Sunday, February 28, 2010

Finding Rest

Find rest, oh my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from Him.

Psalm 62:5

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

Matthew 11:28

To find rest implies that one must look for it. In this place in-between the first and second comings of Christ, finding rest is not always an easy thing. There are distractions, limitations in understanding, seeing, and hearing. And because we are not yet who we shall be, we believe we can actually work hard enough to become worthy of rest.

In the first chapter of Sally Breedlove’s book, Choosing Rest,  we are given the story of man’s expulsion from the first garden of rest and the loss of paradise. “Every generation since then has known that something is wrong. Longings and restlessness, sorrow and death find their way into even the best places of our existence.” It is the nature of this place where we live and breathe and set up our homes on our way toward the promised rest of the kingdom of heaven. We long for our completion. We pray for peace in our families, our friendships, our nation, our world. We strive to “do it right” and create that place where healing eases the pain of not yet arriving. Where is the promised rest for our weary arms and weak knees? When can we put down the burden of our dying selves? How long must we wait for the completion of our transformation in Christ to bring an end to our restlessness and aching and groaning?  

Jesus says,“Come unto Me…I will give you rest.”

Often I think of those imprisoned on the plantations in the South in the 1800’s. I imagine how they would look to the promises in Christ to make it possible to rise in the morning and move through the day enslaved to others. I can hear them singing. Sweet, mournful, hopeful music expressing their souls’ longings, moving their aching, abused bodies through the wilderness of what was so terribly wrong. Freedom was their destiny…a freedom even greater than they hoped for. But, until they knew the realization of that freedom they looked for the promise of rest. In their looking they found Christ calling to them from over the Jordan. There was the focus of their souls’ song. They sang of their true home on the other side.

So, I try to sing in the middle of my cocoon of transformation from slavery to freedom. I know that rest in the midst of this life is possible. In fact it is Christ’s gift. I have tasted it. It is a gift yet at the same time, it must be discovered. It must be accepted and learned and cultivated. It must be practiced. And we know it is a “foretaste of glory divine”.

For me, His rest is offered in this lifetime through a husband that remains present while I wander, He receives me with the surety of his open arms each time I return. God knew that I needed this man to help me find rest in a dry and weary land. Each day I receive a morsel of rest through my sister’s practiced promise of daily contact.  A devoted friend of years walked with me through the dark and frightening places within. She suffered through my times of silence and withdrawal, waiting for me to be ready to talk. She has known me through and through and still believed in my value and affirmed me with her unconditional love. Another friend loved me enough to get in my face and make me promise to “stay” when it seemed rest was not for me in this world. All of these gifts of rest come from the One who says “Come unto Me”.

I know that many in the body of Christ have called unto me to “Come” and in answering that call into rest, I can let down my facade and relax into the “real” me. I know they love me and accept me and give of themselves that I might find rest. Christ has offered His rest through all of these. It is in His love poured through these vessels that I am able to just “be”. I work to resist the ever present temptation to say I am not worthy. Instead, I focus on the love of Christ in His broken Body of believers and accept that love as it is poured into me. I practice breathing in the good and breathing out the waste. With my focus on Christ and the rhythm of my life in Him lived out through love accepted and love given, rest is entered. Fear is cast out. Unbelief gives way to faith. The birth of the new finds its way through these times of labor.

My good friend Jeannie and I started our families at the same time. We lived next door when we had our firstborn sons and around the block when our second ones came two weeks apart. We were equally idealistic in our approach to birthing and nurturing infants. We were determined to give the best to our children so it seemed logical that we practice “natural” childbirth with no medication and as little trauma as possible. This would involve training on our part.

Dave and I chose to learn the Lamaze technique of childbirth. We were to learn how to rest in the midst of pain. We used these techniques through three childbirths. Sometimes it was productive, at other times I “lost it”. But now, twenty years after my last child was born I still remember the basic principles: Focus.  Breathe.  Relax. 

Jeannie and I have returned to those principles of finding rest in pain as we discuss the difficulty of giving birth to new life here in our middle years. Parenting young adult children has brought the painful challenge of letting go of our babies for whom we spent so much of ourselves. Now, when they are seeking to find their own ways, it seems that so much of the time “they know not what they do”. We taste the fear and ache with longing to take them in our arms and nurse them to health or hold their hands and guide them safely to the next place. Instead we are left to find and cultivate rest in the midst of the pain of letting go, of restlessness as we wait for them to figure it out, and through the angst and the sorrow of leaving the old behind.

