. And, to make that pentagon ball, I would have to sacrifice other things I loved, like reading, cuddling, or baking.
It took a while but I eventually threw away my mommy-rules and just tried to be me. I’m not the mama that makes all of her baby’s toys. I’m not the mama who dresses her son in cute clothes all the time, in fact you’ll probably see some sort of food on his face most of the time. I’m not the mama who takes her toddler to all sorts of playgroups and other structured events. I’m not the mama who closely abides to one parenting style. Those things are not necessarily bad, they just are not me.All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12 NASV
I want to be the mama who has time. We spend our days cooking, playing instruments, singing, spending time with just a couple people, exploring the outdoors, and reading books. I’m not the sort of mama who is willing to sacrifice the things I love for the mommy-rules; those rules play into my pride and sacrifice my poor boy.
I cannot tell you that I have arrived–I will still look at other moms and sometimes wish I always looked beautiful or that I had used some other parenting technique that is apparently working for them. And admittedly, I have received a lot of criticism for my approach to motherhood. However, if I’m striving to remain submissive to the prompting of the Spirit and I’m primarily concerned about my boy’s soul, the “rules” are really just optional and certainly not worth the sacrifice.
“Put out into the deep water.” (Luke 5:4)
“The Lord did not say how deep. The depth of the water into which we sail depends upon how completely we have cut our ties to the shore, the greatness of our need, and our anxieties about the future. Yet the fish were to be found in the deep, not the shallow, water.” (Streams in the Desert, Feb 29)
Lent was such a time–when the ropes that lassoed me to the docks had been cut, I saw my need and rushed into the deep. No hesitation. And the deeps brought contentment and peace. I found myself treading water as though it was what I was created to do
Lent then led to the joyous Easter season. Yet despite this victory (that of the resurrection) and my beloved deeps, I found myself rushing back to the shallow waters, unable to remain in the deep for the burden I bore, and barnacled to the dock. I pondered the cause of the burden: far-away family members, conflict among friends? But those existed during Lent and were not weighty. Searching for a way back out, I set up structured prayer time, got up before the sun rose in devotion–and still I found myself wrapped around the dock, as though it was my savior. This yoke was neither easy or light.
Upon expressing these sentiments to a friend, she suggested I read poetry. Poetry eventually led me to my old stand-by: “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”. Sometimes when I look to the Lord through the same lens, day after day, the glass gets foggy and I grow blind to the striking beauty of Truth. I forget it is beauty that points back to my real and true Savior, not my own strivings.
“But I can’t go out and try to see this way. I’ll fail, I’ll go mad. All I can do is try to gag the commentator, to hush the noise of useless interior babble that keeps me from seeing just as surely as a newspaper dangled before my eyes.” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 32)
Lest it sound like I’m discounting spiritual disciplines, rest assured I’m not. I’m simply saying that sometimes to see Truth, we must hunt for beauty and this beauty will lead us to Truth.
Unhinging myself from the splintering dock, I push off into the deeps. And it’s beautiful.“This ordinary time is gifted in its quiet, marked passing Christ slips about calling and baptizing, sending and affirming, pouring his Spirit like water into broken cisterns, sealing cracks and filtering our senses, that we may savor the foolish simplicity of his grace.” (Passing Ordinary Time, Enuma Okoro from At the Still Point ed. Sarah Arthur)
For Lent this year, my primary focus was prayer. At the start of the season, I ran across this quote and it rang so true:“When I go aside in order to pray, I find my heart unwilling to approach God; and when I tarry in prayer my heart is unwilling to abide in Him. Therefore, I am compelled first to go pray to God to move my heart into Himself, and when I am in Him, I pray that my heart remain in Him.” -John Bunyan
The Lord graciously revealed these tools to help move through my unwilling heart.
Always very curious about a rosary, it’s function, and why people are so attached to them, I made my own (instructions here). Not bound by any rules, I decided to pray the following verses for each of the beads:
The Cross: The Lord’s PrayerInvitatory Bead: Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer. Cruciform Beads: Psalm 25:4-5 Make me know Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; For You I wait all the day. The Weeks: Psalm 103:1 Bless the LORD, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
I sought to say the verses while meditating on them– when I found I was reciting robotically, I would return to the last bead remembered and continue from there. Admittedly, sometimes it would take a while just to get through the Lord’s Prayer, especially at the beginning when my mind was so undisciplined. Sometimes it would take 2 times through to slow my mind enough to pray. The most profound moments in prayer occurred with this tool…not because of what it is but of what it required of my mind. Furthermore, praying the verses above taught Scripture prayer in a deeper way, making quite an impact on less-structured prayers throughout the day.
Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions
This book served a similar function as the rosary: helping focus my mind. The Old English cannot simply be scanned but each word must be read. Also, the prayers reach right to the clouded heart, exposing doubt, self-righteousness, and pride. With those laid bare, praying seemed to flow. Flowing prayer was a totally new experience for me. Additionally, with the heart transparent, I was removed from the same rote words and phrases I tend to use and was brought into a place of more meaningful prayers. For example, a section of the Morning prayer read:“O ever watchful Shepherd, lead, guide, tend me this day; Without thy restraining rod I err and stray; Hedge up my path lest I wander into unwholesome pleasure and drink its poisonous streams…”
Immediately, it was impressed on me (on a deeper level) that He is the shepherd of my mind/heart. Turning to and quickly devouring Psalm 23, it read in a way I had never known it, though I had memorized it years ago. Like someone opened a window and a warm, refreshing breeze blew in, transporting me out of the stale room I sat. Beautiful.
During Lent, I read The Quotidian Mysteries (a wonderful read!) and this quote stirred my mind:
“Each day brings with it the necessity of renewal of our love of and in God.”
With the idea of manna as the Bread of Life (and my daily necessity), I looked up various related verses and logged them in a word web structure. In the mornings, this sheet would help clear the groggy fog, guiding those early prayers.
So very thankful for these tools. This experience in prayer has left me enamored, though I feel like I’m just ankle-deep in the very depths of our God.“O fountain of all good, Destroy in me every loft thought, Break pride to pieces and scatter it to the winds, Annihilate each clinging shred of Self-righteousness, Implant in me true lowliness of spirit, … Thus will my heart be a prepared dwelling For my God; Then can the Father take up his abode in me,…” (from Valley of Vision– prayer The Great God)
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being loved… From the desire of being extolled … From the desire of being honored … From the desire of being praised … From the desire of being preferred to others… From the desire of being consulted … From the desire of being approved … From the fear of being humiliated … From the fear of being despised… From the fear of suffering rebukes … From the fear of being calumniated … From the fear of being forgotten … From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected … That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. That others may be esteemed more than I … That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease … That others may be chosen and I set aside … That others may be praised and I unnoticed … That others may be preferred to me in everything… That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…
Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930),
Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X