This morning I was reading (for work) an article about suffering for an upcoming issue of the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care (a great resource if you haven't seen it before). In fact, I've been reading a lot about suffering as the entire issue is dedicated to this theme. But something in today's article really impacted me when I read:
"It would appear that nothing is off-limits when it comes to expressing our suffering to God. Yet some sectors of Christianity do, in fact, see some of these expressions—especially those indicating anger at God or doubt regarding his actions—as off limits. Sufferers may respond with guilt when these feelings toward God emerge, or feel cut off from God when these things cannot be expressed directly to God. Their faith may be questioned and their continued suffering seen as a deficit in their Christian maturity." - Liz Hall, "Suffering in God's Presence," Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, forthcoming 2016
I had to read it again: "Sufferers may ... feel cut off from God when these things cannot be expressed directly to God." Essentially, suffering in silence. And how quick our society is to call the victims of abuse of all kinds into the light of community, of not hiding, of expressing their tragedy for healing and accountability of the oppressor. Yet, how often in our Christian communities are we tempted to hold in our anger, confusion, or pain from God? The same article notes that although 40-percent of the Psalms are lament, only 4-percent of Psalms regularly used in Christian churches are lament.
In my own walk with God lament has been like mana (the heavenly food that sustained the Israelites in the Old Testament). I recall distinctly the first intentional time I called out to God in my pain. It was a simple thing that un-corked a well of pain inside me. In my senior year, while walking to sixth period where I was TA for a Bible class, I slipped on spilled water outside the classroom door and landed square on my butt in front of the entire hallway of students making way to their next class. As soon as I hit the concrete floor it was like something inside me shattered and all the pain I had been holding flooded out.
The teacher, the most gentle and compassionate one on campus, rushed to me to make sure I was okay, and once confirmed, let me know I had permission to take as much time as I needed to take care of myself before returning to class. I tear up now even recalling his tenderness. I rushed to the bathroom, cried hard and silently from the embarrassment and all the other emotions that surfaced: pain from a tension filled home life, loneliness, and a lack of hope.
When I returned to the classroom, I sat at the teacher's desk. No papers to grade to distract me. It was a slow TA day. Although the storm inside me had calmed, there were still waves of thoughts and feelings slushing around inside. Almost instinctually I grabbed a tablet from my messenger bag and a pen and began journaling furiously for the first time in my life.
I had kept journals before, the "Dear Diary" type of many pre-teen girls, but this was different. This was raw, and honest, and I later realized a prayer of lament. Though I didn't have words to describe it then, in reflection I realized with each angry, hurt-filled word I felt seen. I felt like God was with me; nodding his head at the unfairness and pain in my words and experiences.
Thirty minutes later the bell rang, class was dismissed, and I felt lighter. I felt heard. The tension at home or the vagueness of my future weren't resolved, but I no longer felt alone.
So today, when I read this article author's words I remembered this incident all those years ago - and how God met me in my lament. How I felt held and loved and so close with God -- perhaps the opposite of what many, maybe you, feel when pain surfaces in your life if you don't feel permission to be completely honest before God.
Maybe today you're sensing God's invitation to share a little more with God in your prayers. Or maybe you feel invited to express your disappointment, anger, or pain with God. Or maybe your invitation is to consider the idea of lament and how it might impact your journey with Jesus.
Wherever God is inviting you, I pray for the courage for us all to live into the life and relationship of grace we have with God through Christ. And may our prayers ever more reflect both the good, the praise-worthy, and the hardship and pain of life.
By Larry Warner of b-ing.org
Are you creative? Before you answer that let me assure you that you are creative – more creative than you can even imagine. You were made to be creative and until others things began to weigh on you – the opinion of others, the need to do it well, comparing yourself with others – you were creative. As a child there is this innate freedom to be creative. They paint, sing, and dance, among other things, with abandonment and an effervescent, contagious joy that can even awaken the dormant creativity within another.
