Saturday, August 28, 2010


If expectations were rocks, I’d have a sack so full, it would be straining at the seams! Sadly, it’s not the expectations of others that fill my sack, but my own expectations of myself. I overcommit and overschedule. I tell myself to go slow while at the same time adding another item to my to-do list. I expect to get things right and get things done—perfectly (or close to it) and on time.

Thankfully, God’s expectations of me are not as demanding. I’ve been preparing this week’s Sunday school lesson, and it is reminding me of that. Psalm 103 puts it in perspective: For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust. My own unrealistic expectations and resulting failures are met by God, not with condemnation, but with grace and love.

God is not into finger pointing and guilt trips. While we in our weakness make ourselves and others feel guilty and inadequate about shortcomings and failures, God never does. Jesus’ sacrifice proves that God is a God of grace, not guilt. Guilt separates us from God, causing us to focus on our unworthiness instead of the infinite, unending love God has for us. God is so in love with us that nothing we do can separate us from his love. Nothing.

I don’t think I should abuse God’s love by saying it doesn’t matter how poorly I follow the example of Jesus. A healthy awareness of my “dustiness” is a good thing, but not as a club to beat myself up with. That’s the reason for repentance and God’s forgiveness. Out of my gratitude for that forgiveness, I want to turn away from those behaviors that are incongruent with what I say I believe, yet always with the knowledge that growing in Christlikeness is a lifelong journey—a journey full of stumbling on the rocks of expectations.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Think Small

One of the lessons I brought home from my most recent week at the Academy for Spiritual Formation was to think small. Roberta Bondi reminded us that overcoming the behaviors that separate us from God takes time, a LONG time. In fact, we'll spend our whole lifetimes overcoming the things that separate us from God. This is something I really struggle with because I want to be different instantly, and I also want to do grand and glorious things for God.

For me to be content with small changes and small efforts is a test of faithfulness. Over the past week or so, I've felt God's message for me is that I need to persevere and pay attention to how he is at work in me and in the world. I have made some changes in my life to mitigate how my lifestyle choices oppress God's creation and my fellow creatures (human and otherwise), yet I know that I need to do more and I struggle to remain patient with myself as I make these changes. I am trying to celebrate the changes I've made, such as recycling, minimizing the use of disposable items and not purchasing meat raised inhumanely. The list of other changes I want to make is long, but beating myself up over those things not yet done is neither encouraging nor helpful.

I've just started reading Shane Claiborne's book, The Irresistable Revolution. Something he said in the introduction encourages me in my effort to think small: ". . . we live in a world that has lost its appreciation for small things. We live in a world that wants things bigger and bigger. We want to supersize our fries, sodas, and church buildings. But amid all the supersizing, many of us feel God is doing something new, something small and subtle. This thing Jesus called the kingdom of God is emerging across the globe in the most unexpected places, a gentle whisper amid the chaos." 

I realize that my own bias toward big, sweeping change is a product of the world I've been living in. Thinking small is countercultural, but it is consistent with the way Jesus did ministry. Yes, he fed two huge groups and made wine for a large wedding party, but most of his ministry was one on one, person to person. And he is still at work in the world, mostly in small ways. As I attempt to think small, I hope I will be more aware of the gentle whisper of God instead of being overwhelmed by the chaos.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Clearing the Field

For years, I have struggled to simplify my life. The desire is always there, but the results never quite measure up to the goal. It can get pretty discouraging, but I’ve become inspired by a bit of wisdom I learned from one of the desert fathers. This Abba told a discouraged brother a story about a man whose land was overgrown with brambles and weeds. The man sent his son to clear the land, but the son was discouraged and instead of working, he lay down and slept. This happened day after day. When the father asked the son how the work was progressing, the son replied that he was so discouraged about the size of the task that he could not make himself begin. The father told him that if he would only clear the place where he slept each day, he would eventually get the entire field cleared.

This story can apply to so many things in our lives. The brother who first heard the story was discouraged because his prayer life was not where he wanted it to be. But for me, it’s the clutter of my life—both physical and mental—that discourages me. So I am beginning to clear a small patch each day, and instead of looking at what remains undone, I am focusing on the small daily improvements I observe.

This process is forcing me to be patient with myself, not something that comes easily to me. But as I work at being patient with myself, I am discovering that I am becoming more patient with others. We all have our own “fields” to clear and field-clearing takes much time. Thankfully, God is patient with us all. The Old Testament is largely one big story of God’s patience with the people of Israel, who often spent more time sleeping in their “field”, or even sowing more weeds in it, than they did in clearing it! Their inability to get it right and God’s great patience with them encourages me.

There is still a lot of clutter in my life, but I am clearing a small amount of it daily. And I am grateful for the encouragement I get from the Abba’s story and from God, who inspires me with these words: Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. (Zechariah 4:10)