Unrest is thick today. It has been for months now. Everyone I talk with feels it. The atmosphere is tense; no words are necessary. For some the tension looks like pit-of-the-stomach anxiety; for some it’s outlined with jagged edges of anger. Personally, I’m bumping into my lifelong nemesis – depression. It hasn’t overcome me, but I feel it lurking in shadows.
So I do all the things I know are good to do in an effort to fend off the underlying feeling of hopelessness: Pray, listen to encouraging podcasts, read the Bible, go to church (finally in person again!), share with my husband and other trusted friends, get outside in creation, exercise, take vitamins, listen to music, remember what is true. And it all helps. A little.
But just as with most things in life, there is no sure-fire formula. Oh how I wish things of the soul were as simple as 2+2=4! I wish that filling my head with what I know is true would always result in a heart and emotions that feel what is true. This disconnect often furthers my frustration. I should know better so therefore I should feel better. As if there’s not enough to be frustrated about in the world right now!
All this has hindered me from writing anything to post on my blog for the past several months. I want to offer you something – some bit of hope or wisdom or advice – as you too navigate these murky times. But I’ve been lost and confused myself. Nothing to give.
I can’t offer you medical advice about masks and viruses and vaccines. My understanding and answers for the current race struggles are incomplete. I can’t offer you a job or, once again, even hospitality!
But, I HAVE received something I want to pass along to you.
One message has quietly woven itself through the sermons, books, songs, conversations, and thoughts I’ve had of late. It’s a message that has brought me to tears nearly every time I let it sink into my heart. It is the message of God’s great love. The message of my identity as one beloved by God.
It’s a simple message and one that’s often cliche, (think bumper-stickers and posters declaring ‘Smile, God loves you’). As if that should just magically make everything better. But it doesn’t. But, then again, it does.
We still live in this messed up world of heartache and downright evil.
Love Himself hasn’t retreated, even though I would choose to escape if I could.
Love Himself is enduring hatred and rejection, even though I want run and hide.
Love Himself is patiently longing for more souls to be swept up into His reality – even though I want to say ‘enough’ and unleash my righteous indignation.
Love Himself is offering His all to any who will receive.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father … that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man … that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.Ephesians 3:14-19
It is no small thing, this love the Apostle Paul writes about. A love that surpasses understanding. Maybe that’s why we, I, brush it off so cavalierly sometimes: God’s love is beyond our comprehension. These moments of tears I’ve been experiencing when I hear the message of God’s love are surely an answer to this prayer of Paul’s two thousand years ago. In those moments the Holy Spirit is making known in the depths of my heart what is true about God’s vast love for me. What peace and comfort such moments bring!
I don’t have a formula for how you can have this experience too, but what I can offer is an echo of Paul’s prayer for you ~
Lord, we need your love. Our ideas of love are so skewed and lacking that hearing that You love us almost carries no meaning. But our lack doesn’t change the truth, and depth and height of Your unknowable love for us. You are able to do abundantly more than we ask, so I ask You, Father, help us understand the unfathomable greatness and life-changing permeation of Your love. Help us to receive and rest in You alone so we can face this fallen world with assurance and hope. Amen.
Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.
Frederick M. Lehman
God’s love for you and me is not an underhanded love; He doesn’t use it to manipulate us into doing this or that. He never threatens to remove it, no matter how vehemently we refuse it. Deeper than the foundation of a skyscraper, His love is rooted in our souls.
It’s like this. We fell asleep one night and we’ve woken up in a dark cave full of unknowns and uncertainties. We’re crawling on hands and knees, slowly moving hands up, down, around, searching for boundaries to this rocky walled cave. How high is it? Does the floor slope? Are there dangerous stalactites and stalagmites jutting out ready to bruise heels or gash scalps? We’re searching for a safe alcove, maybe some debris to spark into a fire. All the while, some are shouting out, “Turn left!” “Move faster!” But no one is in another’s place, so it isn’t all that helpful. A few will call out, “You’re doing great, keep going!” or “It will all be ok.” Mildly and temporarily comforting. All eyes are still adjusting to the darkness. We’re feeling around for the from of our new world.
