Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Quiet Times" + Bacon | Post 16

Let's get this straight...
The Lord has not called us to storm the walls or conquer the land. 
*HE* has routed the enemy, beheaded the oppressor, liberated a people too vast to count, and sent *US* in with the good news. 
We're the ones throwing aside the unlocked gates and announcing in German prison-camps that the Allies have landed and won the day." 

[Though I've been a Christian for 20 years, the last three years have been a whirlwind of re-learning about God, His grace, and my faith. Caleb has gone through a similar transformation the last two years I've wanted to start writing and, yes, sharing on the internet some 're-learned lessons.' These things really are the dearest truths to me and I am starting to find myself unable to keep from sharing.]

My church and church-community placed great emphasis on "quiet times" or "times with the Lord" while I was growing up. Quiet-times or devotions were (or, are!) a time of Bible-reading, meditation and memorization, praying, and journaling - or some combination of those things (for some reason 30 minutes seemed to be the ideal minimum time to shoot for, but anytime was better than no time.), essentially a time of meeting alone and quietly with God.  During this time, I was a Christian with genuine repentance and Holy Spirit work in me, but I was a goody-two-shoes, I was an "elder son" not a "younger prodigal son,"and nearly every time I interacted with a group of adults I was praised for various character qualities I possessed. And I lived for that. I knew the lines, I knew how to search my heart, how to ask questions, how to worship "whole-heartedly", how to "be humble," I was an eager "servant" and I knew how to impress anyone. I could also point out the "bad kids" in any crowd. Their immodesty and flirtatiousness and over-all worldliness (eye-liner and jeans that hug your rump, anyone?) gave them away.

So, back to quiet-times. I remember Sunday mornings, bible classes, small group discussions, womens meetings, and youth meeting main points circling around testimony, example, illustration, challenges, specific passages and exhortation to be in the Word of God, daily, alone and preferably in the morning (I remember specific times hearing that it would be prideful to think you needed the newspaper, breakfast, internet, sleep, la-ti-da more than you needed God. Even in elementary school I made a "rule" for myself to not look at the beautiful, colorful Sunday comics until after church so that I could "put God first.") If I could sum up my thinking and interpretation of what I was taught at church all those years, it would be 1) The Gospel (which condensed to five words was "Christ died for my sins.") and 2) to continue in deeper understanding and personal sanctification of The Gospel, you need to be consistently in The Word of God - especially through quiet times. And it's even better if you have a solid plan for Bible-reading, and also a quiet-time basket nearby so you can easily get to everything you need without roaming around gathering it - efficient!

**Disclaimer: I'll be careful enough to add that this might not have been what was being preached, or at least not as "much" as I thought it was. I had - still do - a tendency to get an idea in my head, and hold onto it fiercely. If I heard a message or series or two about personal devotions, and I began to apply it well, I would have looked in any other message or setting for that "point" to be made so I could check it off and be all "Yuuup! Taking care of that! I so good."**

Another quick note: You might not think that what I've described is that bad. Isn't the Bible - the Word of the Living God, sharper than a two-edged sword - one of the greatest gifts He's given to humanity? And isn't it one of the best ways to learn more about Him? Shouldn't we be learning more of Him, and reflecting on His truth daily? Shouldn't we be praying constantly? What is better than starting a day in conversation with your Father - praising Him, asking for Him to do mighty things, humbling yourself before Him? I hear you. And we'll discuss in a moment. Stay with me.

I've had a number of conversations with various friends who have talked about taking a season of not reading the Bible, and how spiritually beneficial to them it's been. After these talks I realized how much I've changed that I'm perfectly comfortable with my friends not "having consistent quiet times" and I feel no need to push them to begin this *practice* as soon as possible. Even looking at my own life I see a very different pattern of "alone time with the Lord" than I did in my teenage years. My teenage years were far more impressive.  I really didn't have this topic on my heart to write about, but then I came across a blog post that triggered my concern with heavy emphasis on quiet times.

