Dandelions For Kings, A Reflection on Fasting

It is one of the first thoughts as my eyes blink their way into the morning light, as my body stretches taut and I yawn, expanding every cubic inch of bronchial space.  “What day is it?” I wonder, which also means, “What can I make for breakfast?”  My belly rumbles at the thought of buttered toast, coffee with heavy cream, eggs over easy, the yolks running vibrant yellow ochre.  My brain settles the calculation, and oh, it’s Wednesday.  That means black coffee, peanut butter toast, no eggs, no yellow ochre pooling in the plate.

I didn’t grow up this way, and it doesn’t come naturally to any of us to limit our consumption of certain foods as a part of our spiritual discipline.  I’m a very bumbling beginner, often failing to plan enough in advance to have a fasting-friendly meal ready for my large family.  I keep trying to remind myself to just keep getting a little better, week by week, each Wednesday and Friday and during the other extended fasts of the church calendar, not missing the forest for the trees.  Keep picking up the rhythm of soaking beans on Tuesday night, of keeping coconut cream around to make the coffee less harsh, of finding recipes that give us a good protein boost that can be assembled quickly during sports seasons.  I am just beginning to get the mechanics right, and have far to go to fast well, physically and spiritually, to fast from envy, from sloth, from all that hinders growth in Christ.

My small offerings feel like handing bouquets of dandelions to a king, small bundles of yellow ochre.  I can only offer these little, imperfect sacrifices to the One who offers me Himself.  It’s humbling in the extreme to struggle to even give up my dandelions, the small comforts of foods I love.  The cream in my coffee and the eggs on my plate, running into pools of yellow ochre.diapers3

 

Affirm My Narrative, Please.

The priest said that he had only ever met the victims.  He wondered where all these crummy types were who were willfully hurting, using, and oppressing his parishioners.  It seems they were all elsewhere; he’d only met the people grievously injured by them, righteously bearing their crosses of undeserved suffering.

The most dangerous thing you can do in a relationship is to challenge someone’s narrative; to challenge their story about themselves, however gently you might do so.  Our narratives are tailor-made, and the tailor is too often deceived.  We remember with affection all the good we do (or intend to do, someday); we glance away from our errors, our sins, the ways we’ve pained others, besides, we remember how provoked we were, and really, it’s understandable.  If only people knew how much we constrained ourselves they’d appreciate our self-control.  Too often our friends nod comfortingly, they empathize, they echo back to us, and they soothe.  It’s seen as the good office of the friend, to be supportive no matter what.  Affirm my narrative, please.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

-Proverbs 27:6

As iron sharpens iron,  so a friend sharpens a friend.  

-Proverbs 27:17

 

What a good and painful gift it is to have a friend who lovingly dares to pierce our narrative; to say, “No, the plot did not twist in that way; you were at fault and you remain so.”  Then we have to play back the reel, removing our pride-tinted glasses and/or our blinders.  We, if we are brave and humble even for a moment, have to see our narrative ring false.  If we can bear that without shoveling excuses or justifications over our turned shoulders, we approach honesty, then guilt, then repentance.

But it could, and it often does happen, that instead we dig in our heels; we believe our narrative as infallible.  We regard the wounding friend as the enemy; we see their words as weapons and not instruments of healing.  We seek and find a soothing balm in understanding friends; ones on “our side”.

The friend who dared, who risked on our behalf to enlighten our darkness; they are left to watch us carry on in most-certain wrongheadedness and willful pride.  They have a double portion of hurt, for they offered in love to help us see that which was destroying us.  They tried to deliver the medicine for the sickness; unpleasant medicine, to be sure, but needful.  They were then wounded in turn, in anger, for daring to question our narrative.

Lord have mercy on us and make us humble; finding in the wounds of a friend Your own loving correction and faithful leading.  Make us brave to see clearly, and to love fully.408196_10151676557058352_643068089_n

From the Same Mouth

Oh, God will insist on healing us.  The sin which clung comfortably for years will be outed, exposed, dealt with in full.  I have been a follower of Christ for around twenty years now, and there is never a season in which some sickness of soul hasn’t been singled-out for surgery.  He doesn’t operate on all of them at once; such would surely overwhelm and kill us outright, but as much as the soul can survive; one dark corner at a time, He works to weed out evil and plant holiness.

