Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Life Beyond the "But"

“They will kill him. But he will be raised on the third day.” And they were heartbroken.
                                                                                                Matthew 17: 22-23

Heartbroken. Just thinking about that word brings back the pain of a heartbreak I experienced. Maybe it also brings back painful memories for you.

Jesus has told the disciples that he will be handed over and killed, but. . . The disciples, like most of us who suffer heartbreak, stop before the but. We cannot even see the “b” of but, much less what lies beyond it. When you are in the depths, it’s hard to imagine that you will one day not be there, that you will be lifted into the light.

Jesus tells them what comes next, the life that lies beyond the but, yet they can’t hear anything past his being killed.

It is what lies beyond the but that gives us hope, that enables us to live in peace and joy despite our circumstances. Christians are Easter people, people who live with hope, with expectancy . . . people who see the but and know that there is more. Even if the but is all we see, simply seeing it enlivens us and gives us reason for praise.

It’s why I love the psalms of lament, because although they paint a picture of a terribly difficult situation, there is almost always a but, a turning point where God’s unfailing and redeeming love is acknowledged, not simply as something to come but present even in the midst of lamentable circumstances.

Experiences of heartbreak are never easy. Yet if we have experienced new life out of shattering circumstances, we can hold onto the hope that the but is not the last word. Life beyond the but is not only possible but full of promise.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wholly Loving

He wants us to be like him: wholly loving toward ourselves and toward all beings.
                                                                                                                Julian of Norwich

Can love ever be carried to extreme? When I think about the term “wholly loving,’ that question comes to mind.

But when I look to God, I know the answer to that question. If love is truly love, pure love, it can never be too much. We can distort love in many ways, but pure love can have no excess.

Being a doormat for another is not love, because it is neither loving toward ourselves nor toward the person we allow to use us in that way. Allowing someone to use you, to denigrate and demand and control you is not encouraging them to become all that God wants them to be. Allowing such behavior lets a person live in their insecurity and fear, and actually encourages more such behavior, while at the same time diminishing your own sense of worth.

God does not love us this way. God does not oppress or shame or blame. God does not pressure us into certain behaviors or threaten us. God does not use fear to manipulate us. God is always loving us into life that allows us to be full, whole and alive in God.

Love is not needy, jealous, manipulative or possessive. Love does not traffic in shame or blame, but acknowledges failures and moves on, forgiving and apologizing when needed. Love knows the difference between apology and attention-seeking, between forgiveness and pridefulness. Love is all humility and no ego. Love looks with clear eyes and sees what is, which is that we are all beloved and clumsy, chosen by God for all eternity.

When we can know ourselves wholly loved by God, then we can rest in God’s love. We can love more like God loves, because we don’t need to manipulate or control others to receive love. And when we are wholly loving toward ourselves, we don’t allow others to diminish our worth to feed their insecurity.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Lifelong Learning

I celebrated my 60th birthday recently. In the weeks leading up to it and in the weeks following, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on my life to this point. I’ve thought about the things that were important to me as a younger person, what I loved and how I was creative and the people who helped to shape me as I grew up. It has felt like crawling under a house to see its foundation, to know what undergirds the structure.

It has been a good exercise, and I continue to find myself surprised by sudden recollection of a memory that gives me insight into who I am.

Honoring the years and events that have brought me to this point in my life, that have influenced what I value and how I see myself and the world, helps me to appreciate the whole of my life. I realize that it the painful or difficult experiences have been the times I now most appreciate, because I can look back and recognize that I gained strength and depth of knowledge that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

When you can recognize this, it makes labels like “good” and “bad” meaningless in the personal, particular sense. This is not to say that when someone injures you, it’s a good thing, but good can come from experiences where harm was intended and inflicted. Growth most often happens through struggle.

One thing I’ve learned through difficult seasons of life is that you cannot plan for every eventuality. However you’ve planned your life to unfold, it is likely that something will derail your plans. When I teach yoga, I encourage students to find the calm within themselves. Our outer circumstances can change suddenly and violently. We cannot control other people and events, but we can control what our internal state will be in response to the unexpected.

This is why the discipline of solitude matters. To hear the voice of God calling us beloved, we have to tune out the voices that tell us we are not. A strong sense of self and a deep sense of inner calm come when we know ourselves as deeply loved by God. And through sixty years of living, knowing that I am God’s beloved is the most important lesson I’ve learned.