On Daily Kicking

It’s like finding a stiff wad of forgotten used tissue in a jacket pocket.  Or a moldy container of leftovers in the back of the refrigerator.  It’s the hair in the drain and the frightening herd of dust bunnies under the bed.  Gross and unwanted bits in our lives that we weren’t aware were lurking about.

Sometimes it’s as though God shoves a mirror in front of our soul and we can see them then, those awful blots, things we thought we’d long since gotten rid of.  Out of sight, out of mind, so God helps us see.

It hurts.

In the last few weeks we’ve been vacationing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and spending time out in Montana.  We’ve caught waves, dug our toes into sand, enjoyed family, hiked, rafted, kayaked, and fly-fished.  We are all brown and heart-happy.  But God came along too, as He is wont to do, and He showed me some things I’d rather not see.

Sticky pride, for one.  Superiority. A judgmental spirit.  Just as I’ve been seeking to grow in humility and wisdom….oh Lord, have mercy.  Will I ever learn?  Will I ever have a pure, humble heart?

My soul recoiled at the sight of my sin; it would willingly explain away or slap some blinders on, anything but fully see.  “I’m sorry, God, I’m so sorry.  Please restore a right spirit within me, please forgive my proud words and thoughts.  Help me to walk in humility.”

Light bends around the corner and I remember that victory in the Christian life isn’t about giving sin a kick in the face and walking triumphantly away, never to deal with it again.  It’s seeing our sin, confessing it, seeking forgiveness, and then being attentive day by day to just how it gained a foothold in the first place and drawing a line there.  Defending that point of entry and daily kicking, knowing that the Enemy is wily and will try other doors when one is shut. Just like when we’ve emerged from the sin of selfishness and have begun giving to others, we might find that we stumble into yet another mire, of pride in what we’ve done, which is stickier yet and harder to detect.  It flies below the radar of our self-evaluation at days’ end; it takes God’s Spirit to reveal it, it takes God’s mercy and love to sustain us as we see all that black within us when we thought we were finally making progress.

So I thought about my gardens and how I prune back my plants because I care for them and want them to be healthy and not unruly.  An unkempt garden isn’t the work of a loving gardener, but a lazy, disinterested one.  So I must endure the Lord’s pruning, chastising, and training.  I must remember that the Enemy would wish me to grow wild and thick and choked on my own fullness, a breeding place for disease and rot.  But my Father lovingly prunes me for my good and for the good of others.  I have to bear seeing the black, knowing full well that He’s bringing about the white.

So we kick, yes, we bite our tongue when that critical word wants to sail out, we resist the pull of selfishness and go wash the dishes rather than curl up with our book.  We listen to our spouse’s grievances against us without giving vent to an angry retort.  We kick.  And we fail too, when we kick with just our own willpower, our own strength, when we forget that God is ready and willing to strengthen us, to go before us, to fight for us.  That there’s a difference between holy kicking and petulant flailing or proud stomping.

It is so humbling, how deep and frequent the pruning needs to occur.  I hesitated to write this post, because my humiliation is so deep that I wonder that any of my words could be trusted to be of good use.  I feel not quite ripe enough to speak.  Not faithful enough.  Not holy enough.  I am a plant clipped back and bare, all my pretty foliage and flowers carefully stripped away.  But, I thought, as my leafy mask fell to the ground about me, maybe it’s helpful to speak from the place of brokenness and shame to the others who are being pruned too, disciplined too, loved fiercely too.

It’s okay to be the vessel being formed, the wet clay being molded, to not have arrived yet, to be in-process.  It’s okay as long as the hands are trusted that shape us, that we lean-in to the Father’s loving correction and not away from it.  That we live transparently and honestly and humbly, and that we speak from an awareness of all the work yet needed to be done within us, which kicks our pride most injuriously.  IMGP4162

From The Silent Place

silenceIt may seem strange to speak of silence when one is a mother of four precious jibber-jabbering children, all under the age of eleven, in anything other than a sighing-longing way.  Amazingly, I am immersed in it (when Henrik deigns to nap, that is).

Since closing down my Facebook a while back, the reams and reams of information, quips, photos, and humorous bits which I plowed through each day have disappeared.  In their wake, silence.  I didn’t know how anyone was doing, or what they were doing, and no one knew my news either, unless I called, emailed, or got together with them.

My habits have been startled; before, when I’d read a particularly striking quote or passage in a book, I’d earmark it for sharing on Facebook.  I wanted to share the nugget I found and hear others’ feedback on it.  Now I read that line and am struck and I look up from the page.  I still want to share it, I still want to discuss it, so I memorize it.  I swallow it in and make it part of me, so that I can, by word spoken, share it.  I am chewing on words, rather than handing them off right away.

