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The Art of Not Knowing–Flexible Plans

Earlier this week I was so focused on finishing my plan that I was like a bulldozer. I ignored all the little detours that were necessary and it ended up taking way longer than it should have–that whole “a stitch in time saves nine” thing? Yeah, I pretty much just let all those stitches unravel while I was focused on getting through my plan. I find myself wondering how often I do that.

James talks about holding plans in an open hand (4:13-15). We plan, but we leave room for God to change those plans. I don’t know about you, but I tend to be an all or nothing kind of person, so if something derails my plan, I often throw up my hands in disgust and decide the evening/day is ruined and there’s no point in trying to fix it.

In Tai Chi, there’s this concept of “not knowing”–it’s the idea that we stay open to the question of what’s around us, what’s happening. It means not ever having a solid judgment about what is. Now, obviously, I believe that God gives us solid information in the Bible. It’s one of the things I love about Him–that He’s transcendent and has a third-person perspective on the nature of reality so he can reveal truth to us. However, I think there’s something to that attitude of openness.

So often I have an idea of how things are supposed to go and when they don’t go that way, I get stressed and try to force them to follow my plan. I have the feeling I probably frequently end up expending more energy than necessary and making myself miserable to boot. If I instead really believed that I didn’t know how the day was supposed to go–made my plan and held it in an open hand–I think I’d be able to view detours as adventures or maybe even short-cuts (thinking I really need to re-read The Belgariad/Mallorean!). For instance, if I get to an event and find that it’s been cancelled, I could view it as an opportunity and keep my eyes open for what God’s doing instead of berating myself for not just calling ahead and getting frustrated and upset. Or if my kids freak out and we end up spending time talking instead of getting the dishes done, maybe that’s a conversation we’re supposed to have.

So even though I have a plan for my day, I’m going to work on relaxing into the detours instead of frantically trying to hang onto my plan.

 

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Blooming Where You’re Planted

It has been a crazy past several weeks. I had a couple weeks where I felt so much better than usual that I tried to catch up on 3 years worth of neglected projects and then I’ve had the past month where I’m not sleeping and barely functional. It’s been a weird time.

I find that when I’m feeling well, I switch into fix-it mode and get focused on making up for lost time. When I feel awful, I switch into survival mode. As I was meditating on this reality, I was re-struck by how easy it is to be in desperation mode. Either I’m desperate to fix things or I’m desperate to survive. I’ve learned that I need to rest in God’s character, which gets rid of all desperation. It opens up the door to thriving. The same way my daughters don’t worry about how we’ll have food to eat or a place to live or pay the bills, etc., etc., etc., I don’t have to worry. I can trust that God will take care of us. I’m not saying we can be lazy, obviously. I’m saying we can just chill and bloom wherever we are, moment by moment. I don’t have to expend all my energy trying to get somewhere else. I should be faithful.

This is hard for me! I don’t want to be faithful when things are difficult and painful. I’d much rather spend time escaping from reality or try to change reality. I don’t want to relax and let God carry me wherever He will… be obedient from moment to moment, trusting that God will work out the details of whatever we’re going through. It’s like in Tai Chi, where relaxation opens up the door to strength. When you’re relaxed, you’re like a garden hose with no kinks. When you’re tensed up and trying to force things, you’re full of kinks. If I’m always fighting the current, I’ll always be exhausted and frustrated. I don’t know about you, but it’s easy to mentally know that without heart knowing it. It’s easy to admit desperation leaves me worn out and then to try harder, to be even more desperate, instead of being willing to do something different. Maybe that’s because blooming where you’re planted requires a character change. Right now, the old me is incapable of relaxing. I’ve seen glimmers of the new me off and on the past year or two. But, like Murtagh in Christopher Paolini’s Eragon series, I need a change from the inside out. I need re-characterized.

God, re-characterize me with faith and obedience, with trust and rest. Change me, Lord, so that my default is blooming wherever You have me instead of desperation. Thank You so much that You never stop working on me. Lord, I am so blessed that You work day after day to make me over into Your image. Please change me today. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

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Physical Rest

So this post you get to listen in to me preaching at my own soul. I need this message. I struggle in this area. And frankly, the past couple of weeks, I have done a particularly wretched job of applying these principles.

