The remedy for anxiety? Forgetfulness.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything here. Life has been…well, just life. Spent a few weeks planning and enjoying a family vacation. Transitioned to office space after years of working from home. Finishing up a course of study that I began two years ago. Just life.

But suddenly life has amped up a bit. Change is in the wind. My body and my mind are reacting, and the result is anxiety. I’ve been fortunate during my lifetime not to have to deal with depression. But anxiety? That’s a different story! I can become almost manic when faced with life-changing decisions. Why this fear and anxiety? Because I remember.

We worry about our past and are consumed with guilt for what we have done. But God wants us to see and delight in everything through love. … God wills that, of all the qualities of the blessed Trinity, we should be most certain of and take most delight in his love. Love brings power and wisdom down to our level. When we repent, God forgets our sins through his courtesy. So too, he wants us also to forget our sins and leave behind both depression and anxiety.         -Julian of Norwich

I have lived long enough that my list of screw-ups could fill a book or two. Some were just garden-variety poor choices that caused momentary discomfort of one sort or another. Others were blatantly sinful, and the consequences far-reaching. The point is that I remember them and I don’t want to add any more guild or painful memories to that repertoire! Now, that can be a good thing…right? But it can also be a fertile bed where anxiety takes root.

Julian of Norwich suggests that God would have us follow his example: he has forgotten my poor choices and my sins the moment I repented of them. For me to continue remembering is tantamount to putting my fingers in my ears and singing “lalalala” at the top of my lungs. I can’t hear God clearly when I am so busy second-guessing decisions in an effort to avoid making a mistake. It’s hard to trust God when I don’t know what he’s saying.

But if I refuse to remember the poor choices I’ve made and focus instead on God’s grace and mercy, his faithfulness to work all things for my good (i.e., transforming me into the likeness of Jesus), might that anxiety dissipate? Might I then be able to simply ask God for his provision for my need, for his wisdom and counsel? And might I then expect to experience the peace of God, that peace which seems impossible when the winds of change are swirling around me? Hmmm, that sounds familiar…

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.      -Philippians 4:4-7 [ESV]

Are you anxious today? Or depressed? Either way, perhaps what you are feeling is rooted in remembering, in reliving past mistakes and sins. Try following wise Julian’s advice: Forget! Follow it up with God’s word: Rejoice, give thanks, and pray. Then open up your heart for peace that surpasses all understanding to flood your heart and mind. Thanks be to God!

Peaceful-Place-Park

 

Loved

A last minute gift to buy…

Presents to wrap…

Christmas cards begging for their addresses…

That special someone’s favorite Christmas cookies left to bake…

Yes, ’tis the season, all right. Perhaps you are calm, heart fully prepared for Christmas. What a blessing!

But perhaps, like most people I know, you are caught up in the flurry of activity that consumes us this time of year. Even when we know we are missing the point, many of us can’t find a way to escape the frantic demands our minds place on us as we strive to create the picture-perfect Christmas for those we love.

Having lost my mother to a stroke just three months ago, I have been in an emotional fog. I’ve felt grief and loss, of course, but also anger and fear and confusion–and little pinpoints of joy here and there. The swirl of emotions was wearying and I couldn’t seem to escape it, so I sought out the help of prayer ministers. As Mary prayed with me, she shared her sense that I have been struggling to “put the pieces together” as in a puzzle, but that what God desired was for me to STOP and allow him to simply hold me and love me. In spite of the demands of Christmas–all that was yet to be bought, wrapped, addressed, and/or baked–I stole away for a day. I retreated from all the activities and preparations, escaping to my favorite quiet place where there was nothing to do other than receive the love God was offering me.

In the story of Mary and Martha recorded in chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel, we find Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha is quite busy in the kitchen. If you know the story, what has probably come to your mind is the contrast between obedient Mary and distracted Martha. It is every Christian woman’s challenge, is it not? At some point or another we have to deal with the sting of conviction that those words bring. But I digress… Setting aside whatever angst we may feel about that story, I would invite you to see Mary healingtouchsimply allowing Jesus to love her. Perhaps He has one hand resting on her head as she sits quietly in His presence. Now see Him extending His other hand to Martha, inviting her to stop her scurrying about. See Him creating space for Martha to also sit with Him so that she might simply receive His love, too. Now picture yourself in Martha’s place.

In the whirlwind that may be swirling within you and around you as you make your way through these last days before Christmas, I pray that you will retreat from the busyness, from the wearying swirl of emotions…escaping to a quiet place for as long as you need, until you, too, experience the love of God wrapping around you, calming and comforting you as nothing else can. Then your heart will be ready to share the Gift you have received: the love of Immanuel, God-with-us.