Also, “checking the computer” takes all of five minutes.  Reading and responding to the few emails that trickle in and catching up on the major news stories…and…..done. I close the laptop and look around.  There’s nothing more to see here, people, move along.

silence1  In the meantime, in this wider silence, I find myself quieting too.  Almost like that feeling when you step into a lofty empty cathedral and the quiet urges a stilling of the tongue, urges a listening and an awe.

What is God teaching me in this valley, this quiet, dark, valley?  I don’t know, but I beg Him in whispers for wisdom, humility, selflessness, and mercy.  For Him to burn out the weeds in my heart and plant life-giving things.  For all the soul-killing sins to be yanked into the spotlight and named that I might reject them full in the face, with no turning aside.  That sort of stuff.

And in this time, Baby grows in the deep, nearly the size of a kumquat, but with a soul as large as any, in the secret place.  And I pray to be a wiser, more humble, more gentle mama today, tomorrow, and when I meet this wee one face-to-face, smiling.

Wisdom, Humility, and Facebook

It is not to my credit that I seem utterly incapable of making minor changes, but only large and drastic ones.  If I am told to favor my right foot, you shall soon find me hopping on my left foot.  If I am found to be absorbed in television, I will not own one for fifteen years.  Cold turkey is my modus operandi.  Maybe it is because I distrust myself exceedingly; afraid I may persuade myself soothingly back into bad habits and sins one reasonable excuse at a time.

My husband laughed at me yesterday.  I had asked him to “pass me my book, please”.  He laughed, “Which one?”  I had to laugh too.  Within my sight at present are nine books of all sorts of genres and depth, and I am reading them all concurrently.  It is my version of flipping channels I suppose.  Anyways, this morning I’d chosen “Water From A Deep Well-Christian Spirituality From Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries” by Gerald Sittser.  I read the following in a chapter relating to how the early monastics viewed struggle:

“The self always dies hard,” Martin Luther once said.  It dies hard because it resists giving up habits of mind and body that satisfy immediate desires but in the long run destroy the life of the soul.  However much it resists, the self must still die.  It will die as we struggle against the world, the flesh, the devil, and the darkness within.  We must submit to this struggle when it is imposed on us through difficult circumstances; we must choose to struggle when God calls us to discipline our appetites, resist temptations that threaten to undermine the good work he wants to do in us, and confess our egoism.

Immediately to my mind came the distractive nature of my use of Facebook, and more than that, how it “satisfies immediate desires” with joyful little red notifications, and successive “likes” to propel my ego through the day.  Note here, I am not vilifying social media, nor Facebook itself, only my own sin in seeking from it what I should have only sought in the Father, approbation.  Worth.

I reread that passage a number of times.  I wondered how it would change me if only God knew what I was up to throughout my day; to live as I’ve heard it said, “as for an audience of One”.  A spark of joy was lit within, which is a rather big deal in my current valley of darkness.  Would that focus aid me in deeper study, more attentive prayer, and more present presence?  I promptly deactivated my account.  Why I did not delete it entirely is because, again, I distrust myself exceedingly.  I cannot claim to know now what level the Father will allow or lead me in the future to interact via Facebook.  I only know that for now I’m called away.

It feels quite counterintuitive.  To be walking on a darkened road with a helpful and cheering friend, only to be told, “excuse your companion who has been helpful to you”.  The only way this would make sense is if God Himself wished to have me more to Himself.  Okay then.

Two virtues have been held before me as twin desires of my heart:  wisdom and humility.  They are often hard to hold within the same person.  Humility is such a flighty virtue, and, as I’ve heard it said, “once you think you’ve attained it, you’ve lost it”.  I wish to grow in both of these, and where can I go for them but to the Father?  Please pray for me; I do sincerely wish to grow, to become like Christ, to die to self, and to find all my joy in the Father’s love.

This Pilgrim’s Progress

I laid my forehead on the time-worn wood of my desk.  Sunlight was creeping over the leaves of the orchid there; an orchid that is slow-in-blooming.  It has had a flower bud, tightly closed, upon it’s spike for months now.  It confounds me, this swelling promise that remains so very much in a posture of waiting.  Get on with it, grouses my heart, and show me your beauty!

I laid my forehead there and I prayed, in a way I learned from some wise one once, that:  “God, I worship You, not the You that I can conceive of, but You as You know Yourself to truly be.”

Because I know quite well that I see Him through “..a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor 13:12)  That is a great hope, is it not?  That we will not always grope about in the dark as concerns Him?  That all the present mystery will have an answering “Aha!” in eternity?