Several posts ago, I talked about how rest isn’t optional and mentioned how God gave Elijah food and sleep to rest and Jesus gave his disciples time away from the crowds to eat and rest. These are good examples of physical rest. By physical rest, I mean giving my body the things it needs to thrive. I tend to be a go-go-go, push-your-body-to-the-wall-until-it-collapses type. Or at least when things are busy, you should just push on through, right?

You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest. Exd 34:21 NASB

Plowing and harvest time are the major push seasons in a farmer’s year. God still commands them to rest even when things are busy. I’ve often wondered if somehow adding rest into the equation when things are nutso would give me the stamina to perform to a higher standard (this doesn’t mean I’ve practiced it much though!). I know that not resting drains me and adds to my stress level. I used to work in an office where my boss required ALL my time. He would literally send people into the bathroom/break room/etc. to tell me to hurry up because he needed me right then. Two years of working there did a whammy on my physical and emotional health.

Our bodies are designed to need breaks. Not enough sleep and a) our bodies don’t have time to do self-repair and b) you end up with the symptoms of drunkenness–the lack of judgment, the loss of short-term memory, the inability to walk straight–and then whatever you’re working on is done poorly anyway (not that I would know that from experience *ahem*). Anyway, after years of believing I can manage quite well on 6 hours of sleep, I now have adrenal fatigue and feel like I am dragging my way through much of my day. Statistically, Americans skimp on sleep. So, in the midst of my own auto-immune issues, my husband and I decided to challenge ourselves to get 10-12 hours a night for the next month (i.e., to start our bedtime routine when the kids go to bed rather than spending a couple more hours tidying or watching a movie, etc., etc.). We’ll see how it goes.

Not enough eating and your body goes into starvation mode (which mimics adrenal fatigue). I’m bad at this one too. I get in the middle of something and figure I will eat when I finish and somehow it’s the end of the day and I still haven’t eaten. Or my kids will be fussy and I don’t want to eat and listen to them fuss so I wait until they’re busy and suddenly it’s mid-afternoon before I have breakfast. Or in previous years, I’ve been on a diet and don’t eat enough calories for my body to properly function. Sometimes I wonder what God thinks of all the emphasis on weight loss. I know we’re not supposed to be gluttons, but is it really ok to deprive our bodies of certain vital nutrients (e.g., carbs or protein) or to cut calories as a shortcut to looking like we’re healthy on the outside?

Physical rest, i.e., taking good care of my physical body also involves things like making time to wash my hair and sitting down sometimes. As a stay-at-home mom, it’s easy to skimp on stuff like that. My to-do list is never, ever, ever done–someone always needs something else, like fed or their owies kissed, etc., etc., etc.

Anyway! A couple years ago I did Beth Moore’s Psalms of Ascent study and she really put her finger on why I struggle with skipping physical rest.

A Song of Ascents, of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. – Psa 127:1-2 NASB

I don’t stop to rest, because I believe I am responsible to get the thing done. I don’t ask God for help with the every day tasks. And, as I’ve said, I’ve believed the lie that my job is to complete my to-do list, rather than faithfully stay at it.

So, self, rather than going non-stop all hours of the day, take time to nurture your body. God gave it to you as a stewardship, so it’s not laziness–it’s obedience.

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Spiritual Rest

As we’ve just finished Easter, I thought this would be a good place to start. I don’t know about in your own spiritual journey, but I tried following rules before I succumbed to grace. If you’ve never tried earning your own salvation, let me tell you, it’s an exhausting prospect. It’s literally impossible to do right things with right motives all the time. And even if you could, any wrong things you’d done (or right things with wrong motives) would still be around proclaiming your sinful state (if you want to read more on this subject, I addressed it pretty thoroughly in my book Tales from a Spacious Place, pp 187-208). I spent quite a lot of time trying to cross all my t’s and dot all my i’s, and then I just gave up because nothing I did or didn’t do seemed to make any difference.

And that is when grace came in. God taught me that what I was incapable of doing on my own, He had done. Jesus lived a perfect life and died for me. He traded records with me. When God looks at me, He sees Jesus’ righteousness, rather than my sin.

