No matter what is going on in our lives, we all want what Jesus offers in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” But how often do we read those words and think they are beautiful but hard to experience? Does this type of rest seem intangible? The seeming disconnect between the truths of our faith and our everyday lives can leave us feeling bewildered and discouraged.
Henry Drummond, a Scottish evangelist from the 1800s, suggested that while many people don’t regret their religion, they are perhaps disappointed by it. He went on to write, “Men sigh for the wings of a dove, that they may fly away and be at rest. But flying away will not help us…We aspire to the top to look for rest; it lies at the bottom. Water rests only when it gets to the lowest place. So do men. Hence, be lowly.”
There is a lot of wisdom in Drummond’s words. First of all, yes, we all find the idea of escape very appealing. Man always has. Drummond is drawing from Psalm 55:6, penned by David, “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” While few of us “sigh for the wings of a dove,” we do seek to escape through excessive online shopping, another glass of wine, binge-watching shows, and other activities that take the edge off. We think they will leave us feeling rested, but we’re rarely satisfied by them. Why does escapism not help us? Because the solution isn’t somewhere “out there;” it’s found in the interior life. It’s located in the soul. This is where God meets us, in the present moment, and offers us rest.
Drummond says that rest isn’t located at the top, but lies at the bottom. If we think that hitting a certain goal or reaching a level of achievement will finally give us permission to rest, we’ll be sorely disappointed. Just when we think we’ve reached “the top,” we’re surprised to find that there’s another whole level to go. So what’s going on at the bottom? Is that where we go when we just give up and decide to stop trying? What does Drummond mean by getting to the lowest place and being lowly?
I believe he’s describing the virtue of humility. Humility isn’t thinking that you’re worth less or putting yourself down. It’s seeing yourself as God sees you. Changing the way you see yourself, seeing yourself through the eyes of God, doesn’t always come easy. For some of us, we think our past mistakes cause God to be disappointed in us. We feel that if we could just develop better coping mechanisms, get rid of our selfishness, and get our act together, He’d love us. But in the meantime, we figure we fall short of what God requires. We wonder how He could possibly love us.
If that’s where you are at, I wrote my latest devotional, Rest: 31 Days of Peace, for you.
It’s for those who have heard Bible verses or messages about God’s tenderness and whispered to themselves, “That may be true for other people, but not for me.” It’s for those whose impression of God is of someone who is indifferent, impotent, or disapproving. If you know with your head that Jesus loves you, but it doesn’t feel like it in your heart, this book is for you.
I wrote this devotional for those of us whose hearts have been hurt, who are experiencing weariness overload, who long to feel treasured but find it hurts too much to hope. It’s for those of us whose inner voice is unkind and who fall asleep at night while a litany of failures runs through our minds. It’s for those who have called out for God and found Him to be silent.
The Bible is full of assurances of God’s love for His people. But I know that believing those verses in theory and feeling that they are true for you personally are two different things. What I am hoping to do through this little book is close that gap.
So I am inviting you on a journey of the soul. I know that might feel scary or like a waste of time. But what if there is more than what you are currently experiencing? What if it is possible to come to a place of inner peace where you know who you are, and know beyond a doubt that you are seen, known, respected, and loved?
Going to the lowly place means bowing your head for God’s blessing and outpouring of grace. It’s accepting that you are loved beyond measure and longed for by your Savior. It’s seeing yourself through His eyes.
It’s my prayer that the message of Rest will be a balm to the heart during a time when we all desperately need hope, peace, and a good dose of kindness. Order Rest: 31 Days of Peace for yourself and anyone with a hurting heart.
May His perfect love drive your fear away,
 Henry Drummond, Pax Vobiscum (Palala Press, 2015), 30.
“Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth,”(3 John 1:4). John the Apostle wrote these words to people he loved and led, and closed the letter by saying, “I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face” (3 John 1:13). This is how I feel as I write to you. How I wish we were together and dialoguing in person. The best communication is face-to-face. Much can be misunderstood in the written word—there’s no chance to read body language, to clarify a point made, or to listen. In the current atmosphere of division, attempting to communicate with one another via social media feels like a war of words. A blog isn’t an ideal way to talk with you, either. I’m longing for greater closeness.
I know that so many of you have experienced your life being upended in the past few months. Many of us have lost a loved one. Most of us are worried and unsettled about the future. Much that we have counted on, things that used to be in our control, narratives that used to make sense seem to be shaky and uncertain. Where do we turn when life feels out of control? How can we experience the peace that passes understanding when what is underneath us feels like shifting sand?