May your Christmas be blessed with the joy and love and peace of Christ.

Jesus and Me or The Bride of Christ?

Christians who rail against the Church have a real problem. They may claim to try their very best to love as Jesus loves, but they are missing one very salient point.

Know what Jesus loves above all else? (Well, with the exception of the Father, of course!) THE CHURCH!

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. – Ephesians 5:22-33 (emphasis mine)

 

There are endless discussions about this passage as it relates to husbands and wives. We can get so distracted by that aspect that we totally miss what Paul is saying about Christ and the Church. (In case you are wondering, I capitalize the “c” to indicate the universal church, rather than individual denominations or gatherings.)

Yes, Jesus recognizes and loves each of us as individuals. Of course He does! But His love is not limited to individuals, and it certainly is not limited to any one individual. “Jesus and me” is true, but it is not complete…it is not the end of the story. In an effort to help others understand that Jesus died for their sin, I think our evangelical subculture has created a class of believers who are so consumed with how much Jesus loves me that we can easily dismiss the fact that Jesus died to save THE CHURCH, as Paul clearly states in Ephesians 5:23 above. Yes, He died for me personally, but that in no way invites me to dismiss the larger reality that Christ gave Himself up for the Church.

You may be forming an argument that the Church is made up of individuals. It most certainly is. And, you may be thinking, each individual is of undeniable worth to Christ. Absolutely true. But Christ has a much more holistic view than we do! He loves the Church as a whole, as one body. That means all of us together, as well as separately. In fact, our togetherness is more important than our separateness.

This is born out in the scriptures again and again. For instance, how many of the letters included in the New Testament are written to individuals? My temptation may be to read them as though they were written exclusively to little ol’ me, but the fact remains that they were written to groups of people gathered together into churches.

So the next time the temptation rises up to bash the church–to decry its imperfections and shun participation in it–let’s remember that it is our individual flaws that make her what she is, and that Christ died to save her. Only in our togetherness can we become the holy and unblemished Bride of Christ, whom Christ loves above all else.

bride-of-christ

Impossible for Me

And I was overcome with wonder at this: our faith is grounded in God’s word, and whoever believes in that word will be preserved completely. Now holy doctrine tells us that many creatures will be damned. And if this is true, it seemed impossible to me that everything should be well, as our Lord had shown me by revelation. And in regard to this I had no other answer but this: “What is impossible for you is not impossible for me. I shall honor my word in everything, and I shall make everything well.” -Julian of Norwich*

Impossible to understand? Yes. This is THE great act of the Trinity that has remained hidden in God’s heart from the beginning of time. How He will accomplish making all things well is completely incomprehensible to me.

Impossible to believe? Well, that depends. Am I willing to suspend this compulsive need to understand everything in my universe? Yes, curiosity can be a good and healthy thing. But it is also what killed the cat, as the old saying goes. And old sayings hang around precisely because there is a measure of truth in them!

If I stop long enough to consider it, there are many things for which I have suspended that need to understand. I look at an airplane and reason tells me that it can’t stay aloft. But it does. I don’t understand how. Yes, I could consult with an aeronautical engineer who could explain it to me, but I haven’t. Nor do I intend to. I’ve suspended my need to understand how the plane flies and simply boarded it, trusting that it will take me safely to my destination.

Neither do I understand how my microwave works. Yes, I could consult another kind of engineer (who makes microwaves anyway?) who could explain how it cooks my food in a fraction of the time it takes on the stove. But I haven’t, nor do I intend to. I have more important things to do with my time, so I just throw my bag of veggies in there, push a couple of buttons, and trust that when it beeps at me, I’ll have perfectly cooked food.

I have faith in someone I’ve never met, who designed that airplane that takes me where I want to go. I have faith in another someone I’ve never met who designed the microwave that cooks the food I need for nourishment. As it turns out, I suspend my need to understand on a pretty regular basis, choosing to trust some unknown being who is smarter than I am in their particular field of work, having faith that what they have planned and designed will meet my need.

When I think about it that way, having faith in Someone I’ve never met but whose Presence I sense with every breath I take comes a little easier. In fact, it’s not that difficult to suspend my need to understand and choose to trust that He will, indeed, make all things well. I don’t have to understand. I just need to have a little faith that what is impossible for me to understand is possible for Him to accomplish.

luke-1-37

*Excerpted from All Will Be Well: Julian of Norwich, (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1995, 2008, Quest Associates), pg. 38

 

So how can anything go wrong?

Ever have one of those days when you just need a hug, or a smile from a stranger who doesn’t expect anything from you, or just a simple encouragement? Perhaps today is that day. I pray that you will be blessed by the wisdom of Julian of Norwich…

Behold, I am God.