My son,Jim, and I sat at the end of the cat walk over the dunes, with only the stars to give us light. We were the only ones left awake. The conversation somehow moved onto the subject of love and the difficulty of receiving it. The Creator of this young man is aware of his limitations. He knows the angst that clings to his chest day in and day out. He knows the fears that weave their ways throughout his brilliant mind. He knows the pain that is given birth by the imperfections to which he must adapt. The Lord hasn’t taken any of this away. Since the moment Jim was born his “demons” have been ever present. But, as we sat under God’s light and talked about the many people in his life that have and do love him, I could sense once again His maker’s voice in my ear, “My love is enough.” So I pressed on with the exhortation that rose up through my heart, “You need to accept this love that is given to you. It is a gift. You don’t have to be worthy. You need the love offered to you to be able to be who you were created to be. You don’t have to be able to love these people the way they love you right now. But, you need to let them love you as it is what they were created for.” It is here in this giving and receiving love that we find rest in our labors and eventually from our labors.

I choose to believe that the rest Christ offers us is not just in green pastures or found beside still waters. Surely He offers us rest greater than what we find on the porch at the lake or in the hammock in the backyard, or even on the catwalk steps at the beach. He wants us to enter His rest that is nothing less than His kingdom that has come and permeates even the places that are barren. How then can we know this rest?

Focus. Breathe. Relax. Rest is a gift found in the love of Christ poured out for us. But, we must choose to accept and then to allow Him to take up residence. He comes to us walking on the water, in the fire of the furnace, alongside us on the road. He shows up in an email, a gift, a walk on the trail with a friend, in the worship of the body on a Sunday morning. He surprises us over and over again through the forgiveness of one we have hurt or neglected. He waits for us as we try to catch up. We know He will remain, as we find Him the same each time we return.  He sits with us when we have to talk and talk and talk. He holds us when we sob through the pain of loss. He gently, firmly urges us to focus on Him. He disciplines us for our good. He breathes into us the breath of new life and convinces us to breathe out the old. Our bodies and minds and souls relax into Him. We can find peace and rest in the middle of the wilderness. It is possible. It is the promise. But, it most often is not what we first imagined. He doesn’t take away the pain of the birthing process. He doesn’t permit us to bypass the Garden of Gethsemene where we accept the cup of fellowship in His sufferings. He doesn’t spare us our cross to bear or our death to die.

We enter His promised rest when our lives are lost to Him... When we have set our eyes on Him and our hearts are focused on Him ... When we cease to strive in just our own strength and depend on our own wisdom to give us guidance, but trust in the One who is all wise. We rest when we accept the love poured out on our behalf, through Christ and through the ones to whom He has given His love that they might be His flesh and blood. It is when we can relax and find a rhythm of receiving and letting go that rest is possible in the middle of the labor. From this labor a new life is given birth. The pain is pain. Hurt is hurt. Yet there is rest. It is and it shall be found. “Find rest, Oh my soul, in God alone.” “Come unto Me…I will give you rest.”  It is a promise.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

3 Ducks on the Lake

I wrote this during Lent a few years back and it comes back to my mind and heart today, the Wednesday after the First Sunday of Lent, 2010.

This morning I sat on the porch at our family lake house, two blankets like a cocoon insulating me from the cool damp morning air. I had my coffee in hand tucked beneath the blanket that shrouded my head. Wet smelly dogs were at my feet. The mist across the lake created a vague impression of confusion. Even on a day like this when the weather matched my mood, this spot’s vista brought me as close to peace as I think I will ever be in this lifetime. And this is amazingly true given the reality that it is here, in this house, on this Lake’s shore that I have also experienced the opposite of peace...conflict, brokenness, grief. Opposites collide here..seeking unity, reconciliation, and redemption.

I sat this morning longing to grow deeper in understanding and find comfort in the promise in Christ of unity and peace spoken of so beautifully in Isaiah 11....the Wolf with the Lamb...the Leopard with the Goat...the Calf with the Lion...the little Child leading...the infant and the cobra...the young and the viper....The earth full of the knowledge of the Lord...His place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out His hand a 2nd time and reclaim...gather...Jealousy will vanish...enemies cut off...hostility no longer....Together...There will be a highway.....

