An Undivided Spirit

At times I feel like I am slipping away from myself, as if my own life is a fistful of sand. My thoughts race a hundred miles an hour. I feel pulled in so many different directions, spread so thin, and the world around me is spinning like a chaotic vortex. So many things clamor for my attention. Tests, papers, presentations, bills to be paid, grad school applications looming over my head, unread text messages demanding a response. What is most important? Where do I begin?

Centering prayer makes a fool of me, highlighting my inability to be calm. If the noise is loud, the silence is deafening. For four minutes I battle anxious thoughts on top of anxious thoughts. As soon as I think I am still, I realize that somewhere deep inside I am mentally chastising myself for my inability to be still. I never knew there could be so many layers of subconscious thought. How can I possibly invite Jesus into a spirit that is so divided?

The answer is both profoundly simple, and profoundly difficult.

I can’t.

I cannot invite Jesus into a divided spirit. There is no room for Him there.

Rather, I must enter His Spirit. I must stop what I am doing and find in myself a unified spirit to meet with Jesus. I must focus my will to be caught up in His purpose, and there find my own. And so I must reclaim the scattered pieces of my heart and bring them to Him to be made whole.

School, you have no hold on my heart. You must give it back.

Friends, I cannot love you well by giving you only a piece of my heart. I must have it whole.

Money, you are not worthy of my stress. I reclaim my heart from you.

“Come to me,” He invites. “Leave it behind. Being with Me is so much simpler.”

He smiles knowingly and takes my hand as He continues. “You see, the Kingdom isn’t about all these things. It’s physically impossible to pursue more than one thing. Your spirit is supposed to keep you grounded, but when your very core is being pulled apart…” He shakes His head. “No wonder you can’t breathe. You can’t be fully present if you’re focused on more than one Love. Come with Me, and you’ll find everything you’re looking for without searching.”

I grasp His hand a little tighter as we leave chaos and walk towards clarity. It’s time to leave the rest behind and seek first the Kingdom.

And if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of me attributing words to Jesus, don’t worry, it’s all found in Matthew 11:28-29 and 5:19-34.

At this point, I would strongly encourage you to STOP READING THIS POST, unless you have the time to work through the rest of it as a devotional, as it requires your spiritual participation. It will be meaningless if skimmed, so come back to it when you do have time.

So pause to read those Scriptures right now and underline the words or phrases that stand out to you. Read it again slowly, out loud, focusing on those underlined words. What is Jesus telling you? Pray through the text. Then continue to read below.

Soren Kierkegaard writes, “The person who wills one thing that is not the Good, he does not truly will one thing. It is a delusion, an illusion, a deception…A person who wills [a multitude of things] is not only double-minded but is at odds with himself….In truth to will one thing, then, can only mean to will the Good, because every other object is not a unity.”

And of loving others he writes, “The one who truly loves…does not use a part of his love, and then again another part. To change his love into small coins is not to use it rightly. No, he loves with all his love. It is away as a whole, and yet he keeps it intact as a whole, in his heart…. When the lover gives away his whole love, he keeps it entire — in the purity of the heart.”

Therefore, to give away our heart to any cause in any capacity, it must be whole within us. This is why we cannot invite Jesus into a divided spirit. We must come to Him, sick of our own internal division, wanting to be one within ourselves, and one with Him. And if we desire to be made whole, He must have everything we are. Seek Christ alone, and you will find simplicity.

On a retreat with my church’s college group this past weekend, our college minister led us through a guided meditation by Anthony DeMello, which I will share with you below. I encourage you to take the time to read it slowly, dwell on it, pray through it, savor the images it calls to mind, and examine your own emotional response to the exercise.

“God says, ‘Give me your heart.’

And then, in answer to my puzzlement, I hear Him say, ‘Your heart is where your treasure is.’

My treasures — here they are:

Persons. Places. Occupations. Things.

Experiences of the past.

The future’s hopes and dreams.