Behold, I am in all things.

Behold, I accomplish all things,

Behold, I never withdraw my arms from my work.

Behold, I never fail to guide all things

toward the purpose for which I created them,

before time began,

with the strength, wisdom, and love

with which I created all.

So how can anything go wrong?

Indeed, how can anything go wrong with God? Be encouraged…He’s got this. He’s got it all.

hands of God

Excerpted from All Will Be Well: Julian of Norwich, (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1995, 2008, Quest Associates), pg. 22

The slow work of God

Contrary to what Oil of Olay, Revlon, L’Oreal and countless other cosmetics promise to do, fighting old age is senseless…a futile waste of energy. I see this every time I look at my mom. She spent most of her adult life trying to avoid aging. She spent a lot of money on  expensive ointments and creams that promised to stop–or even reverse!–the signs of aging. I guess they were helpful for a time, because for much of my adult life people asked us if we were sisters. Mom and I were both proud of her youthful appearance.

Eighteen months ago Mom fell and broke her hip, catapulting her into dementia. In that relatively short amount of time, every minute of her 85 years caught up with her. All the lines and wrinkles she worked so hard to avoid have now creased her face and body, and there’s no amount of cosmetics that will make them disappear. In this respect, I am grateful for her dementia as I know she would be distraught over her appearance.

Much in our culture today glorifies youth and disparages age. Yet trying to preserve youth is pointless. The book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way…

You won’t be young forever.
Youth lasts about as long as smoke. (Eccl. 11:10, MSG)

The Book of Proverbs, however, presents a little different take on aging…

Gray hair is a crown of glory;
    it is gained in a righteous life. (Prov. 16:31, ESV)

Youth may be admired for vigor,
    but gray hair gives prestige to old age. (Prov. 20:29, MSG)

I have journaled for close to 40 years. I’ve been thinking recently that I need to do something with all those old journals I’ve kept stored in a box all these years. They take up space. More importantly, I am not convinced that I want anyone else to read my ramblings! I’m closer to the end of my life than to the beginning, and time is a-wasting. Before destroying them, however, I feel the urge to look back and see how God has been at work throughout my lifetime, mentally stacking stones for an altar or two to mark his faithfulness.

During the early years I was inconsistent, sometimes writing every day, sometimes going months without writing a word. There were seasons of intense spiritual growth, every day filled with wonder at God’s goodness. There were other seasons of spiritual stagnation, where my writing evidenced my angst. But as I reflect on these past 40 years, I am blown away by what God has accomplished in me and through me, most of which I was unaware in the moment.

It takes years for God to do his work in us and through us. The best vantage point comes towards the end of life, looking back to observe the slow work of God.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

-Teilhard de Chardin, SJ; excerpted from Hearts on Fire

Perhaps old age is not something to be avoided after all! aging (2)

It’s not fair!

I can imagine Moses saying…

“What do you mean, Yahweh? I can’t enter the promised land??? I’ve led this ungrateful, foolish, recalcitrant people all over creation for forty years! I’ve listened to their constant grumbling and grousing, settled their petty arguments, and interceded on their behalf when they’ve flagrantly defied you. You do remember that whole golden calf incident, right? And now you are telling me that, because of one moment of completely understandable frustration on my part, you are not going to allow me to enter the promised land? Not even set one foot on the land I’ve been marching towards all these years? It’s not fair!!!”

And David…

“Why can’t I build you a house, Lord? You’ve been drug around all these years with nothing but a tent. It just looks bad that the GOD of Israel lives in a tent, for heaven’s sake! I want to build you a house. After all, you made me King David! I want to do this for you. And you won’t let me because of all the blood I’ve shed? I did it for you! What about the incident with the Philistine and the slingshot? I was just a kid, yet I fought for you, Lord! All this blood on my hands–it was all shed for your people at your command! I want to build a house for you. It’s not fair that you are denying me this privilege!”

Bottom line: God is sovereign!

That may not seem fair to us today. It’s hard in our independent culture to submit to a sovereign God we cannot see or fully understand. But God’s plan is good. It is perfect and it is fair. And some day it will all come together and make perfect sense for those who believe. It most likely didn’t seem fair to Moses or David at the time, either! Yet both men came to accept this truth. Indeed, from an eternal perspective, Moses is enjoying the Promised Land and David lives in God’s Mansion!

What’s your rant? We all have at least one. Most of us have a whole collection.

We can and–dare I say?–should pray for the faith to believe that God’s got this, and for the strength to trust the bottom line:

god-is-totally-sovereign