As I sat contemplating this vision of Christ’s work fully consummated, I looked up to see two male mallard ducks pursuing a female. She frantically flew around the cove, over the piers, and under the floats, into the water and out trying to find safety. I laughed as I watched. I thought of how demonstrative that little drama was of life here between the two comings of Christ.

Instinctively, we long to know the uniting of opposites...male and female, Jew and Gentile, simple and complex, black and white, sanguine and melancholy...making whole, breaking down the dividing walls of hostility to make one body…the dying off of fear and unbelief. This is what the journey toward the promise is about. We know it is our purpose as God’s created ones to live in Him where jealousy and hostility are no more. We know we are to be one with the Son and with one another as the Father and the Son are one.

But, like that female duck pursued by her opposite, we flee, frantically and fearfully seeking safety. Of what are we fearful? Being conquered? Losing our independence? Forfeiting our self’s authority?  Are we fearful of dying, being lost, and being consumed? To become one with another, and even more so if that one is greater than self, is most assuredly a strong threat. To give up living under the authority of self’s law to become one with Christ is to step through death’s door. How do we stop fleeing...stop seeking safety and do we stop being do we, instead, turn around and allow that pursuing love to capture us and make us one with Him? I find this especially difficult when my instinct, strong in this mortal body caught between Christ’s two comings, doesn’t quite "get it", and instead, feels death as the enemy from whom I must flee.

This Lenten season has me looking intently at myself in the same way I watched that female one flying frantically from the One I know I am to be one with. I have wanted to stomp out my instinctive fear of death of the old self. With my spiritual mind I know that "death" is the door to what I long for and to lose my life is to gain it. But, I flee...all the while longing deeply for oneness, for wholeness, for completion, for righteousness and truth.

Like most of us, maybe all of us, I have lived as though I should be allowed to skip the dying part of this redemptive process. I thought I could circumvent the grave, forget dying to the old, and with all my "should be’s" and "ought to’s" of self grasped tightly in my fist, go straight to the new life. But this was not the plan. That’s not the plan Christ set before me in the example of His life.

Through this Lenten season I will watch Christ set His face toward Jerusalem. I will watch Him walk right into the plot for His life. I will watch Him, full of grief and sorrow in the garden, struggle to live in obedience. I will watch Him as He asks if He might skip the dying part. I will watch Him, nevertheless, deny Himself all His rights as God’s son and take up the cross. I will watch Him forgive those who don’t understand him. I will watch Him lay down His life. I will watch Him die. I will watch the OLD pass away. I will watch the NEW rise out of the grave. I will hear Him say, "This is the plan. Follow me." I confess I don’t like it. I don’t like the pain, the suffering, the grief, the sorrow, the dying. But, this plan is how we move through this world... LIFE-DEATH-LIFE. Lay down your life. Take up your cross. There can be no resurrection without death.
      Oh, Lord of our longing, cease not to pursue us as we flee. Turn not Your face from
       us when in fear we turn from You. Forgive us for we know not what we do.

The ducks are now at peace. They swim in sync with one another. Their frantic pursuit and fearful fleeing seem to have ended. May that become true for us. May we too find peace. May we know His place of rest as glorious. Stop, turn around, and allow his love to overcome.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Moving Rocks

I found it three or four years ago, just barely showing above the surface of the ground back in the wooded area of my yard. I had begun a search for rocks to use as a border that would guide one toward a resting spot I was making in the trees where once stood a playhouse. The rocks in our yard, for the most part are anywhere from the size of a croquet ball to a bowling ball. Occasionally, I have found ones the diameter of a beach ball and weighing as much as 75-100 pounds. But, this one was different. I took my shovel and began to move the dirt away from the edges. After just a few minutes I realized it was more than I was looking for. It was too big, so I moved on to something more manageable.

