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An Internal Art Form

Do you ever get so focused on getting from point A to point B in your day that you forget even why you’re going to point B? It’s so easy to go through the motions, isn’t it? Some days I find myself doing that. For instance, I get caught up in just getting through my kids’ homework vs. making sure they actually understand the concepts.

Recently at my Tai Chi class we were talking about how Tai Chi is an internal art form, but it’s not always taught that way. It’s so interesting: because of the differences between eastern thought and western thought there are some things that are just hard to translate in a way that makes sense to our western mindset. In my opinion, Peter Ralston has done an amazing job of actually translating those concepts into a way that’s understandable. A while back I talked about the five principles–being calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, and whole and total–and what the corresponding spiritual reality is–trusting God, surrender, living out of the essence of who God has made you to be, being grounded in who God is, and being engaged with the entirety of who you are and what’s actually happening around you (vs. what you wish/mistakenly think is happening).

My teacher was talking about how the first Tai Chi class he attended taught the choreography of the form, but didn’t talk at all about the principles–which is nuts because the principles are 95% of Tai Chi. It’s so sad. I can’t imagine taking the principles out of the form. Without the principles, the form is pretty, but it’s not functional. For instance, if you try to push something with your arms alone, you have less power than if you utilize your whole body. Tai Chi is an internal art form–95% of it you can’t see. You can’t see if someone is calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, whole and total–although you can make some pretty accurate guesses from observing them. And you can’t relax for someone else. You can encourage them to relax, but you can’t do the work for them.

Christianity is the same way: 95% of it is all the connection with God and hanging onto who you are in Christ–it’s stuff that isn’t visible. When we focus on the things that are visible–e.g., whether you attend church, read your Bible, pray, etc., etc., etc.–we are missing out on the majority of what’s important. It may look all shiny and nice on the outside, but it’s not functional. I don’t know about you, but I need reminded of that occasionally. I love that God is the power behind, um, well, everything in my life. He’s the power for me to stay calm when I’m late and stuck behind someone driving five miles under the speed limit. He’s the power for me to listen to my children and tell them that I love them the way they are. He’s the power for me to write when things are going awesome and when I feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall. He’s the power for me to love my neighbor even when I don’t feel like it.

I hate to say it, but if you’re focused on the 5%, you’re not doing okay. There’s so much more to life, to thriving and abundance and joy in Christ than that 5%. As I tell my kids, stop, take a deep breath and regroup. Reconnect with the 95%. Nobody can do it for you–Christianity is an internal art form.

 

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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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The Art of Following

In my martial arts class this week we were practicing following. This exercise seems simple, laughably easy, yet it’s a trick. The leader holds out their hand, palm down. Their partner, the follower, places their relaxed hand on top. The leader isn’t trying to lose the follower. The follower, keeping their hand and arm relaxed, is just trying to move however necessary to follow the leader.

Here’s the trick: in order to follow, you can’t lead. You can’t press down on the leader’s hand. You can’t try to nudge them in whichever direction you think they ought to be going. In fact, if you try to do any of those things, you tense up and miss the subtle shifts of their leading.

Normally, I’m the one trying to follow. This week I ended up being the leader. My partner was having trouble with the exercise–he was so tensed up he couldn’t even feel the difference between when he was pushing on me and when his hand was relaxed. In the midst of trying to show him the difference, I realized that’s me. I’m the same way.

I have some preconceived notion of where God’s trying to take me. I have a plan of where I think we should go, and I’m so focused on my own plan that I miss God’s plan. I miss His leading.

God, open my mind to Your plan. Sweep away my preconceptions of what the plan should be. Help me to relax and just follow, moment by moment.

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The Unlikely Path to Victory

Strength in weakness. Power in relaxation. These concepts seem so antithetical–practically ludicrous.

Yet we find them writ large across the pages of the Bible. The gospel itself bleeds with these incongruities–God, Sovereign of heaven and earth, incarnate as a helpless babe, raised in poverty, crucified despite His innocence . . . crucified to rescue me. The powerful One sacrificed at the hands of powerless men so that they many be grafted in, that humans may have access to divine power (1 Peter 1; 2 cor. 4:7; Ephesians, John 15).

A martial arts class I’ve been taking has prompted meditation on the value of intentional weakness–call it “rest” or “relaxation.” It’s been fascinating to see the power of relaxation. My teacher frequently gives this illustration: Suppose you are attacked. Someone grabs your arm. If you tense up, they have a direct line to the rest of your body. They can move you about at will. Yet if you relax, your attacker retains possession of your arm and your arm alone. In fact, as my teacher likes to point out, the question becomes “who has whom?” Your attacker may have your arm, but in holding onto it, they themselves are tensed up and vulnerable to attack. You now possess a direct line to their core.

Spiritual warfare is similar. Isaiah 30:15 – “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: In repentance and rest is your salvation [to be free], in quietness [to calm] and trust if your strength[victory] but you would have none of it.” Victory is not found in striving, just as salvation is not by works. Jesus has won the battle already. Satan, his agents, and my own sinful nature are all defeated foes.

Victory is not found in thrashing around violently, like a cow caught in quicksand, nor in giving way to despair. Sometimes things just look like I’m trapped in quicksand. Life is hard and it’s not fair. These are the realities of living in a broken world.

However, appearances are deceiving. “Yet” and “haply” turn “bootless cries” into “hymns at heaven’s gate.” By God’s thought, reality is outwardly wasting away yet inwardly being renewed. Reality is that I have been grafted into God’s family and my loving Father works all things for my good.

Therefore, victory is found in relaxing and trusting God to win the victory. This is not to say it’s an easy task. Relaxing in the face of trouble is one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do–every fiber of my being cries out for action of some sort, be it fight or flight. Nor am I called to laziness. I still have a responsibility to position myself for victory. God still calls me to faith.

God, give me the faith to believe You . . . to rest in Your character and in what You’ve already done and are going to do. Help me to be proactively inactive, yet to obey and do whatever You’ve called me to do in the power of Your Spirit. Don’t let me get away with “having none” of Your salvation and victory. Thank You, Jesus, for winning the victory for me!