He is ever patient, ever kind.  When my children are with me at the table, they know the rules of manners and etiquette, but too are aware that I will not snap at them for exposing a mouth full of chewed food if their head is tipped back in roaring laughter at some joke.  One day I will address the elbows on the table, or the slouchy posture, or the slurping, but not all at once; it would make for a tense table.  God does not mind accepting his sin-sick, wayward children; nay, He runs to them full-tilt and embraces them.  But He does, He will, heal them, patiently and thoroughly, because of His great love.  Because He knows that sin is like an aggressive cancer, never content to affect just a small part of a man, but that it seeks to consume him whole.

It was, perhaps, about fourteen years ago that God began work in me on the sins of the tongue, particularly in the area of how I speak about others when they’re not present.  By God’s grace, I have been greatly healed over the years, and though I fail at times, the incidences are fewer, and are accompanied with an immediate shame and regret, which is a mercy!  There has been one practice in particular that has been my aid in taming my tongue, and I thought to share it here in the case that it may help others as well.

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12

Yes, that.  I am not claiming perfection, just good progress.  It is a simple practice and can save much grief.  Have you ever had the terror of realizing you had accidentally called someone and they were privy to your words without you knowing it?  Did you anxiously try to replay what you had said, hoping you hadn’t spoken meanly?  What if you did not have to fear such?

And here is the practice:  when in company and a person comes up in conversation, imagine that person physically present.  Let your words, your facial expressions, your tone, be as though visible and audible to that one whom is the subject of talk.  Oh how it changes everything.  Rather than commiserating in the gossip or denigrating conversation, you defend, you look for the good, you remind those around you of how you share in that person’s faults and foibles, and how hard it is to live a holy life in this world.  You sow compassion and understanding, rather than derision.  What a difference it makes in the heart, in the conversation, and in the course of one’s life!

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.  Proverbs 18:21

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.  Proverbs 17:9

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  James 3:3-6

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  James 3:10

I had begun, just barely, to exercise this restraint, and had been at it for less than half a year, when a friend came to me and said, “You have really convicted me.  When we are together and we all begin talking about _______, you never join in; you always defend her.  I just wanted you know that I noticed that and felt my own words were wrong.”  Such is the power of even trying, however imperfectly, to bridle the tongue and speak love!

The more obvious sins of the tongue were easier to stop; the honey-dripping gossip, lying, vilifying another, sowing discord among friends.  Harder by far was controlling the smirks and eye-rolling and sneers which communicated fully as much as words could.  To honor as present the subject of conversation not only in words but in non-verbal communication as well; oh the battle!  This one is not won, but I feel it ever so much is on His agenda for my healing.  Already He gifts me with sickness of heart when I fail at honoring and loving as I should; even with sickness of stomach when my words and gestures have been harsh and unkind.  Oh the end of the day recounting; how bitter to realize I’ve fallen into the same old sickness head over heels!  For this reason we pray “Lord, have mercy!”  Again, from Paul…

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12

My hope is in the Physician who does not give up on me, Who patiently and keenly goes to work on me once again.  Though perfection is not mine, I see progress, especially in the quick conviction in my heart when words form within that are black, that beg to be spoken; there is this invitation to choose love over the witty and biting remark.  And God is giving me that recognition, that clarity of vision, to see the blackness fully, to know how words that are sweet to the tongue are bitter to the stomach, to weigh the deep regret that will follow against the gratification of letting them fly.  It feels like the slowing of time, Matrix-style, where one is able to see the bullets flying and somehow avoid them carefully, though they are truly passing at such a speed that one should not be able to see them.

So, there it is, if it may help you as it does me; imagine the subject of conversation really and truly present, and let your words and expressions be changed and made loving and holy as a result.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.   Psalm 19:14