I pick each treasure up, say something to it, and place it in the presence of the Lord.

How shall I give these treasures to Him?

In the measure that my heart is in past treasures I am fossilized and dead, for life is only in the present.

So to each of these past treasures, those golden yesterdays, I say goodbye.

To each I speak, explaining that, grateful though I am that it came into my life, it must move out — or my heart will never learn to live in the present.

My heart is in the future too. Its anxious fears of what will be tomorrow leave little energy to fully live what is today. I list these fears and say to each, ‘Let the will of God be done,’ observing what effect this has on me, knowing in my heart that God can only will my good.

My heart is in my dreams, ideals, hopes, which make me live in future fiction. To each of these I say, ‘Let the will of God be done, let Him dispose of you as He sees fit.’

Having reclaimed the portion of my heart that was captured by the future and the past, I now survey my present treasures.

To each beloved person I say with tenderness, ‘You are so precious to me, but you are not my life. I have a life to live, a destiny to meet, that is separate from you.’

I say to places…things…I am attached to, ‘Precious you are, but you are not my life. My life and destiny are separate from you.’

I say this to the things that seem to constitute my very being:

My health, my ideologies, my good name, reputation, and I say it even to my life, which must succumb some day to death,

‘You are desirable and precious, but you are not my life. My life and my destiny are separate from you.’

And at last I stand alone before the Lord.

To Him I give my heart.

I say, ‘You, Lord, are my life. You are my destiny.'”

–Anthony DeMello, Wellsprings

Faith and Worry

This kid has a theological pet peeve.

Actually, I have more like a million.  But tonight I will bring one of them to your attention.  Typically, I can’t handle cute Christianese phrases.  I shudder every time I pass a church sign that says “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.”  It’s like fingernails on a chalk board.  Homonyms are tacky.  Rhymes are possibly even worse.  And there is little to no theological depth behind any of these little maxims.

As such, one of my least favorite phrases is “Too blessed to be stressed.”  Even worse is its evil cousin, “Too anointed to be disappointed.”  Three-syllable rhymes are even more unacceptable than one-syllable rhymes, and the theology here is crushingly bad.  There’s no other word for it.  Just bad.

For one thing, it’s horrendously smug.  When you paste on a self-satisfied smile and tell a struggling person, “I’m too blessed to be stressed!”, it sends the following message: I am a super-Christian. You are ungrateful and have no faith.

Disappointment in this life is a very real obstacle, regardless of how “anointed” you may be.  But when you say that you’re above stress and worry because you have superior faith in Jesus, it makes a very normal person feel very alone in their struggles.  Now in addition to the cloud of worry hanging over their head, which is probably very legitimate and justifiable, they have a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach and the nagging thought, “I’m not a real Christian.”

When we don’t allow people to feel their feelings, we lose a vital sense of transparency — and thus, community.  Honest communication shuts down, and we get the fake little plastic smiles as we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to make ourselves super-Christians — happy little robots who are too anointed to be disappointed.  And somewhere in the midst of all this pretending, we lose the entire point of the gospel.

You see, Jesus didn’t come so that we would never experience these negative emotions, but so that we would have hope in the midst of them.

I have heard people before use Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34 as a strict command, as if a dark and angry Jesus is towering over us gravely shaking his finger in our faces and saying ominously, “Stop worrying! That’s what the pagans do.”  I have heard people reason, “Worry signifies a lack of faith…worry is a sin!”

It was a cool concept.  It made sense to me.  I eagerly jumped on the bandwagon and quickly agreed, “Yeah! Worry is a sin!”  Whenever I worried, I would slap myself around a little bit and anxiously repent, “God! I’m sorry! I’ll do better!”  And I would shove the worry into a closet and slam the door and paste on a fake smile, hoping that all that worry wouldn’t build up and come bursting out in a panic attack.  What kind of witness would that be?  What would that say about my faith?  I would be an ungrateful, un-anointed un-Christian, that’s what.