I’ve been asking myself these questions, and I have sensed the Lord asking me what foundation I am standing on. This led me to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24-27:
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.
Saying we have built our house on the rock and actually building our house on the rock are two different things. It has to do with where we find our source of security and safety. Where do we turn? Who do we believe has the answers to what is broken in our world? Building our house on the rock starts with an acknowledgement that without Jesus, we are without hope. But with Him, we can stand firm despite what swirls around us. With Jesus as our firm foundation, we can then move forward into our day, walking in the truth.
What does it mean to walk in the truth? It means we enter each day with our minds renewed, having spent time reading Scripture and praying so that our thoughts are the ones that God wants us to dwell on. The source of truth is God Himself, so we need to start with Him. God wants us to be transformed so that we think and live and love like He does. This means that on a daily basis, we’ll need the Holy Spirit to fill us with His presence so that we step out into the world with supernatural power and perspective.
It is only as we saturate our minds with God’s truth that we will have the strength to look at our own truth and that of others whose experience is different than ours. Walking in the truth requires drawing from all three of those perspectives. No one’s is more important than God’s, that’s why we begin with Him. Then we turn to our own truth. How are we doing? Where do we need strength? Are we feeling unsettled? Where are we tempted to cling to “being right” because we want to feel secure? An honest look at the state of our own hearts should be a daily priority. This allows us to invite God into the mess of our hearts to bring healing. Only then will we be equipped to wisely respond to what life throws our way instead of reacting with raw emotion.
So we look at God’s truth, then the truth about our own hearts, and finally the truth of others whose experience is different from our own. How do we take this third step? We begin by asking God to give us the virtue of empathy. In this time of social distancing, there is an acute need for our hearts to draw near to one another, offering a love that is robust and powerful. This kind of love allows the virtue of empathy to flow into our aching world. Empathy is a movement of the heart that looks at life from another’s perspective and enters into their pain. It’s endeavoring to understand what is true of another person’s experience, even if it is not true of our own. It’s a shift in focus from what I feel and how things are affecting me, to how it feels to walk in another’s shoes. It doesn’t come easily, especially when we are feeling insecure. But it’s critical that we do so in order to bridge the ever-widening divide of our country.
Author and speaker Shauna Niequist shared the importance of empathy in a recent Instagram post:
Empathy is why we wear masks, because our concern is not only for our own health, but the health of every person we pass at the grocery store or on the sidewalk.
Empathy is when white people listen to the stories and experiences of their Black friends—without defensiveness, without trying to distance or absolve themselves from white supremacy or systemic racism.
Empathy is choosing to see what connects us all: our common humanity. Our common resolve as well as our common fragility, our common grief and terror and exhaustion as well as our common hope and joy and delight.
Living empathetically goes against the grain. When the world feels scary and insecure, our desire to self-protect and circle the wagons increases. This means it is absolutely critical that we start our day in the presence of God—asking Him to change us from within, and giving Him permission to do in and through us what does not come naturally.
In order to walk in the truth, we need God’s truth, the truth of Scripture of what is going on in our hearts, and the truth as experienced by others. We need all three, but only God can be a firm foundation in the midst of uncertainty. We are promised in Hebrews 13:8 that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He is unchanging. Start your day listening to the One who has seen every moment of history, who can see into the depths of our hearts, and who holds the future in His capable hands.
Is Jesus the one you are turning to first? Are His words in Scripture saturating your mind each and every day? Many of the ways in which you have drawn close to God have been limited or removed the past few months. But your Bible is always available. Something you might notice as you read: God’s Word is honest about history and the human heart. If the Bible was a PR tool, there are quite a few parts that one might recommend be removed. But God is all about the whole, unvarnished truth. May we walk in it and have the courage to be lifelong, humble learners. May what we learn motivate us to display sacrificial love in our fractured, hurting world. May this be love in action, not just thought and good intentions.
Have you ever had one of those days?
I was two seconds from purposely rear-ending the maddeningly-slow car in front of me. I had so much pent-up irritation, and I could just taste the satisfaction I would feel when our cars would hit and all the anger would exit my body. It would be like that Fried Green Tomatoes moment when Kathy Bates rear-ended the car of the girls who whipped into her parking spot, saying, “Face it lady, we're younger and faster,” and she responded by repeatedly hitting their parked car, saying, “Face it girls, I'm older and I have more insurance.” In my little world, we were saved from an accident because the car mercifully indicated an upcoming left turn when I needed to turn right. Glory hallelujah.
