trust fall – #mymessybeautiful

I have a new friend named Glennon.

This week, I’ve been reading her book, Carry On, Warrior.  I don’t quite agree with everything she says in it, but I don’t quite agree with all my husband’s convictions either, so it doesn’t bother me much.

She talks an awful lot about truth-telling.  She invited anyone who wanted to tell some truth on the internets to link it up with her site, momastery.com, all to coordinate with the release of the paperback of her book.  I’ve felt sort of ambiguous about this, because I feel a little bit like Anne Shirley when Rolling’s Reliable takes over her novel, but a big enough part of me wondered if I might just not want to say something too truthy that I’m here.

So, here is my trust fall:

I struggle to believe that God loves me (and I’m a priest).

We live in an accomplishment-oriented society; our culture tells us that we have to achieve to be accepted and loved.  Popular interpretations of the parable of the talents don’t help–“If you don’t do your very best with all the ‘talents’ you’ve been given, you’ll be called lazy by God and thrown into the outer darkness!”  (Matthew 25)  This leads us to despair when we don’t think we’ve done enough, and it leads us to toxic amounts of achievement (perhaps especially at elite institutions *kicking hornets nest* *still wearin’ my duke blue devil horns headband*).

My broken understanding of love often leads me to over-function for others–thinking, hoping, desperate-to-believe that if I do enough for someone, she will give me love.  This is a dangerous belief for a priest to have–there’s always plenty to do for your congregation to try to earn their love, and even more so, there’s always more you could do for God.  The voice of fear in my head accuses me, “You’re lazy to not stay until the very last parishioner goes home.”  “A truly devoted priest would do ALL THE THINGS before leaving for the night.”  Of course this tempts me into thinking that everything depends on me (when really, everything depends on GOD).

Earning love isn’t a thing.  If we’re motivated to do good deeds or to go to church or to work hard because we think that it will help God will love us if we do them, then we’re missing the whole point of Christianity, and the whole point of love.

Love cannot be earned.  Love cannot be lost.  Love is a choice.

Doing bad things doesn’t ever make us unlovable (to God).  Making “wrong” choices doesn’t set us back on God’s love-o-meter.  Because the love that we show each other is always broken and imperfect, our understanding of who we are in God’s eyes can get messed up.

Even when we doubt God, or ridicule him, or turn away from God all together, he doesn’t leave and he doesn’t stop loving.

Today is Maundy Thursday. At the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus gave his followers a mandate – to love one another (John 13). Tonight, in churches around the globe, people will gather to remember this event again. Throughout the following hours, Jesus showed his disciples, and the whole world, what it means to love.

As people mocked him, 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:42-43)  Jesus stayed on the cross.  Even when his companions abandoned him, he stayed there, bleeding and hanging.  Jesus stayed.

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Jesus, the Son of God, God himself, stayed with humanity.  God came, and God stayed, no matter what people did to him.  God still comes, and God still stays with each of us.

My calling as a priest isn’t to be the perfect example of love any more than it is the call of every person to love.  We’re all witnesses to God’s love by the very fact and miracle that each of us exists.  My calling as a priest is to listen with other curious people, to sit and stay with suffering people, and to offer Jesus as healing for our brokenness.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

original artwork by Roger Hutchison

being a vessel

I had a cold. Often, when people have colds, they clasp their hands together during the part of the church service when everyone else is reaching out to each other–the Peace (Romans 16:16, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Peter 5:14)–and say, “Oh no, I’m sick.  Don’t want to infect you!”  or, holding up a hand as a stop, “Don’t touch me, I’m sick!”

Four years, ago, at an early morning weekday Eucharist, I did exactly that; “No no, I have a cold, don’t get too close!”  And my friend ignored me.  He said, “If we can’t share the peace whether we’re ill or not, what can we share?”  And he gave me a hug.

That’s being a vessel of God’s love to each other.

Both before and after that moment, I took classes with this friend.  We probably had dozens of other conversations, but I don’t specifically remember any one of them, just that one.  Though I haven’t seen him in years, I still remember that moment, and anytime he’s mentioned, that’s the one thing I recall.

May we all being such willing vessels of God’s love.

Lessons on Self-Worth from Facebook

Do you ever stop yourself from doing something good, because you know there’s something better that you could do?  (and then, end up not-doing the better thing and do no-thing instead?)

In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin uses the example of her friends’ birthdays: she’d mean to send them a card, or call them on the phone, but either the day passed and she forgot, or pulling out stationery and finding a stamp, or digging up a phone number just was too high a barrier, and she’d let another birthday–and another chance to connect–pass by.

Her dilemma hit home for me: if I couldn’t think up some clever or especially meaningful thought or wish to share on a friend’s facebook page for his or her birthday, I just said nothing at all.  My mind got used to ignoring the little birthday candle at the top of my newsfeed every day.

Rubin swallowed her pride, gathered all the pertinent birthdays into a program with requisite email addresses, and vowed to send an email to each person every year on their birthday.  Sure, a card or a phone call would have been “better,” but if the barrier to those actions was just high enough to keep her from completing them, an email was definitely better than nothing.