You were created in the image of God and so are like God AND the first and foremost image we have of God is as creator - ergo, you are creative. Sadly though you may no longer be free to be creative. As one grows up they often become shackled by the expectations of others, the perceived need to perform well, fearing what others may think or say about them. You may no longer feel the inner freedom to be creative.
I see this especially played out with others and myself at wedding receptions. If there are children attending, as soon as the music starts, they are out on the dance floor - how can they not be – there is music, laughter, smiling faces. However, many of the adults, unless they can dance, are spectators glued to their seats by their fears rather than just getting out their and shaking their booty. Their God given creativity stifled.
What about you? Is there anything keeping you from realizing and embracing the creativity that is within you? If there is something keeping you back from being creative what would it look like to invite God into that space so together you might be able to be free to create?
Now to those of you who are creative, are you stuck, stifled in your creativity – judgmental of your on work, fearful to venture out of the current comfort of your creative confines and try something new? What would it look like to breakout of the creative box you have made into a safe haven and begin to dream, take chances, try something new? What keeps your creativity from expanding? What would it look like to invite God into that space?
Where do you go from here? I actually do not know but I will tell you what I did - I started dancing at weddings. I still stink as a dancer, my moves are wooden and contained but I am out there and it is fun and freeing. Also, I have found the more I do it the freer I have become to be me in other venues. What would it mean for you to step out on your own dance floor and take a spin – trusting God and the process? If I know God and you have been reading this with openness to the Spirit of God, then I think you already know what your next step is, what dance floor God is inviting you onto. So come on and join me – the music is just starting.
NOTE: When I say you are creative please do not misunderstand me and think this means you will be good as you embrace and free the creativity within you. You may be, but I am not saying you will be. What I am saying is that as you allow your creativity to bubble to the surface it will be life giving, life enriching, it will be a place of connection with God, another form of prayer, it will open you up to yourself, God and others in new ways and it is great fun.
While traveling for Epiphany:Visio a couple of years ago I found myself on a few flights during the worst cold season on the East Coast in years. As a result I had the privilege of flying through several storms. It was the best! ... said no one ever.
During one particularly gloomy, but calm, flight I watched as the plane rose up out of the clouds. Suddenly it was sunny and bright and the turbulence calmed. All the stress of flying by standby faded. The sun and smooth flying led me to calm the storm brewing inside me. I ended up drawing the following illustration during that flight.
The missed flights, the tense moments waiting to see if we'd make it on this flight, the weather delays and cancellations all swirled up inside me. They created an internal chaos that mimicked the weather outside. Then, when I took a moment to stop and breathe and notice the sun outside my window, it clicked: I got caught in my circumstances, but the reality of the sun shining down on the earth hadn't changed. The clouds made it difficult to see it's brightness or feel its warmth, but nonetheless it was still there as it had always been.
More and more I experience Jesus like this in my life. I get panicked or anxious; fear questions my choices or path -- but the reality of what God is doing in my life hasn't changed. God is still good; God is still present. God is still with me. And often it takes a few moments of space, calm, and deep breathing to remember these clouds too will pass.
It feels fair to say "I'm in it." I'm deep in the process of making what feel like monumental life choices -- the kind that "adults" make. While I feel capable in the pool of my current context, stepping into these life-altering choices feels like going from the kiddie pool to an olympic sized diving pool. It looks deep and scary and dark. It feels unknown because it is outside my realm of experience.
In this place I've been revisiting my experience in the Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius, the author of the Exercises, has a lot to say about making decisions. He has process for how to compare two good alternatives; rules for when not to back out of a previously made good decision; questions to help you see your own internal process in the decision making; and most importantly, grace to remember God is still with you.
As I've been working through my decision, and reflecting back on these Ignatian principles, I ran across this little gem:
Don't change a good decision made in peace when the waves of fear or anxiety kick up.