Less than 24 hours after schools and businesses began to close due to Covid-19 I felt the pressure of ‘figuring life out,’ of having a full map of the dark cave emblazoned in my brain. It seemed like so many others already had one. My in-boxes and social media feeds were already filled with advice – cute daily schedules for kids, work from home tips, fitness resources, inspirational quotes, recipes for homemade soap, etc… Before I could even define what was happening in my family, community, and country, so many people seemed to have this ‘new norm’ packaged and ready for delivery.
I felt rushed to adjust; and still do.
So the message I’m delivering is a simple one: It’s ok to still be searching. It’s ok to still be processing this new world shaped by pandemic. It’s ok to move slowly and carefully through the darkness. Maybe it’s even healthy for our souls to be slow to process.
I can’t offer you a map of the cave because I don’t have one, but I can offer a glimpse of how I’m moving through it.
Some of you are pro’s at quickly processing changes and developing an action plan. I envy you. I often need a little more time to process in a healthy-for-me way with the Lord. Here are a few points of process I’m finding incredibly valuable as I feel along the walls of the cave.
I’m allowing myself to Grieve. We have all incurred loss in the midst of this pandemic. My losses are minor compared to some, I know. But I’m just beginning to grieve the loss of things like travel plans, being face to face with family and friends, alone time (5 kids at home all day now!), goals for the future, routine, control, freedom. Grief is hard for me to admit, let alone walk through. I’d much rather just brush it under the rug as ‘no big deal.’ But that rug is becoming a sore in my soul. Loss is loss, no matter how big or small. Greif and lament are not foreign to God, neither should they be to me.
I’m naming my feelings. My actual experiences and feelings are often out of sync – like when the audio and visual don’t match up and the lips move before the sound comes out. I live life, and then later the feelings come. I am a very slow processor of my own feelings. But, I’m attempting to invest more in this area by purposely focusing on awareness of my feelings every day. There’s this great color of feelings chart that I’m using to help my process. Feelings must be identified before they can be processed. I’m learning that avoiding my emotions has actually been a rift in my relationship with the Lord. He made us all to have feelings. He has them too! Part of intimacy with Him, or anyone else, is to be honest about emotions. I know some of you are very emotionally intelligent and already have this figured out. But, I’m still in process in this way. And this unprecedented time of pandemic is providing me plenty of opportunity to practice processing feelings! The most profound thing I’ve recognized is that the lingering tiredness I’ve been experiencing is in the “sad” category of feelings according to the color of feelings chart. I often get upset with myself for feeling inexplicably tired. I’m now coming to realize that it’s probably often a sign of sadness in my soul. I’m learning to admit that sadness to God, myself, and others, even if I don’t completely know where it’s coming from. I hate not having an explanation for my feelings, but it’s a reality that cannot be ignored.
The logical and structured part of me thinks I should have a third point now, like a well-rounded three point sermon. I actually wrote one. But I was only fooling myself. There’s still so much I’m processing; so much I don’t understand about what’s going on in the world and inside of me. There’s the truth.
Each day one hand inches forward through the cave, feeling and fumbling in the darkness. Then, I remember there is a Light. Not the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, but a true and guiding Light named Jesus. He hasn’t told me what exactly to do or feel in these times, but He has offered His Life and Light to flow through me. He has promised His presence and He has promised to bear fruit through my life – even in the dark. His is the only fruit that flourishes and shines in the dark.
As I make my way slowly through the cave, ever so slowly processing the little I can perceive and understand, I hear the echoes of Jesus’ words to the disciples: “It is not for you to know times or epochs…” Neither is it for us. It IS for us to follow Him, to yield to His Spirit, moment by moment.
Lord of all creation,
We are profoundly shaken. We have lost our earthly bearings, our human made structures of time and purpose. As we grieve these losses, help us to begin to build on the one true Foundation. Realign our hearts to prioritize what you prioritize. Help us to neither seek for hope in controlling as much as we can, nor lose hope because of all we cannot control. Instead, help us to fix all hope upon you. Help us to rest in the process rather than in answers. More importantly, help us to process WITH You, so we may be firmly rooted in Your foundation. Shine Your Light on what is necessary for us to see. And for all that remains unseen, Lord we believe in You, help our unbelief!