The day had turned south a little while before. Too many hours had been spent on a soccer field in the heat with a constantly-crying baby while we watched our team lose. We whipped home (easier said than done because my rear view mirror is now missing after my permit driver sideswiped a car yesterday) for a quick turn around for soccer fun round #2 with another child's practice. I managed to get dinner on the table in 5 minutes, and might have earned BIG POINTS for serving a Barefoot Contessa recipe in record time, but that possibility went down the toilet when I completely lost my patience over the spilled McDonald's milkshake on the backseat carpet of the car. (Note to self: good mothers do not buy their children McDonald's milkshakes. They cut up fresh fruit and bring it along to the game, and their children DELIGHT in the healthy refreshment. This is the stuff the mean voice in my head says to me when I am ready to lose it.)
So I got back in the car, and cranked the Christian radio station as loud as I could because the noise made me feel better. And I probably traumatized my child in the process and she'll probably never like Christian music and will always associate it with the psycho side of her mama.
A few minutes after I decided it wouldn't be a very wise thing to purposely cause an accident, a song came on that was talking about the grace we get that we don't deserve. Maybe because the music was so darn loud, or maybe because God is so good and worked on me even though I was really crabby, my heart softened a little. I grudgingly acknowledged to God that it was pretty nice of Him to constantly offer me mercy and second chances.
Then a song by For King and Country came on called “The Proof of Your Love.”
Listen to these words…
“If I sing but don't have love
I waste my breath with every song
I bring an empty voice, a hollow noise
If I speak with a silver tongue
Convince a crowd but don't have love
I leave a bitter taste with every word I say
(a little bit convicting…)”
And here's the deal. That song really hit me hard and had the effect that God desired it to. But would I have responded like that if the song about grace hadn't come on first? I doubt it. If “The Proof of Your Love” had come on right when I got in the car, I probably would have turned it off. It likely would have just made me madder.
God gets how I'm wired. He knows that love and mercy melt and soften my heart, and until that happens, I'm not very receptive to constructive criticism. I think most of us react to correction with defensiveness. Could this be because we haven't felt unconditional love first?
So how does God treat us? Does He say that the hurtful things we're doing don't matter? No, He loves us too much to leave us as we are. He can see how incredible we can be, and He recognizes what's holding us back. But instead of screaming at us about our sins, He's patient. He waits and when we turn ever so slightly to him, He runs to us. He's the father who runs to the prodigal son- ready to offer mercy the minute he sees his son return. This crazy, unwarranted mercy is what Jesus gave us. He took the fall for the very people who were at that moment spitting on, mocking and beating Him. He offers mercy FIRST. He leads with grace. With love.
And that really takes my breath away. Love is all about second chances. I'm so thankful that God lets us hit a “do over” button. That we can say I'm sorry, and come back home again for a fresh start.
I really believe that if more of us believed that God leads with grace, that He wants nothing more than to forgive, that there's nothing we can do that is further than the reach of His love, the lines at the confessional would be a whole lot longer. What holds us back? Why don't we rush into His arms of love? Maybe we need a new way of looking at God. Maybe we need to let go of our old ways of defining Him, and let His actions speak for themselves.
“The LORD's acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning- great is your faithfulness!” Lamentations 3:22-23
*This post first appeared on the WWP website in November 2013.
“In your anger, do not sin.” Ephesians 4:26
Scrolling through Facebook and other social media sites, it is clear that we are increasingly feeling free to express our rage, disgust and disappointment however we choose. Regardless of the issue and which side of the fence we land on, emotions are running strong and a lot of blood is boiling. Differing opinions are nothing new. There have always been issues where people don't see eye to eye. But the way in which we are discussing those differences has changed in recent years. And the consequences are anything but good.
It seems we have lost our ability to listen first, to only post something we would be willing to say to someone's face. Distance demonizes, and the social isolation that results from communicating screen-to-screen, instead of face-to-face, is hurting us.
We are relegating character and integrity to the backseat as our emotions are unleashed, and sadly, Christians are not the exceptions to the rule. And all the while, a watching world observes us not practicing self-control becoming unhinged by our hatred and disgust.