But then one day I saw Jesus’ words in a new light.  I saw a gentle, loving Jesus stooping down and tenderly cupping my face in his hand, saying in a soft voice, “Don’t worry, beloved.  I have it taken care of.”

At this point in my life, I truly do not believe that faith and worry stand in opposition to one another.  Rather, I see worry as a chance to exercise faith.  I do not believe stress to be a sin.  If you’re insistent on viewing it in a negative light, you could see it as a temptation.  But instead, I choose to see it as an opportunity: not to shove it in a closet or pretend it isn’t there, not to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and be a super-Christian, but to snuggle into the arms of the Savior and childishly, trustingly tell Him that you need help.

I’ve mentioned in another post, Dear Grace, that sin is less about doing something wrong than it is about a state of separation from God.  I’m open to correction, but this is the way I see it.  Jesus didn’t die because you parked illegally in a handicapped spot; He died to bridge the gap between God and humanity, to draw you back to Himself.  Following this logic, I would consider it more destructive to our relationship with God to pretend we’re fine when we’re not, than to allow ourselves to struggle.

The point of the gospel isn’t to ignore our brokenness; the point is to address it.  Salvation isn’t about denying our humanity; it’s about surrendering it to Jesus.  Don’t put Jesus off until you’ve got your act together; your messed-up-ness is the entire reason you need Him.

Don’t put contempt or condemnation behind words that are meant to be comforting and reassuring.  You don’t have to shoulder the burden with all the bravado of Superman.  There’s another way:

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Ruled By Peace

About a month ago, on choir Sunday, I was eating breakfast in the consecration room between worship services and talking with one of the guitar players.  As we got to know each other, he said something that surprised me and really made me think.  Before he met Christ, he said, he was into playing heavy metal, but he gave it up because he felt like it was no longer compatible with his faith.  I asked why that was; couldn’t he begin writing songs with a positive message instead and reach out to the same demographic as before?  He shook his head. “Christian music is an entirely different genre altogether.  I don’t like it when artists take a worldly genre and try to slap a Christian label on it.  You see, even if I were to give Christian lyrics to my music, heavy metal is not Christian.  It’s angry music.  Not peaceful music.”

This idea intrigued me, but I didn’t think too much about it again until recently when I came across a couple of passages in Colossians and Ephesians.  I encourage you to read the whole section to better appreciate the context, but I will paraphrase below:

Colossians 3:5-15.  Rid yourself of anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language, because you have taken off your old self with its practices and put on the new self.  As God’s chosen people, clothe yourselves instead with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

Ephesians 4:22-5:21. Put off your old self and be made new in the attitude of your minds.  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger. Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

When I read that, I started thinking about it in big picture terms.  What characterizes a life of peace?  Let me add a little disclaimer that I don’t get offended or “judge” people who drink or swear.  Because honestly, when looking at these concepts, using euphemisms for swear words means the same thing; and I don’t think alcohol is necessarily wrong, but I think it can be, just like comforting yourself by overeating or numbing yourself by — I don’t know, compulsive shopping, or whatever it is you depend on instead of allowing yourself to be filled with the Spirit.

It’s not a matter of doing something wrong, but of having the wrong mindset.  Thinking about it in terms of what my guitarist friend said, I realized that the reason Paul condemns “filthy language” and “unwholesome talk” is because profanity is a language of anger, not of peace.  The same goes for yelling any kind of euphemism in anger.  It’s not the swearing that shouldn’t be there; it’s the attitude.  Likewise, he speaks against drunkenness because it often leads to debauchery.  We all know how the crazy parties go: blaring music, strangers hooking up with strangers, people puking all over the floor.  Later, it turns into hangovers and unproductivity.  At best, it’s an artificial way to relieve stress other than allowing the calming peace of the Spirit to rule your heart.  At worst, it’s disorder and confusion — not the fruit of the Spirit or the outward expression of His reign.