Stephen Altrogge, from The Blazing Center*, has recently written a handful of blog posts directed at mothers. For the most part, I loved his call for mothers to chill-out, stop stressing over the small things and to enjoy the crazy ride. But here's what Stephen said that caused me to stiffen:
Your job description is as follows: Love God. This simply means finding some time during the day to meet with the Lord. It doesn’t have to be before all the kids are awake. It doesn’t have to be in the pre-dawn stillness. Your job is to love God. How you make that happen can look a million different ways.
Your job as a mom is to first and foremost, love God with all your heart. Run hard after him. Pursue holiness and godliness. Read the Bible and pray your heart out.

Why do I get a little punchy and red reading something like that? Why do I so disagree with the mindset I held of "the spiritual discipline: quiet time" for most of my life?

To begin, "loving God" or "prioritizing the gospel" is NOT a first-thing-you-do-in-your-day-top-of-the-checklist-activity. It's not something to be done. It's who you are. I find it very misleading to put "love God" as the priority over "loving your husband." Loving God IS loving your husband! Loving God IS loving your children.  And... loving your husband and children is loving God!  Loving God is NOT (necessarily) doing the "God-things" like Bible-time, praying, and attending church meetings.  Phaaaariiiiseeeessss (dun dun dun duuun).

 Loving God is (also) eating food that thoroughly blesses you, loving God is talking with your friend and genuinely enjoying the conversation, loving God is talking with a friend who annoys you so much but you're willing to engage her because you love her, even though you don't exactly like her. Loving God is getting excited about a sweet deal on those shoes you've been eyeing, loving God is staying in bed all morning with your diapered kids because they just want to be with you a little longer, loving God is calling your husband to tell him about the funny thing that just happened on your walk. Loving God is having a dance-party to Taylor Swift in the car, while little faces glow, smile and bounce along in the backseat, loving God is singing hymns while you're sweeping, loving God is getting excited about making your house a home - however it is that you do that.  Loving God is paying the bills, going grocery shopping, decorating for Christmas, spring-cleaning, going to the pool and not getting very much sleep because your somebody needs you - a lot - in the night. Loving God is not about getting things done, but resting in what He has done. It's about really listening to what someone is saying - if that someone is two years old, or 87 years old. And not just listening, but caring about their words to you. It's about happily letting your schedule get interrupted or your to-do list left unfinished, because your husband forgot ____ and he needs you to run down to his office, with all the children, and bring it to him. It's about eating, laughing, rejoicing, anticipating, sharing, giving, enjoying, praising, receiving and delighting - and doing those things with your husband, children, family and best friends? Even better. And living this way so contagiously and constantly that strangers and unbelievers are like moths to a nightlight? Even even better.

In Christ, and with the right motives for both, the "life-things" like eating and playing and the "God-things" like prayer or corporate worship (or quiet times) are equally pleasing to Him. Why? Because God doesn't want us to become better people. He doesn't ask us to grow, change or sanctify ourselves (or, gracious, to "bear our own fruit"). He doesn't desire for us to work harder at sinning less. He isn't asking us to sacrifice for Him. He wants us to come. Come! He wants to give us every good thing. He simply asks us to receive it and enjoy it. Receive this bacon and eggs this morning as a good thing from God. Receive this boxed mac&cheese as a gift to you, mom, because your children don't care if it's blue box Kraft or homemade. Receive your child sleeping in this morning as a chance to do something you'd enjoy - sleeping in longer yourself, getting a head-start on a project, taking an uninterrupted shower, blow-drying your hair, reading that new book you bought, listening to music alone, praying. Receive it! Receive the gift of your husband! Receive the gift of your children! Receive the gift of your friends! Receive the gift of humor, food, sports and beautiful things! Receive the gift of My written Word! Enjoy it, and remember that I gave it to you because I love you. Receive your salvation - take it! Have it! I want you to know how much I love you, and how final and complete and sure your standing with Me is. You are free from having to worry about your sin and your holiness. Free! I've made you a promise, and I will keep it. Believe that I do only good for you. Believe that I can do it all on My own. Believe that I am able and eager to complete what I have started. Want my gifts. Want the good things I have for you. Want Me.  Delight in any and all things that I give you, and please remember that I wanted you to be delighted by them.  Share Me. Love Me. Enjoy Me.  I quite enjoy and love you.
"Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’" Matthew 9:13
I think the best way to "Love God" or "prioritize the gospel" is by being delighted, grateful and at rest. I disagree that loving God "simply means finding some time during the day to meet with Him." In fact, I think that's a false gospel.