God has made it imperative in the design of life that we become willing to trust beyond ourselves. Walking by faith means to follow Someone else who knows more than we do, Someone who is also good.Ravi Zacharias
If you’d like some more encouragement in the middle of navigating all our current uncertainties, check out this short video Cyrus and I put together through our church!
“Haste makes waste,” he chides, not so quietly, as a dozen of us observe a hurried student slip and fall on one of many perpetually wet campus paths. She was rushing to her next class. It seems harsh to me, a fellow hurried student, that he, a gray-haired and beyond retirement professor, would fail to show a little more compassion. It’s not that he’s mean, just so matter of fact. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve already taken a handful of classes from him.
One was an independent study class that required me to meet with him one on one in his office. No hiding in a back row of seats among other students. My heart pounded before every meeting.
Our first meeting, I approached his half open office door and gently tapped the dense wood. No answer. What do I do now? I wondered. Slowly, I pushed open the door, peak my head in first. There he was, sitting in his chair – hands clasped behind his head, eyes closed. Was he sleeping? Or worse? At his age, who knew! My imagination ran wild. Thankfully, before I had to make any decision about what to do, he stirred. He saw me and beckoned me to sit down in the chair on the other side of his desk.
What was he doing? Thinking. Being still and thinking.
Nearly twenty years later, he is with his Creator and I’m left with these memories: the quote and the image. “Haste makes waste,” and a reclined thinking man. The memories linger and I’m just beginning to understand why.
His example was subtly counter-cultural. Without much reason, I admired his example back then; now I find myself aspiring to it.
My mind wanders back to something the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica: Be ambitious for quiet. In Greek, the word we translate as quiet literally means ‘ to keep one’s seat.’ It implies a stillness of demeanor and one that is undisturbed by external or internal circumstances. I think of the old man with closed eyes, contemplating, taking time to be still.
Of all the things even we as Christians are ambitious for (career, finances, ‘kingdom building,’ service, parenting, approval, etc…), Paul only ever uses this term ‘ambition’ to describe what our attitudes ought to be toward one thing. Stillness of lifestyle.
Is this my ambition? Is it yours?
Author Emily P. Freeman talks about being able to sit down on the inside, even if you have to stand on the outside. It’s a perfect picture of this idea of quiet and stillness – keeping your seat. The world around us may be chaos, but our souls can still be ordered aright. A shark may need to keep moving to survive, but that movement can be purposeful, steady, and calm.
I begin to understand something even more: stillness is strength.
The Psalmist declares God’s desires when he writes, “Be still and know that I am God.” Stillness precedes knowledge of the Holy One. Stillness is the path of settling our souls into the loving care of God. One confidently seated in Christ is stronger than all “principalities or powers, or things present or things to come.”
Haste and striving, on the other hand, cause wounds and fractures in our souls. In the extreme, it causes us to waste away in every respect – physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally. Haste, the flurry of busyness and activity, does indeed make waste of our lives.
Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.John Ortberg
A still, quiet thing, after all, is a strong thing – a Cornerstone, a Rock, a Foundation, an Anchor.
My first finished read of 2020 was a short book called, “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry,” by Portland pastor John Mark Comer. Comer speaks of spiritual disciplines, one of which is practicing stillness, as a trellis. “If a vine doesn’t have a trellis,” he writes, “it will die. And if your life with Jesus doesn’t have some kind of structure to facilitate health and growth, it will wither away.”
Stillness, ceasing even unto death of our own plans and endeavors, brings life and growth to seeds and souls alike. This is Christ’s invitation to us – die to yourself so that you might find life in Me.
What can possibly be stronger than Christ in us, our hope of glory?!
The world may see stillness and quietness as weakness. It may taunt us to jump up from our secure seat in Christ. But we are not of this world. We answer to a higher call. We serve the King of Kings. We can keep our seat knowing that He is sovereign – entrusting ourselves to the only One who judges righteously.
Be still. Cease striving. Be ambitious for quiet. Keep your seat.