What this implies is there is a good chance, even a good decision will evoke some concern, some caution, some doubt. And the Christian saying of, "Make the decision which leads to peace," is -- in this light -- slightly misleading, or only half true. As I'm learning in my own decision process how true it is that a decision made well at the beginning of the process is not bullet proof to distraction, persuasion, or worry.
What I'm learning as I recognize the places these things are surfacing in my own process is that the answer lies not in reacting to the fear, but to wait, to settle down internally, and to re-evaluate. Have I gained new information that would cause me to change my decision? Am I seeing that my initial decision was made in error? Has this turned into a "one-way" decision I can't undo later? If no, then I carry on, continually praying and seeking God's guidance, clarity, and movement of my heart towards his purposes for me and the world.
As I seek God through these questions I return to sensing more clearly which choice feels most like the "drop of water on a sponge," as Ignatius describes a good decision that draws us closer to God will feel calming, rather than like a drop of water on a rock, which describes a decision contrary to God's purposes for us.
Today while browsing the inter-webs for interesting articles and resources I stumbled upon one that just about knocked me over inside. I felt a bit side-swiped, and completely seen at the same time (maybe a little too seen, if I'm being honest).
Read the article here.
In it the author writes things like:
The irony of God's universe is that limitations actually set us free to be the people God created. If all my time and focus goes to becoming someone else I am essentially running on a treadmill rather than on the road. Because saying yes to who God has made you to be is scary -- what if I don't like who God's made me to be? What if it doesn't feel like enough? Gut-wrenchingly painful questions.
And in the light of those questions it is so easy to put your head down in the sand and just carry on. Maybe that's all you have the capacity to do. Maybe looking at those scary questions straight in the face feels like too much for today. God can work with that.
Jesus' invitation to you is to show up, empty hands or full hands, it doesn't matter. God can work with that. Because maybe the journey isn't becoming someone else you admire (or maybe are jealous of); maybe the journey is to eventually like who you actually are, because maybe who you are is bright and wonderful, funny and quirky, and great with couponing or making art or running her business' social media with passion and feistiness. And maybe, over time, you'll begin to see more of what Jesus was up to when he created you: a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
And finally, remember God gave you the desires you have not to put them high up on a shelf so they don't break. Go break a few, grieve their loss or undesired outcome, then, when it's time, allow new desires to grow inside you because loss is not the end of the line with God -- God renews. Sitting there dusting off your shelved desires once a week is the only guaranteed way to make sure they don't come to pass.
Jesus, have mercy.
It's one of those things I keep running into, which makes it feel significant. I first stumbled onto it when crafting an art and prayer workshop for a ministry team at RealitySF a couple of years ago. It lingered when I ran my first art and prayer workshop here at home a few months later. Then it popped up in spiritual direction sessions with directees. It's the pattern of transforming processes: to observe (see), reflect (notice), and then respond.
Even now it strikes me that this is the process of art-making. We observe something that inspires us, we reflect on the act of our creation from that inspiration (planning what we will make), and then responding in the act of creation.
It's interesting to me how each step is so necessary to the outcome of transformation. If we didn't stop to observe, our responses would be more reactionary and less impactful to us. If we only stopped to observe, without pausing for reflection, we would engage only analytically, leaving our hearts untouched. Starting with seeing we engage our bodily senses; moving into noticing we use our minds to understand what we see and how it impacts us; then engaging the heart we respond from how what we've seen and noticed feels to us. Each step in the transformative process requires the prior step, and each step walks us deeper into our hearts.
But each step can feel like coming undone; maybe even a bit like sliding down a slippery slope in our souls, into depths we don't actually want to discover. And it can be painful. It can be so, so very hard to sit still long enough to really see the truth of our hearts. Yet, this is the invitation Jesus offers. He invites us to see the places he already sees; he invites us with him to explore the truths in our hearts. He calls us to the deep places of longing and loss, the place he is already loving us.