When I travel across the country and speak, there is one thing that remains consistent no matter which state I am in. We are worried about passing on the faith to our children. We see that they are disengaged from our faith and are bored by it, and we aren't sure what we can do about it. A 2015 study of Catholic family life found that 68% of Catholics with children under the age of 18 have not given their children any form of religious education. One in three parents did not find it important that their children celebrate their first Communion, and one in four didn't consider it important that their children be confirmed.
In the words of Kathleen Cummings, the director of the Cushwa Center for the study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, “For the first time in history, young Catholic women are more disengaged than their male counterparts. That is a huge, important shift. If you don't have women, you lose the children.”
What part does our lack of practicing self-control with our anger and expression play in this? Studies of Millennials reveal that they greatly value authenticity and are repelled by hypocrisy. Is it possible that they understand enough of our faith to wonder why our religion isn't impacting the way we talk about our enemies or those who are different from us? James 1:26 reminds us, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.”
In Colossians 4:6, St. Paul writes, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Salt enhances flavor-it makes food more appealing. In the past, salt was used to preserve meat. When St. Paul compares our words to salt, he's encouraging us to communicate in a way that is winsome, drawing someone closer, preserving unity whenever possible. Being behind a screen or in the midst of an angry group does not give us permission to let graciousness go by the wayside.
Shifts in culture and moral decline unsettle us. Many Christians are feeling increasingly powerless as we see that in a very short span of time, we lost a seat at the table and no one is really listening to us anymore. And it's true. Millennials will not listen when what they hear smacks of judgment, anger, and a sense that we are looking out for our own interests instead of caring for the poor and defenseless.
We might look to politicians to fix the problems we see. But the truth is, it begins with us. The hard work of reaching your hand across the aisle, of being an agent of reconciliation-that begins in our communities, our churches, our neighborhoods, and our homes.
Nowhere in Scripture will you find Jesus exhorting us to defend our rights. But there are countless times when He implores us to lay down our rights for another. We are able to do this because we have our eyes fixed on heaven. We have a sure hope as an anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19), and because of this, we don't need to be afraid. God is in control-His purposes and plan will not be thwarted.
As our children watch us engage in a culture very different from the one we grew up in, they do not need to see our fear; they need to see our courage and hope. They do not need to see our rage; they need to see us practicing self-control. They do not need to see our judgment; they need to see our mercy.
“Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.” -Pope Francis
The Year of Mercy has begun, and oh, how we need it. As we journey through Advent towards Christmas, so many hearts are aching. We desperately need hope. We need it more than Christmas gifts or the perfect tree or eggnog by the fire. Without it, we lack the courage to move forward. And when we extend mercy to each other, it's hope that is poured out.
When I sat down next to my friend after the funeral reception was over, the raw ache in her eyes tore into my heart. She had just lost her teenage daughter. Christmas would never again be the same for her. There would always be an emptiness in the midst of the festivities. My friend's story was heavy with pain. When despair and depression had become overpowering, when the pain had felt unbearable, her daughter had made the choice to end her life. So we sat, with just quietness between us. After a few minutes, she looked around the room and spoke words that I believe hold a message for the body of Christ.
“You know, this isn't my church. This isn't where I had planned to have the funeral. But when we called the church to tell them what had happened, they said they'd come to us, but they never did. If you are ever going to show up and be the church, that time was now. That time was this week for my family. Their silence spoke loudly to us. So we decided to do the funeral somewhere else. It was just too painful to be in a place where they obviously didn't care about us.”
I don't believe my friend's church doesn't care. Most likely someone dropped the ball entirely by accident. Perhaps a note with my friend's name and address had been caught by a draft and fluttered away. It's very unlikely that anyone proactively decided to ignore this hurting family at such a critical time. But what I really wonder is where was the safety net of the church community? Why were their arms not wrapped tight around this family? They could have run interference, helping bridge the gap between who the church wanted to be and what the family was experiencing.
Affliction comes in many forms. We don't wear our heartache as visible, outward wounds, but we all know how much pain is out there. In the midst of a sin-saturated world, people need to know that they matter-that their pain matters-that they are seen. It's been said that suffering that feels senseless is the hardest to bear. When that is compounded with a feeling that the pain must be carried alone, despair can quickly set in. But what a difference the presence of a comforter can make. We can't answer all the questions about the suffering, but we can say, “I see it. And most importantly, I see you. I won't let this pain swallow you or overwhelm you.”