May we all dedicate time to lean back in our chairs, fingers laced behind our heads, close our eyes, and contemplate the glory and power of our all sufficient God. May we chose, through stillness, to die to the pressures and ambitions of this world so we can experience the strength and peace of a life hidden in Christ!
“The end [goal] is life to the full with Jesus. The end is to spend every waking moment in the conscious enjoyment of Jesus’ company, to spend our entire lives with the most loving, joyful, peaceful person to ever live.” John Mark Comer
I’m so happy to introduce you to my friend, Erin Mullins! She has graciously accepted my request to share how God is developing her soul. I know you will enjoy what Erin has to say. Be sure to read to the end for a special Christmas Giveaway!!
Guest Post by Erin Mullins
When was the last time you shivered from being cold-to-the-bone? For me it’s those drizzly Pacific Northwest days when the air is damp and I feel chilled and unsettled.
On these days I want a cup of coffee most, a hot mug cupped between two hands, the heat of ceramic radiating onto my fingers. The nutty-bitterness of coffee mingled with a bit of sweet and smooth creamer seems to comfort and satisfy.
I gave up coffee about six weeks ago. Obviously, I miss it.
Why did I give up coffee? One morning as I was pouring my regular cup, I felt a spiritual nudge to give it up. This invitation seemed to come out of nowhere. I ignored it for about three days. Maybe it was just the fog of sleeplessness talking. Doubt creeped in. My desire for coffee in the morning was too strong.
But I couldn’t shake the idea. What did I have to lose? If I believe God is good, then there must be something good to gain by trusting and obeying. Do you know what I discovered? It wasn’t just about giving up something to drink. It was about giving up my first comfort of the morning and the thing I look forward to. It was disrupting my routines.
Drinking water has never been my strength. I often confuse my body’s cues for thirst with being hungry. So I often grab a snack when I’m actually thirsty. In letting go of coffee, I found my thirst cues coming through more clearly. Instead of reaching for a cup of coffee, I reached for a tall glass of water, reminding me that Jesus Christ is the only one who satisfies my thirst.
My tastebuds started changing. Honey now tastes sweeter. Sourdough bread tastes more sour. Was I imagining these things? I looked it up and coffee does impact one’s sense of taste! Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.” This was quite literal in my case.
But the biggest thing I came to admit was that coffee had become an idol. Intellectually, I would tell you that God is my strength. Of course, I can survive without coffee. Functionally, I believed the coffee culture lie that I couldn’t make it through the day without it. In the early morning I would think, “Oh my, I didn’t sleep enough last night, I need coffee in my system ASAP.” Later in the morning, “I am dragging today, I need another cup.” And on especially tiring days I would scrutinize the clock between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m. deciding if it was too late for another mug.
Recently Psalm 62:1-2 began popping up in various places in my life. “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
My soul finds rest in God alone. Soul. What is my soul exactly? I was led to a word study series produced by The Bible Project. This team developed a video that takes a closer examination of the word soul. What I learned fascinated me.
The ancient Hebrew word for soul is “nephesh.” On a basic level it translates to mean throat. However, it doesn’t just mean one’s actual throat, but takes on a larger meaning that one is a living nephesh. Initially that sounds strange, but it makes more sense when you consider that our whole physical being depends on what goes in and out of our throats: breath, water, and food. Nephesh represents our entire living being.
Now I can see God’s sense of humor at play here. Coffee is the thing I want to chug down my throat on tired days. Here in the midst of giving up coffee, He teaches me about nephesh. “My soul finds rest in God alone.” My throat (my entire being) won’t find rest in coffee, but in God alone.
In the morning, instead of my first thoughts being for coffee, my first thoughts are tending towards God. He is renewing my mind and I can see that it is good. Coffee consumption is so minor in the grand scheme of things, but I am impressed by the big lessons in such a small cup.
I am learning to surrender to God’s best for me. Practicing faithfulness in small ways is preparation for faithfulness in bigger ways. Exerting discipline over something small like coffee is developing my spiritual muscles. Trusting God in small ways will strengthen me for the greater things God is preparing me to do.