Loving God isn't a "priority" we have. It's our new names, it's our DNA. I had it wrong. I thought that faithfully having quiet-times was loving God. Sadly, in my life and in my heart, it was primarily loving myself. It was my form of "praying publicly in the streets." I did it right, and yet I really didn't enjoy God. I performed for God. And when it came to other people? I required sacrifice, not mercy. I tied burdens on the backs of other people... and was then honored for it. Because it really did look good. It's been like living in an alternate universe to discover that my faithful, obedient, consistent actions do... not... matter. Because my unfaithful, disobedient, unpredictable actions don't matter, either. I'm no longer "in me." I'm in Christ. And His faithful love and obedient perfection counts for something - which means it counts for everything, thank goodness.
"He set His heart upon His people before time began. He spoke His promises, He sent and spent His Son, He resurrects souls through His Spirit, He is unstoppably building His church, His kingdom is an everlasting and extravagant kingdom and WE get the happy role of carrying His purchased, perfect gifts from under the Christmas Tree and placing them in empty hands that will enjoy them." 
Wives, enjoy being a joy to your husband. Moms, enjoy delighting your children. Friends, have fun having fun with friends. It's our happy role, it's how we love God, it's how to "prioritize the gospel."  I made "the Gospel" my God, and "spiritual disciplines" my job.  The way to get more "gospel" was to do my job better.  To do my job better, I needed the gospel.  Now, instead, I'd say: God is my God.  His name is Father, Jesus and Holy.  He is God.  And the way I "get more God" is by grace - by beholding Him, not be "doing" anything.  God + grace.  Not "the gospel" + "quiet times." God and grace.

"We are anxious, not because the task is hard, but because we think the task is ours. When we clear up that nonsense it gets much simpler and happier. My friends, let the celebration begin." D. Shorey

*I enjoy reading Stephen's blog.  I think he's a sharp, good thinker and that he's willing to say bold things and press through babble to find true, good things.  I don't always agree with his posts, but I more and more find myself "amen!"-ing his words.  So don't go bash Blazing Center!  But read it thoughtfully.  Like anything :)

ps. I believe in Bible study and memorization and meditation and journaling and quiet prayer times.  So much.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Broken Hallelujah | Post 15

"Love is not a victory march 
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah 
J. Buckley
Before Caleb + I got married, we talked a lot about children, "family planning" and what "we want" for our future.   The point of this post isn't to discuss our personal convictions, desires and dreams for our family (maybe I'll talk about that someday, though.)  One thing we wondered about was how "easy" getting pregnant would be for us.  Everyone assumed we'd have have kids quickly.  We both come from big families, and both of our parents got pregnant within three weeks of marriage.  My parents, in particular, got pregnant "when they weren't supposed to" or when the odds were very against them (because of birth control, age, timing, etc.)  Getting pregnant was never hard for either of them.

But.  Everyone is different.  And I had no idea what it would be like for me, for us.  I was especially curious because I've been on 18-months of accutane (three different cycles over five years).  More and more side effects comes out (seemingly monthly!) about the drug, and I always wondered if it would affect fertility.  

So, two months after our wedding when we discovered thrilling news that made us speechless for hours, I have to admit... I was not expecting it to happen to that quickly!  We were hoping to be able to have kids "right away" or relatively soon.  We were eager to start our lives together with each other, but also with our children.  We hope to have a big family.  This was only GREAT news and what we were indeed hoping for!  But I was still surprised.  And we still had a while to go before miscarriage-odds were reduced.