I laid my forehead there and tears stung my eyes.  You see, can’t you, what a mess I am?  I do not suffer from low self-esteem (in fact, I think the error lies in the other extreme, obnoxiously high self-regard), so do not think to cheer me and lift me.  What I need most, oh yes, is the one who says, “Oh my, yes, you are a mess, and haven’t given to God all that you could.  You are inconsistent in prayer, quick to angry impatience with your children, prideful, and willfully ignorant of your own sins.”  That I could feel as firm medicine.  That I could hold in my hands as a map showing where I’d wandered from the path and how to repent (to turn around) and walk in the right way again.

It does matter how medicine is administered, doesn’t it?

Once, while living in Chile, I had an ear infection which spread to the skin tissue on my face, a very serious thing which demanded an aggressive regime of two shots per day for five days of a powerful antibiotic.  I would go into the clinic and ignominiously expose my derriere for the medicine.  Some nurses were quite adept and gentle, and I’d feel barely a pinch.  Some would jab mercilessly.  The difference was stark.

In the spiritual life as well, there are administrators of medicine and varying methodologies.  There are jabbers, ones who seem to take a hidden delight in inflicting pain.  Even though they are giving a needful cure, they do it in such a way that swallows up all the love in the intent.  There are the silent ones who, hoping not to cause you pain, withhold from you the medicine you desperately need.  There is little real love within them, they preserve their own peace at the cost of your life.  There are the gentle ones who, though they injure you, try to do so as little as possible while still delivering the medicine.  They bring love and empathy and grace in their eyes.  They say to you the life-giving words.

“Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.  And when you turn to the right or when turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ “

(Isaiah 30:20-21)

They give you a map of return from your current wandering, they remind you that Jesus himself walks with you and will ensure your safe return to the good way, if you but keep company with Him.

These brothers and sisters are of inestimable worth.  I want to become like them; a loving helper to any and all who need that help.  That is just another way of saying that I want to be like Jesus, that is my pilgrimage, my journey, my aim.

Some use the verse, about the plank in the eye, to say that we shouldn’t judge others.  I think it is rather clear that we are to judge others in the way that a good physician judges the symptoms of a disease; he assesses what is causing harm and ruin and attempts to stop the destruction and encourage healing.  Clearly, the physician needs to be healed as well to do his work properly.  There is no arrogance in offering medicine and help when we are able.  Judging is essential, in medical diagnosis and spiritual diagnosis as well.  Of course it must be done in Christ, that is, with all His love and hope and mercy in our eyes and actions and words.

I will end this Pilgrim’s ledger with this early Puritan prayer:

Searcher of hearts, it is a good day to me when thou givest me a glimpse of myself; sin is my greatest evil, but though art my greatest good; I have cause to loathe myself, and not to seek self-honour, for no one desires to commend his own dunghill.

My country, family, church fare worse because of my sins, for sinners bring judgment in thinking sins are small, or that God is not angry with them.  Let me not take other good men as my example, and think that I am good because I am like them, for all good men are not so good as thou desirest, are not always consistent, do not always follow holiness, do not feel eternal good in sore affliction.

Show me how to know when a thing is evil which I think is right and good, how to know when what is lawful comes from an evil principle, such as desire for reputation or wealth by usury.

Give me grace to recall my needs, my lack of knowing thy will in Scripture, of wisdom to guide others, of daily repentance, want of which keeps thee at bay, of the spirit of prayer, having words without love, of zeal for thy glory, seeking my own ends, of joy in thee and thy will, of love to others.

And let me not lay my pipe too short of the fountain, never touching the eternal spring, never drawing down water from above.

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On Smallness

Let’s get this out of the way, before I’m tempted to hide.

I’m a writer, but not a paid one, nor a lauded one, nor a known one.

I’m a learner, but not a titled one; I had no college education, no special letters trail my name.

I am small.

I have many jobs, but no paychecks.  I shop at Goodwill not because I’m a trendy hipster, but because I can’t afford new clothing.  And, okay, I’m a big recycler.

I am an almost and a not quite.

I have some beauty, but not the wow kind.

I am small.

I walk among the beautiful, the intelligent, the skilled, the known, the wealthy, the fashionable, the educated, the cool.  They are my friends.  I love them.

Walking among giants and my neck hurts from looking up.

It’s amazing what a monstrous ego and swollen pride can reside in a small person.

Like a big black crow in a tiny cage.  Beating against the bars and wanting more room to soar.  Cawing for attention.

I wish smallness would live with humility in tight friendship.

i wish that I was as humble as my circumstances.

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