Those of you who think you’re golden because you don’t drink or curse, don’t consider yourself exempt from this.  Look a little deeper into your heart.  What are you ruled by?  Do you show evidence of the Spirit’s presence?  Or do you freak out when you’re late for work, or when your kids track in mud, or when anything else goes the slightest bit wrong that you can’t control?  Do you choose stress and anger?  Or do you choose peace?

The other day, I came across this post by Joanne Kraft that neatly tied up the package of my wandering thoughts and put a bow on top.  You can read it here. In the post, she talks about how her home and family have always been surrendered to the Spirit, and people can literally feel His presence in the place that they have dedicated to Christ’s rule.  I teared up as I read it, remembering how every week that I worked at Deer Run, on Sunday afternoons before the kids came, I would walk around my cabin touching every bed frame and praying over the cabin, asking God to bless it as a safe space and inviting His peace to rule there.

And thinking through all of these things, I want to live a life of peace wherever I go and wherever I settle down.  I want to create a home where, in the midst of the chaos and disorder of this broken world, broken people can tangibly experience the spiritual rest and calm that Christ offers.  A home where no voices are raised in anger, where stress is cast away and confusion has no place.  A home that is ruled by peace.

Rest.

cats tend to not have a problem overworking themselves.

A couple of Sundays ago, Pastor Don Finto spoke about the Sabbath rest and how important it is that we don’t burn ourselves out. God multiplies the fruit of our work if we’re trusting in Him to provide, but He doesn’t bless self-imposed exhaustion.

I kind of ignored it. I mean, how am I supposed to do something about that when I have an overwhelming work load that I have to get done? I thought about this briefly this past weekend, but ended up at the conclusion: Okay, I can take Sunday as a day of rest, but if I do that, I’ll have to pull an all-nighter Saturday night, so what’s the point really?

And God did not bless that attitude. In fact, He seemed to respond with, “If you won’t rest, I’m going to MAKE you rest.” I had to take a brief nap Sunday evening, intending to sleep for about 20 minutes, but I set my alarm wrong and ended up sleeping for over an hour. Then on Monday the silliest thing happened to me. I thought I was perfectly fine, but for some reason when I got to Greek class, I just started to cry. There was only one other person in the room, so I quickly wiped my eyes and thought, “Okay, I can pull this together in the next 2 minutes before everybody else gets here.” WRONG. The tears just kept coming. And kept coming. By this point, the professor as well as several other students had come in and I knew it wasn’t going to stop. So I got up, tears rolling down my cheeks, handed in my homework, said “I can’t stay,” and walked out. I have NEVER done that before. So I walked back to my dorm and sat in my bed for the rest of the class period resting and literally just trying to breathe and not have a panic attack.

A couple hours later, I went to Starbucks to get some hot chocolate and tackle this speech manuscript, where I ran into my lovely sis Lauren King. We talked about how we’re so stressed and so behind and both of us had been on the verge of tears all day. She said, “We weren’t made to do everything we’re trying to make ourselves do.”

She’s right.

So was Pastor Don.

And God knew what He was doing when He commanded His people to rest.

And I keep ignoring it.

And He keeps sending me little reminders.

Because today in youth ministry class, our guest speaker was talking about the importance of keeping yourself spiritually nourished by taking a non-negotiable day off once a week. We’ve talked about that before, but I always think of it in future terms, like, “When I’m a youth minister I’ll take a day off.” But this time, our guest speaker added, “And that’s a habit that you need to start now, because it’s not going to get any easier when you’re in ministry and juggling family responsibilities.”

best book ever

Sooooo…for the first time ever, I’m taking the step of faith NOT to do ANY homework on Sunday. I have a quiz and a presentation on Tuesday that I’m afraid I won’t have enough time to prepare for…but I’m trusting that if I finally give this over to God, He will bless my work on Monday. It’s not that it’s a sin to work on Sunday, but for me, it’s become a struggle for control, and I don’t have enough faith to let go of it. So I’m posting this and making it public to keep myself accountable to actually do it.