Isn't this the message of the Incarnation? Bridging all distance between God and man, Jesus moved into the neighborhood. He reached out and touched the leper, looked into and healed the eyes of the blind man, and restored Peter when his heart was overwhelmed with his own failure. He rushed in when there was pain instead of recoiling or standing back where it felt safe.
Isn't this the example that the Blessed Mother gave us? She didn't shrink back from human suffering. She didn't shield her eyes when her Son was stripped, beaten, and crucified. She pressed into the suffering, and stayed by His side, providing strength with her presence.
This is how we are asked to live.
“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1) These words aren't just for our priests and parish staff. They are spoken to you and to me. God promises in Isaiah 43:1-2, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you.” He understands that while His presence makes all the difference, we also need a human hand to grasp hold of. We need to see eyes that understand and don't judge. What a privilege it is that He trusts and calls us to be a part of this ministry of comfort.
Nothing makes us more effective ministers of comfort than having suffered ourselves. Not one of your tears of pain will be wasted, if you allow them to be redeemed in the life of another. God can use every ounce of what you have been through to make this world a better, kinder place. 2 Corinthians 1:4 tells us, “The God of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
If you have experienced miscarriage, divorce, grief, abuse, financial crisis…could it be that God is calling you to step out and encourage and give comfort to others who are going through those very things today? You are uniquely equipped to offer comfort because you have been there. You understand. You are proof that life does go on. You are a carrier of hope.
This is the call to the body of Christ. We are to surround one another, to press into one another's pain, to offer the gift of our presence, to give comfort to others, just as God gives comfort to us. Sometimes sitting silently alongside someone is the best gift we can give. Sometimes it's making a meal. Sometimes advice is truly helpful. The important thing is that we show up. That we slow down enough to notice the pain in someone's eyes. That we ask questions, and then wait for the answers. There is no Christmas present under the tree that will have the kind of life-changing impact that the gift our comforting presence offers.
Lord, open our eyes to see the invisible wounds people carry. Help us to look through grace-healed eyes that search deeper, that pause, that step closer when an aching heart is near.
Originally published in Beautiful Mercy (featuring content from Matthew Kelly and twenty-six other authors)
To order a copy of the entire book:
Can I just say what a relief it is to be sending my kids back to school for their second year instead of their first in a new town? The feeling of walking into a group where everyone knows each other and you know no one is so unsettling. Last year, my kids were aware of their socks, shoes, haircuts, backpacks…it all had to be perfect. This year none of those things seemed to matter very much-they are just excited to see their friends again.
It makes me think of our Walking with Purpose groups starting up soon in parishes and homes. It's my prayer that every woman who walks through the door will be met with a genuine welcome and the strong sense that she matters. It's not a small thing when we create communities where women feel safe to come and drop their guard-seeking to know God better in a non-judgmental, supportive, and positive environment. We walk a fine line at Walking with Purpose. One of the things that we value most is exploring our faith, our fears and our doubts in a fearlessly positive way.
There's so much negativity in the world-it weighs us down and saps us of hope. At WWP, we want to delve into Scripture and into relationships with one another in a way that leaves us feeling strengthened and encouraged. Because of this, we leave the hot-button political issues at the door. Instead of focusing on things that divide us, we turn to Scripture, and focus on the content of our lessons. At the same time, we believe there is truth, and there is falsehood. There is right and there is wrong. We don't shy away from uncomfortable truths, but we trust the Holy Spirit to be our teacher (and He certainly teaches us through the Bible) instead of us tossing truth grenades and telling one another how we are supposed to think and act.
There are many things in the news that I leave to the experts to discuss. But the past few weeks, my heart has been so deeply disturbed, that I've been asking God if now might be a time when my silence isn't the right response. I read 2 Timothy 4:3, which tells us that a time will come when people will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. I don't want to crush anyone with truth, but I don't want to just tell people what they want to hear.
These videos that are in the Facebook news feed…these stories…these images… I have been stopped in my tracks as I've forced myself to watch things that I'd rather ignore. Perhaps you have watched the same videos. Perhaps for you it's just been too, too painful to see.
After watching a video of a woman discussing what her clinic was doing after an abortion, I just wept. I didn't only weep for the babies involved. I wept for the mothers who felt that they had no choice, that they had nowhere to turn, that they were without hope. I wept for the state of our world, for how alone so many of us feel.