The leaves fell and winter came and I forgot about that behemoth under the surface. I had managed to find plenty of smaller rocks to satisfy my path needs for the time. During the next season of “yard work” I’d pass that bump in the ground as I tromped through the woods without much thought except, “that one is too big”. Another season passed and the rock was hardly noticeable at all…forgotten even. Leaves had fallen and decayed, creating a layer of humus that was soft and spongy and able to hide what was big and hard and ancient.  I had no desire for that rock, much less the energy to go after it even if I wanted to. So there it remained for another year. What was one more year added to the millions it had already been is existence. Besides, life was too hard and complex to turn my attention to trying to expose an inanimate rock, much less try to excavate it. I had more personal rocks to deal with.

But this season has been different. I don’t even know why I went back. Why did I take my shovel and start the process again? Why did I want to uncover a rock I knew I would not be able to move? But I did go back. I did start moving the dirt, cutting the roots that had grown over the top, trying to find the bottom. I grew impatient of course and had to move on to rocks I could move and there seemed to be more of those than I’d ever seen before on my property. I thought I had removed them all long ago. It was as though they were rising to the surface from a deep hidden place within the earth.  I needed to feel like I was accomplishing something after digging around that big one, so I’d work on the smaller stones, ones easily removed by only a few jumps on the shovel. But, I kept going back to the big one. Why?

I read entries on a forum on the web written by others more experienced in the practice of moving rocks weighing many times their own weight. The one entry that captured my attention began with a whole paragraph on patience. Often my best friend has said that patience has never been one of my gifts. Patience, for me, has, at best been a discipline. I must be intentional to practice patience in the same way one unskilled must practice to learn to play the piano. The process is not always pleasant. Working patiently to unearth this rock unearthed more than I could imagine. And my mind has been busy with images and reflections on my life as I see the parallels between “soul” work and rock excavation.

In this world you will have trouble...a state of mental distress; worry…a misfortune; calamity, mishap…a distressing or difficult happening or situation…a condition of being out of order, needing repair, etc. … a person, circumstance, or event that causes annoyance, distress, difficulty, etc. (Webster’s New World Dictionary) “BUT, Take heart! I have overcome the world".

Prior to these words that Christ spoke to His disciples during their last meal together, He spent time talking to them about His death to come and the grief they would experience. He described that grief as being like the pain experienced in childbirth. Their grief would be real and inescapable. Grief is the cry that expresses our instinctive recognition that something is not right, is out of order or simply not the way it is supposed to be. Grief screams over the loss of what was and for what should be. In this world you will have trouble. “But, take heart! I have told you these things so you may have peace.”

Christ spoke these words to his friends. Then He prayed for them. He had given them everything the Father had given Him. BUT, Father…“They are still in the world…protect them…the world has hated them…My prayer is not that you take them out of the world…but that you protect them….May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent Me…in order that the love you have for me may be in them…”

Christ was always looking beyond what the disciples could comprehend. He spoke hard words and called them out of the hard small places of their worldly existence. He was going to dig the dirt from around their lives and lifted them up to a new place of freedom. He was not going to fix things, He was going to make all things new. He was going to die and be buried. He was showing them the way. He knew how hard it would be. He knew they would not be able to understand. He knew the rock of truth would be put into the ground for what would seem to be eternity. But, He also knew that that rock would be raised. And He knew that the men he had lived with would then see and believe and in faith would be brought to complete unity and that unity would be the voice of testimony that the love that began the whole process was in them.

When Jeannie and Jerry came to visit the other weekend they eagerly and sacrificially followed me through the poison ivy to my rock still deep in the ground. They thought they were coming to paint but were willing to do whatever I wanted. So, we dug, we pried, we braced, we rocked, and we sweated. We worked together for a couple of hours at least. The whole I time I felt joy in their fellowship and humbled by the fresh revelation of what community means. It was our unity that eventually brought that rock from its hiding place. I could not have done it alone. Alone, my strength would fail. But, with the joining of 3 points of view, 3 sets of hands working from different angles, 3 bodies working toward the same goal, the new “body” we formed through our efforts made it possible to do what was impossible.

Perhaps, this was one way Christ meant it when He said “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” We are His body. In the strength of life as His body, we come to understand what He meant when He said He has overcome. We live out His life as we live in that unity He asked for the Father to give us. It is in the community of believers, living together in concert, humbly accepting the necessity of the lives of others to bring forth our true selves, that we unearth the mystery of our own and collective humanity.