By doing so, when greater things unsettle us, we can respond with an unshakable faith. There will always be cold, rainy days that cause us to shiver. Undesirable things are always going to happen. We are going to encounter a social media post that ruffles our feathers, a car accident that jolts us, or a relational conflict that causes brokenness. Let us practice now, before deeper troubles come, trusting in the unshakable God.
Tapping into the joy of art and the lessons I’m learning, this art-prayer was created: “Her soul’s truest rest is in God alone. Planted by the stream of Living Water, her roots run deep. She will not be shaken.”
Not only did Erin create this beautiful piece of meaningful art, but she is offering to give it away to one of you!! How sweet is that?!? So here’s what you need to do to win: Simply follow this link to subscribe to Aiming at Heaven and you will be entered into the giveaway. If you’re already a subscriber, thank you! Your name will be added automatically so there’s no need for you to do a single thing :). All entries must be in by Monday, December 9, 2019, 12 PM PST. The winner will be selected that same evening.
Merry Christmas! And a huge thank you to Erin for her generosity!
If you’d like to connect with Erin, you can find her on Facebook (@Erin Mullins) and Instagram (@emullinsphotos).
I smile when I think of how many times God has worked on my soul in unexpected ways. Just when I think I’ve reached some sort of completion in my spiritual maturity, He sneeks in a side door and SURPRISE! He reveals Himself by nudging my soul toward further growth.
My husband and I are currently in the midst of a free month of membership at a local crossfit gym. We’ve attended several classes and we’re feeling it! That’s to be expected. A change in exercise regime is bound to prompt physical growth (and soreness!). But it was on day two of our little fitness adventure that I realized God was going to use this to work in my soul more than in my body.
You see, for many years now I have exercised according to my own plans. I haven’t had any coaching and next to no input regarding my form or technique when lifting weights at our local commercial gym. And I’ve been fine with that. I’m a pretty independent and intrinsically motivated person. I don’t NEED a coach or a class or whatever to keep me going. I tend to take pride in this fact.
But something new and strange and troubling has been happening since I’ve been at crossfit. There’s an instructor. He’s pointing out my bad form. He’s telling me what to do. I’m hearing things like, “keep your elbows up,” and “straighten your back,” and “thumb under, not over, the bar.” And it’s kind of ruffling my feathers. Even after day one, my flesh inwardly revolted against being coached. The exact words that came to mind were, “Don’t tell me what to do, thank you very much!”
Yikes! Am I really that arrogant and unteachable!?! Surely it’s just in this instance, right? Lord?
But my Heavenly Father has gently revealed to me that my pride and resistance to coaching extends to many other realms besides fitness. He has been using this rather inconsequential example of pride in my fitness to dig deeper into the pride swelling in my soul. He’s lovingly showing me how often my inner monologue sounds like, “Don’t tell me what to do!” no matter what the situation.
God is confronting me with this truth about myself and I’m beginning to see how deadly it is to my soul. My resistance to heed instruction actually sets me up for destruction and failure.
The crossfit coaches aren’t pointing out my flaws just for fun or to ridicule me. They genuinely want what is best for me: to avoid injury, to gain strength, to be healthy. If I don’t listen to them, I only hold myself back from growth and set myself up for pain and failure.
It is good, valuable, and downright VITAL that I accept their coaching.
It’s true of my soul, too. It’s true of all our souls.
A crucial component of our soul’s growth is ‘coaching.’ This is one of the roles of the Holy Spirit. It’s also a role of the body of Christ. We need each other to tell let us know when to “keep our elbows up” and “straighten our backs.” In other words, we need to be lovingly urged to keep our eyes on Christ when our circumstances overwhelm us. We need to be gently rebuked when we are unkind to family or friends. We need soul correction.
Most importantly, we need to accept the correction for what it is: Love. God disciplines those He loves not in order to unleash His anger (Christ has already taken care of that), but in order to lead us in the paths of righteousness and life for His glory and our good!
In order for our souls to be healthy and hopeful, we must be willing to accept and heed truthful correction.
“For whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.”Proverbs 3:12
So, I’ll be working on keeping my elbows up, all the while remembering to let my soul be coached, too.