Statistics make it clear that we are not talking about women far away-it is our sisters, our friends, our daughters, us. Many of them are far closer than we realize. I am deeply moved by Ann Voskamp's words:
As many as 1 out of 3 American women have had an abortion- and not one carries this alone. We failed them. This is our failure as a community. The tender mourning of all this is that: Abortion is always a failure of community. Every abortion is a failure of humanity: failing a human being in crisis and a human being in utero.
It is my prayer that we can come alongside one another in a way that dispels the darkness. That our presence can chase away the lies that there is no choice, that we are alone, that trying to get out of the difficulty is a better choice than walking through it with God's strength.
Our small groups at Walking with Purpose matter. When a woman comes to Walking with Purpose for the first time, we don't know her background. We don't know her past or her present. One thing we do know-she needs community. She needs love. She needs a safe place to grow spiritually.
May we create communities of grace-places where people can come as they are, and be greeted by a Savior who leads with love and mercy, and followers who reflect Him. May we stop expecting Christian behavior from people who don't know Christ. We aren't called to judge those outside the Church. We need to be concerned about what's going on inside. And how we are responding to women in crisis is a big part of that. We've been called to do something extraordinary. We are asked to be Christ's hands and feet in a world that desperately needs to see radical love.
Let's turn towards one another in our circles at Walking with Purpose, strengthening, encouraging and supporting one another. And then let's turn outward, and each take a step towards a woman who needs a hand, who needs to know she is not alone, who needs to know Christ in us.
It has come to this. My two-year-old, Charlotte, ate cookies for lunch. We have officially limped over the finish line of one of the longest summers in history, and that was the best I could do today. Summer break began on May 23rd, and the start of the new school year has been long in coming, as in post Labor Day. Please do the math with me and throw some compassion my way. Forts, crafts and popsicles are great, but we had definitely gotten to the point that we needed some structure and routine.
I had pictured myself getting my lovely children back to school, and diving into the new routine with vigor and focus. In my defense, I did manage to get to the grocery store today. But when you are feeding a small army (bless them all) sometimes gathering the week's provisions gets lengthy. And the bakeries in the grocery stores in Florida give cookies away to whiny children. Lord have mercy. It's the best thing ever. They even let you come back for seconds if you really need it. I don't know when I've last felt so cared for.
So after Charlotte had filled up on cookies, it's not very surprising that she wasn't interested in carrots or apples. Feeling very guilty, I laid her sugary self down for a nap. I looked at all the groceries in bags on the counter, and all I wanted to do was take a nap myself. After seriously considering it, I felt even more pathetic. “Get it together,” I said to myself. “Now is your chance to do something productive. Get moving!” Instead, I just sat down.
Opening up my Bible to the book of Hebrews (if you are thinking that I was procrastinating from my household duties by doing this instead of putting away the groceries, you are right, but Jesus always wins), I read the following:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16
What sweet, sweet words. Sometimes we just desperately need someone who understands us when we are at our weakest-to be met with an I understand instead of a pull yourself together. This is what Jesus does. He sympathizes with us as we are overcoming weaknesses, because He knows what it feels like. He “has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” He recognizes our battles for what they are, because He has already tasted just how hard it can be to keep on, to stay faithful, to not give up.
He knew that there would come a point for all of us when the best that we had just wouldn't be enough. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to our eternal salvation. No amount of great effort or white knuckling makes us perfect enough to stand in God's presence. There will always be a gap between the best a person can offer and the perfection God requires to spend eternity with Him. “The wages of sin is death,” (Romans 3:23), and even a good deed done with selfish motive is enough to keep us separated from God.
Thankfully, “we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14). After His crucifixion and death, Jesus entered His Father's presence in heaven, offering His blood in place of ours. God the Father saw Jesus' sacrifice, and was satisfied with the price Jesus paid for our sin. Because of Jesus, we can draw near.
But when our weaknesses and failings are front and center in our minds, we can get tempted to run away from God instead of towards Him, allowing Him to help us in the process of overcoming weaknesses. It's at those times that we need to be reminded that we can approach the throne of God with confidence instead of fear. Why can we do this? It's because Jesus sits on a Throne of Grace, not a throne of condemnation. When something in our heads tells us that we have to get ourselves fixed up before we can come to God, we can be certain that it is not God's voice. He invites us to bring our questions, doubts, fears and failures and to come close.