It’s easy to come to an understanding of the Gospel and apply it at a single moment in time. I still find myself caught in a performance trap with God at times. But that isn’t who I truly am. The Gospel still applies to every moment of my life, not just that moment of salvation. Spiritual rest means that I stop trying to earn God’s favor, stop trying to live a right life on my own, stop putting on a show for God. Instead I rest in what Jesus has already done. I was so wicked that God had to die for me. I am so loved that He did it willingly and joyfully. Once the Gospel has permeated every facet of our existence there is such peace. No need to impress. No need to muster up love or any other part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Just relying on Him to work in and through and for me.

This kind of rest can’t be forced. And it can’t be faked. It can only be given by God. Where are you at with God? Are you spending all your time striving? Do you wear a mask with Him? He is so ready to rescue you from your own perfectionism. He is so ready to love you for who you are.

God, thank You for making rest impossible apart from You! Thank You for creating that need, so that we wouldn’t wander through our lives oblivious to You. Jesus, thank You for dying to bring us true rest. Change our hearts. Lord, we need spiritual rest and You are the only one who has it. Root us and ground us in Your love, so that we are never tempted to be anything less than real with You. We come to You as broken, tired people. Teach us the truth of Your Gospel in all the rest of the moments we have. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

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Rest is…

So now that we’ve looked at the command to rest and the merits of resting, what exactly is rest? How do we practically apply this command?

Since the Sabbath is the quintessential example of rest, I went back to those passages on it. In Exodus 16:22-30 gives us a glimpse of the Israelites’ Sabbath while in the desert. God commands them to gather twice as much manna and prepare it the day before so that they can rest on the Sabbath. Initially, they try the gathering-enough-manna-for-two-days thing on a non-day-before-Sabbath day and then the manna gets all nastily full of worms. And they actually go out to gather on the Sabbath (no manna in sight) and are rebuked.

Frankly, this is what my “resting” looks like a lot of the time. I rest when it’s time to be diligent. I don’t rest when it’s time to rest. I don’t trust God to provide. This seems like a key feature of rest–we rest because we trust God to provide. Just like Psalm 127:1-2 says: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat–for he grants sleep to those he loves” (or alternate translation: “for while they sleep he provides for those he loves”) (NIV). Rest involves a big mind shift. If we think we are self-sufficient and that our labor is what provides for us, we’ve got a problem. Whether we grow our own food or work at a job and buy food from our wages, God has still provided.

In the New Testament, we see this principle repeated: God provides rest. Jesus Himself says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Mat 11:28-30 (NIV)

Rest is only found in the context of our relationship with God, regardless of if it’s physical rest or spiritual rest. The more I study rest, the more I’m coming to the conclusion that it is primarily a heart issue. Don’t you hate things like that? I would much rather have things be cut and dry… measurable. But rest seems to defy that sort of measurement. For instance, sleep can be a sign of resting in God or can be a sign of laziness. Not sleeping can reflect a heart full of sins like fear and pride, or it might be that God’s called me to do something (e.g., Paul preaching through the night). For me, it tends to be a control issue–can I let go of my illusion of control and trust God to take care of things while I rest? And can I do it before my body forces me to give up control? (check out “The Resting Place” in Tales from a Spacious Place if you want to see more on this)

Scripturally, we aren’t commanded to keep the Sabbath, but that doesn’t let us off the hook for resting. We need rest, just like we need oxygen, and ignoring that need is as ridiculous as refusing to put on an oxygen mask during a flight emergency. In an effort to put our own masks on first, our family decided to implement a weekly Sabbath after listening to a series by our pastor, Mike Priest (3/15/09-4/5/09). Taking a break reminds us of important things–that God is in control, that He provides for us as a loving father provides for his children, and that obeying Him is life-giving–and gives us margin in our lives.

So how do you practically apply this concept of rest? How are you diligent to rest? I’ve already started writing up my answer to this question, but I’ll leave you here so you can start thinking about your own life first. 🙂

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The Merits of Rest

I don’t know about you, but most days I feel like I have acres of things to do. Logically, it seems like resting would be antithetical to accomplishing the maximum number of things possible in a day, despite the fact that God commands us to do it. However, as I’ve been wrestling and praying through this concept of rest over the past couple of years, these two analogies keep coming back to me–lenses through which to help me see the benefits of rest. Maybe they’ll be as helpful for you as they have been for me.