May we have the boldness and grace today to respond to Jesus invitation, and to see more fully and accurately his love for us.
I first learned this prayer by Thomas Merron while in seminary. It flooded me with a sense of release, relief and gratitude. I love the humble admission found in it that Merton expresses in desiring to do God's will, but with the reality that he may be not perfectly doing so--and yet at the same time is reassured of God's continual grace and pleasure in him inspite of his fumbled attempts to please God.
Thomas Merton, from Thoughts on Solitude.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
What word or phrase from this prayer captures your heart today?
Wednesday marks the beginning of a new liturgical season: Lent. It is a season of waiting, of longing, of loss. It is a season of lament. Lent gives us space to grieve, to let go, to exist of the tension of already and not yet with Jesus.
Below is an image, followed by instructions, to help you engage and process and connect prayerfully with Jesus as you open to the places of your heart and life where you feel tugs of grief and yearning.
Peace as you enter this sacred space.
Begin in a quiet place...
How did it go? What surprised you? Where were you led?
Throughout my life I've experienced different kinds and intensities of pain, some quick and intense (like the time I broke my collar bone falling out of bed), others less sharp and long-term (like growing up with anxiety). Some bones required finger splints, or collar bone straps; others hurts needed longer-term assistance to overcome the disadvantages of Dyslexia. So when I survey where I am today, and the experiences that led me here, I see the lasting impact of these various times in my life. I've been shaped by my longings and losses.
As a Christian I have this tendency to want to redeem things before Jesus has done the work. I can get uncomfortable with the grieving, mourning, and weeping of the difficult experiences I encounter. I tend to want to handle these losses with my intelligence, will power, strength, and perseverance to help me carry on. Something about standing around in the hurt can make me twitchy if I stand there alone for too long.
But I'm learning that Jesus invites me to journey with him through my pain. Not around it, or above it. Right through the mucky middle of it. He weeps with me in it. He grieves with me. He's not very twitchy about sitting with me in the midst of loss, whether it be physical, relational, or emotional.
When I try to skip past this part of his "with-ness" I miss his comfort; I miss the opportunity to allow my tears to make room for healing. Jesus invites me to sit with him and grieve. When I feel heard, or comforted, I feel known. And this often leaves me with a sense of courage or hope. I feel like I can stand up and carry on from a deeper place of wholeness when I've grieved through my pain, and let it inevitably change me.
I Wonder... What would it look like...
After a 3-day delay in Austin, Texas earlier this week due to 15" of rain in 7-hours, and some fried flight tower electronics, I (Christine) got home to get sick. All the stress, frustration, tension, and processing I did to hold it together spent me. My body quite literally gave up and said, "No more."
I hate landing on my back like that. It makes me feel weak and helpless, because it makes me weak and helpless. And I love my strength -- it's a great gift, and also a great defense mechanism to avoid tending to my own needs. I believe, in the moment, I have no needs. Which is utterly false, but I need to believe it when I'm in that mental state. Occasionally Jesus lets me get away with it, for a little while. This time my body tapped out, and I surrendered. It was painful.
And then as I started to feel better bit by bit I found the temptation to jump back in (I can be really stubborn), but this thought stopped me in my tracks: I may be healed, but there is the after affect of recovery. The siege on my nasal cavity has ended, but now is the phase after the party once all the guests are gone: the clean up. I'm still not operating at 100%, my body still needs rest.
I'm now being invited to recover, now that the healing is done. I'm being invited into a physical therapy of sorts -- both in my body, and in my soul. And it's odd to me, but so true, how my body leads me to see what Jesus may be inviting me to internally: recovery.
It's an oddly beautiful little miracle: Jesus used my weakness to show me his kindness. He's not the one demanding me to get back on the path. He's the one inviting me to linger a little while longer in stillness and rest.
Invitation to Reflect
Take a moment and settle into your seat. Breathe deeply.