Hebrews 4:14 encourages us to “hold firmly to the faith we profess.” We need to be reminded to hold firmly to these truths because it's so easy to trade them for a checklist of ways we need to perform in order to earn God's approval.
God doesn't ask you to perform for Him. He asks you to be in relationship with Him. He receives you as you are, and offers rest. This is the place you can come and just be yourself. Overcoming weaknesses is impossible on our own. You can drop the baggage, drop the burden of performance, and just let Him wrap His arms around you in unconditional love. He's waiting for you at the Throne of Grace.
“There are those that speak a stabbing sword, but the tongue of the wise heals.” Proverbs 12:18
There's a space between words being spoken by one mouth, and those same words being received by another heart. En-route, those words often get misunderstood. This is where imaginations run wild and minds try very hard to fill in the blanks and understand. And all too often, the wrong conclusions are reached. Hurt results, and hearts protectively pull back.
And this is the devil's favorite playground.
He loves nothing more than to entertain us here. But he's stealth, and we rarely recognize his presence.
God's been teaching me a lot lately about just how destructive it is for me to hang out in this place. I quickly get confused and lose perspective. I filter all that was said or implied through my cloudy lens of past experiences and assumptions. I'm apt to attribute motive without all the facts. I assume the worst, and often draw conclusions that are far from the truth. And all the while, the devil claps his hands, delighted to see me watering these seeds of discord with my mental rehashing of all that was said. He knows that the more sad and discouraged I start to feel, the less likely I'll be to get out in the spiritual battlefield and focus on what really matters.
What is at stake? A lot. There is a hurting world out there that is just desperate for the women of our generation to band together and do something about it. We often feel defeated as we focus on the culture or pending legislation or the mountain of problems. We see these things as the obstacles that are getting in the way of needed change. But I believe the real problem, the thing that really limits the healing movement of God, is the things within us that we ignore and justify. It's gossip. Lack of forgiveness. Bitterness. Pride. Anger. These are the things that divide us. They weaken us and cause us to quit. They block the flow of the Holy Spirit within us.
This is a big enough deal that it's one of the last things that Jesus focused on before He walked to the Garden of Gethsemane to face the cross. He prayed, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through [the disciples'] message, that all of them [He meant us] may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you,” (John 17:20-21). He prayed for our unity. I'm thinking this is because it's a big deal to Him. He sees what division will cost us, and begs us to “not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). Not even an inch.
Are you nursing a hurt? Are you rehashing someone's words that have stabbed your heart? And has it caused you to pull back? Could it be that the devil has you exactly where he wants you because he is afraid of the good you might do if you released the hurt and forgave?
This is how St. Ignatius described the way the devil (the evil spirit) loves to derail people who are pursuing God: “It is proper to the evil spirit to bite, sadden, and place obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, so that the person may not go forward.”
He wants to hold you back. He wants you to be disquieted with false reasons. He bites you in a way that unsettles your heart. He saddens you as you dwell on your hurts. He wants you down for the count and out of his way.
I know this devil talk can seem a little extreme. But the battlefield is real, and the stakes are high. When we pull back and freeze our hearts, a wedge isn't just driven between two persons. It's lodged in the middle of the body of Christ. That division repels the very people who most need to see the God of love, the God who restores, the God who heals.
I want to challenge you to make a different choice when the hurt rushes in. Instead of protectively pulling back, draw close. Lean in to the relationship. Take a step towards the one who hurt you. Even though it's hard, keep communicating and seek to understand. Distance demonizes.
Could it be that you have misunderstood? Is it possible that the other person is wounded, too? Might it be that things look different from his or her perspective? What would it be like if all our inner wounds were displayed on our bodies? Might we deal with one another a little more gently? Could we offer kindness to someone who we thought didn't deserve it?
There are certainly times when we are wise to pull back. I am certainly not suggesting that anyone remain in an abusive situation. But even when we need physical distance in order to be safe and healthy, we still can forgive.
God asks us to fix our eyes on the cross, and remember how Jesus responded to those who hurt Him. “Father, forgive them,” He said, “for they do not know what they are doing.”
May we lean on God, letting His kindness and mercy infuse our hearts. May we let go of the hurts, and place them in Jesus' nail-scarred hands. May God give us grace-healed eyes so we can see things from another's perspective. It isn't easy to live this way, but His grace will give us all we need to walk in His steps. May we, as sisters in Christ, be knit so close together that there is no room for the enemy to get in and cause God to be dishonored.