First off, I’ve mentioned before that I take a Tai Chi class. I have been so blessed to be attending the perfect class for me–for starters, everyone in the class has moderate to severe health problems, so I blend right in. 🙂 I also have been so challenged by some of the perspective shifts involved in Tai Chi… it’s all about doing more with less effort. Peter Ralston calls it “effortless power.” Here’s an exercise you can try to see what I mean: Face a wall, standing arm’s length away. Stick your arm straight out in front of you. Tense up all the muscles in your arm and shoulder. Eyeball where your hand is in relation to the wall. Now relax all those muscles and check where your hand is at. I have found the more muscles I can relax, the greater my reach is. This matters in a martial setting where you want to have greater reach when you defend yourself/attack someone. I have had to completely rethink my understanding of punches. I always thought you punched with your arm muscles necessitating tense arms. Now I’ve learned your punch packs a much greater wallop if you relax your muscles because then you have the entire weight of your body behind the punch and you can reach further.

Rest likewise increases our reach and our stamina. I see this every time my husband and I start thinking we can stay up late and watch a movie (i.e., every time we expect our kids to “sleep in”). Being tired the next day means I’m fussy and my brain is foggy. It takes more time to do my tasks and I tend to make more mistakes. Resting means we’re able to do more with less effort.

Secondly, I’ve also been thinking about how God carries us along through His plan, like a log being carried in the stream. Often I spend so much time worrying about the rocks in my path (and frankly, trying to swim upstream) that I lose sight of what’s important. Resting in God’s character and sovereignty allows me to chill out and trust Him to either steer me around the rocks or use them to alter my trajectory so I don’t miss out on something amazing.

Just like diligence plans and spends time on the things that are important, rest trusts God to take care of the things we can’t change, or the things we’re not supposed to be focusing on. The more I’ve meditated on rest, the more I’ve realized my lack of rest is a reflection of my unbelief–I don’t rest because I don’t want to let go. I want to monitor every detail of every thing that touches my life… and I want to do more than I should be doing–putting extra things on my to-do list. Frankly, I’m learning that not resting can be pretty exhausting.

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Rest: Optional?

All right, so we know we’re supposed to be diligent–to work hard–at following God’s commands. How in the world does rest fit into this picture? Does working hard mean working 24/7?

The short answer is “no.” Genesis 2 introduces the idea of rest right in the very beginning–God establishes the Sabbath by “resting” on the 7th day after He finishes creating. Quick note here: Does “rest” in this scenario mean cessation of all labors? Is God sitting up in heaven twiddling His thumbs? Obviously not. We are not deists (well, at least, I’m not anyway, and I don’t see how you can hold with the Bible and be a deist). God rested from creation and began doing something new–working in the world He’d just created. We see Him working in individual lives to drive history towards redemption.

Rest doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re sitting on your hands for hours at a time. Frankly, that kind of rest sounds pretty boring to me! But we also see that rest is necessary. God establishes the Sabbath before the Fall. Rest isn’t optional. Speaking as someone who has lived like it is for far too long, we can’t live the life God has called us to without rest–if nothing else, our bodies break down.

Exodus 23:12 and 31:17 talk about how rest is so that we can refresh ourselves. I love how gentle and tender God is with us. Elijah has this amazing mountaintop experience: he has a showdown with the prophets of Baal in front of all Israel and God sends fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice and the altar (causing the people to start worshipping God again). Then he organizes the slaughter of the prophets of Baal. Then he settles himself on the mountain and prays for rain. The Spirit of God comes on him and he runs 20 miles, beating Ahab who was headed there via chariot. I’d be pretty tired by then. When he hears Jezebel’s threats, he falls apart. He heads to a tree in the wilderness and prays for God to kill him. You might think that God would tell him to trust, or remind him of all that God just used him to do. But no, this is how He handles Elijah:

He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. 1 Kings 19:5-8 (NASB)

God lets Elijah sleep and feeds him. God ministers to his physical body. We also see this kind of tenderness with Jesus and His disciples. Mark 6:31 “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.’ (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)” (NASB)

Rest is important and necessary. It’s easy for me to see my need for rest as a failing, but if Adam & Eve needed Sabbath pre-Fall, it’s not. And failing to rest is not just a bad idea, it’s a sin.