Even the thought of doing nothing at all stresses me out…what will I do with myself? Answer: enter the presence of God. Turn my phone off. Listen to some chill Christian music and reread my favorite book to renew me spiritually. Take a nap. Journal. Just be alone with Him.

Published in: on November 9, 2012 at 1:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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Week 5: The Breaking Point

Around week 3, people started asking, “Have you hit your wall yet?” I would give them a huge smile and say, “Wall? What wall? What’s a wall?”

Week 5 was when I discovered…THE WALL. For the first half of the week, it was like I couldn’t go any further. I was constantly on edge. Everything irritated me. I couldn’t stand for people to touch me. I always felt like I was about to scream at someone or something. My jr. staffer was a shy 14-year-old that everyone mistook as a camper, who sort of followed my group around like a lost puppy. The only time he gave any indication of being alive was when my boys would deliberately do something I had told them not to do, at which he would laugh and high-5 them.

Here are some snippets from my journal at the end of day 2: “I’m getting impatient with people.” “I feel myself getting tense and shutting people out because I’m overwhelmed.” “I want to scream.”  “Why are my nerves so on edge lately?” “I just want to scream.”

I found myself reverting back to my defense mechanism of blocking everyone else out and trying to be in control and deal with things on my own. One night I had a good long talk with Kendall and Nasser where they got to see the less-than-together side of me. You see, I don’t mind people seeing the broken and imperfect parts of me, as long as I make the choice to show them. But this was unintentional and pretty much just embarrassing. Kendall said he’d noticed that I had some sort of “sophisticated and cleverly disguised defense mechanism” that I was putting up to block everyone out. So I was sitting there at the picnic table rambling on about things that have happened in my past to explain why I was putting these walls up, and then feeling awkward and trying to apologize and amend the situation while just digging the hole deeper, and I finally concluded awkwardly, “I don’t know why I’m even bringing this up. I let go of this a long time ago, and I thought this part of me was gone.” Kendall responded insightfully, “I think you’ve chopped down the tree, but you haven’t let God into the most sensitive areas of your life to dig up the roots.” What he said really resonated with me, but honestly what made the biggest difference was just that he and Nasser were so accepting of me even when they saw a vulnerable and insecure part of me that even I didn’t want to accept.

No, my week did not magically become amazing because of that. But it was a growing experience, and I learned more about working through my emotions instead of pretending like they weren’t there. Because Nasser and Kendall saw me as important enough to validate my feelings, no matter how complicated or misguided, I realized that it’s okay to give voice to my own feelings and accept my own weakness. And that ended up being one of the major life lessons I learned this summer.

On Wednesday afternoon I was in charge of extended care, and while the kids were playing volleyball, one of the kid’s moms and I sat on the ground talking and watching one of the little girls make a sand castle. I had met her briefly earlier in the week — her son had this super awesome cookie monster shirt that said “Keep calm and eat cookies”, and I kind of fell in love with it, which she thought was funny. So we were just sitting there talking about life and camp and relationships, and it was so great just to have a real conversation after another difficult day. On Friday after closing celebration when all of the parents came to pick up their kids, she came to find me and gave me a hug and a small gift bag. When I opened it later, there was a “keep calm and eat cookies” shirt and a sweet encouraging note.

As for kid stories, well, I guess the week was fairly uneventful. I did have this obnoxious little punk named Jake who was quite the handful, and who totally stole my heart for some reason that I can’t explain. But it was one of those weeks that I guess I had to have to complete my camp experience. God had a reason for each of these 8 weeks, and the lessons that He taught me in the brokenness of week 5 just prepared my heart for the incredible things He had planned for week 6. Tune in next time for youth camp and the Navy Babies!

Published in: on August 10, 2012 at 12:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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