And here I sit, just about to the second-trimester, with a lot of pregnancy still ahead of me... a lot that could still happen or be discovered, but my heart and mind hovers at the people who don't have the same story as us.  The people who try and try and try to get pregnant, and so far it hasn't "worked."  The people who have had miscarriages early on (or later on!).  The people who have had adoptions fall through at the last minute - even after they've taken the child home with them.  The people who say "Yay! Congratulations!" to your face, and then go in the car and cry when they're by themselves.  The people who are single and wonder if they'll ever have life-long companionship and kids of their own.  The people who just plain ache at the thought of children.  The road hasn't been easy.  It hasn't been what they dreamed.  It's been a painful, slow, road with no promise that "Yes, someday this will happen for you."

I was listening to my forever favorite Jeff Buckley croon and these words sat on me this weekend: "Love is not a victory march // It's a cold and it's a broken 'Hallelujah' // Hallelujah."  I thought of many faces and names I know.  Women, in particular, who have been waiting for a baby to hold and keep.  So far the love they have for these future people hasn't been "victorious."  They still don't have them here with them.  At every turn it seems impossible for it to ever happen.  Maybe if you stop caring so much?  Stop wanting it so bad?  Stop hoping for it to happen?  Maybe if you try harder? Don't quit and give up? Persevere and fight on? You wonder if you're doing something wrong.  If God's "trying to teach you a lesson." If your hurting heart will ever be healed?  If a baby of your own (or another baby of your own) will ever warm your house, heart and home?  Or will it always be a cold and broken 'Hallelujah'? Or perhaps a cold and broken 'Why, God?' I think of the families who had and lost their children before they ever got to see, feel, name or know them.  These Mystery Faces that are real whose souls were real and live on today.  I think about these things.  

Someday we may walk the same road.  We may lose this baby and have to wait until heaven until we "meet" our child.  We may have this one easily, and then struggle with future pregnancies.  Or we may not.  We will have what the Lord deems best for us.  He will give us what is good.  He will not withhold one good thing from us.  He will do us good all the days of our life.  Even if we walk through the death or "absence" of our children. 

And I have a heart for those who are hurting over pregnancy, babies and death.  I want you to know that I care and that I'm aware.  I may not know every story or every situation.  But I care that you are hurting and I'm so so sorry.  I am praying for you - some by name, and some "in general."  I think about your children that we wait to meet in heaven.  I miss them with you.  I sometimes don't know how to talk about it or what is helpful (or NOT helpful) to say.  Sometimes I don't even know your story at all.

I don't know - I think I just felt like I needed to say this.  Though we have ONLY received happy faces, huge hugs and genuine excitement about our baby, I know in the crowd there must be some who wish it could be them.  Who maybe were frustrated that it happened "so quick" for us and it's been so hard for them.  No one has even hinted at that to me.  But in case there are private tears and secret heart-sinks, I just want you to hear from a young, newlywed who got pregnant fast:  Thank you for being brave, rejoicing with your friends and sharing in happy news... And I'm sorry that your hurt is very real and your pain is very deep.   I don't know what it's like, I can't relate, my hurts and struggles in life aren't "compatible comparisons" to what you are going through.  I feel like it's important for me to say that you and your life aren't forgotten because of "new life" nor is a baby you don't have with you a forgotten one.  

And Isaiah 44 is true:
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground;
O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me. Sing, O heavens! Shout, O depths of the earth!
I'm praying for a "peace like a river" that streams into the darkest, driest crannies of your soul.  I'm praying that the words "You are not forgotten" will not be bland and empty, but will revive and tenderly comfort you.  I'm praying that you will be able to sing, even if it's a chorus of broken 'Hallelujah.'  I'm praying for the word 'promise' to be an anchor for you.  A promise from God is a fact from God. It just IS true.  I'm praying that that will be sweet to you, and not bitter.  I'm praying that you feel the freedom to cry, talk, share, stay home, feel and work through the process without feeling like a failure or wimp.   I'm praying that you will have good, genuine, patient, funny friends to love on, listen to and support you.  I'm also praying that your story, even in the smallest way, would speak glory upon glory to someone who really needs help someday.  I'm praying for babies in your arms, very soon.  And most of all, I'm praying for unmixed joy found in the Gift-Giver because of His sweet, to-hell-and-back joy in you.  

Life is fragile and it is not a right.  Each and every life is unspeakably precious and brilliantly valuable - including yours.  Hallelujah!