On my birthday earlier this year, I noticed that it wasn’t the clever memories or sayings that delighted me as well-wishes showed up on my newsfeed all day.  The messages that surprised and delighted me most were  from those people with whom I hadn’t had contact over the last year, but who took just long enough to notice that it was my birthday, and to write two or three words on my wall.  Just knowing that they’d thought of me warmed my heart and I started to see what it is that’s meant when we say “it’s the thought that counts,” or “90% of life is showing up.”–I’m often tempted to think that something’s got to be personalized, or super creative, or fantastically complex to be a good gift, or to be a job well done.

In and of ourselves, who we are when we’re just sitting on the couch, our very presence–that’s plenty for most people.

God created us to be fantastic, personalized, creative people just as we are, without energy-sapping window-dressing, complicated choreography, or intense planning.  Just sitting on the couch, doing nothing, “contributing” (in an economic sense) nothing–we’re plenty.

Whose Children Are They?

“That which we have heard and known, and what our forefathers have told us, we will not hide from their children.” (Ps. 78:3, BCP 694)

A few years ago, while in seminary, a friend of mine and his wife welcomed their first child.  In a facebook status post soon after the birth, he said something to the effect of, “God has entrusted this child to us–he is God’s child, not ours.”  It’s stuck with me, and the sentiment in the psalm appointed for Morning Prayer today echoes my friend’s wisdom.

The speaker in this verse sounds like the generation caught in the middle, the generation of parents is very much keeping the children they bear in trust for their own elders.  Children belong not to their individual parents, but to the tribe in which they were born.  It’s not even up to the parents whether they pass along the faith and truth with which they’ve been entrusted–to teach the young about God is simply what parents owe to their own parents and forebears.

Have you ever thought of your children (or siblings, or kids at your church, or elsewhere in your life) as simply being entrusted to you by God or by your whole lineage of ancestors?  The world feels a lot more like a family when we think about our children collectively.

Thin Spots

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A number of months ago, a seminarian here at CSMSG preached about “thin spots,” moments and events when the distance or space between us and God or us and heaven seems to be inconsequential–the space seems “thin.”

I think of the way that light peeks through well-worn fabric; the way that the “fabric” of our lives can get to be gauze-like in places, and that wearing away reveals the light–the glory, the God-ness–behind/underneath it.  The more I focus on these spots, the more I see them.  I don’t think they’re increasing in frequency by any means–I’m not becoming holier by the minute, let’s be real!–but I do think that in training myself to see them, I’m getting better at seeing more of them.

2012-06-01 10.39.29Another contributing factor: really, truly working to see trials as opportunities to grow.  I’m borrowing another blogger’s great, great wisdom here.  When we help to create thin spots*, we’re more attuned to God’s work in our own lives, and we’re more willing to receive/notice the gift of those moments that remind us of God’s presence and of the joy of life itself.

*choosing to think of trials as opportunities to grow–loving others well with no attention or regard for their behavior toward us.  This is helping others, especially in physical ways–bringing dinner to a person’s home, inviting someone to coffee, visiting with someone in the check out/coffeeshop/DMV line; this is going ahead and being honest (lovingly!) with others, especially in positive ways–sending that note to the acquaintance who just gave birth and you want to congratulate, telling your spouse out loud that you’re so grateful for him/her, calling that dear old friend you haven’t spoken with in a year (not letting the shame of how long it’s been/how strange you think it might sound/how stalkerish it might seem get in the way of expressing gratitude!); this is washing your mind out when storm clouds gather and when the person in line/in the car in front of you/in the upstairs apartment happens to be very, very rude.  I have to constantly remind myself that there’s surely something that is bothering her/him, and it’s not really about me, but about trying to work through the anger and hurt, and I happen to be caught in the crossfire (this is one of my biggest challenges).

In my own life, paying more attention to thin spots recently, I’ve found they most often happen when I’m with other people–not alone–and when I’m praying.  Now, I must have the courage to be with people and to pray all the more!

 

Nature as a Metaphor

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This week, the Daily Office Lectionary (the schedule that takes pray-ers and read-ers through most of the Bible in the course of two years, found in the back of any Book of Common Prayer, and online in various locations, like this) has been taking us through Isaiah.  This prophet’s words are major faves for Messianic imagery and promise–Isaiah’s are the words ones Jesus quotes most during his ministry as recorded in the Gospels.  They’ve been fertilizing my heart the last few weeks (and months–in our women’s Bible Study); here are a few thoughts on two verses from Isaiah 43, part of the Lectionary’s reading in the last week.

“When you pass through the water, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2

We have, we do, we will face rivers and fires–storms of relationships and financial stability and physical/mental health–there is no promise God ever makes that we will be shielded or that we can avoid trials and pain in our lives.  The promise made to us here is that when we face pain and trials, because we will, we won’t be drowned or choked or suffocated or burned or consumed–we won’t be killed.  When we face pain, we have an opportunity to grow and learn and to become stronger through the trouble we’re encountering.  If we stick stubbornly to God, like a burr on a dog’s coat, our trials become moments that we can learn trust, and we can come out the other side stronger and happier and closer to God than before.IMG_2303

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

We don’t experience much physical wilderness in our day & age–there aren’t any places on the earth that haven’t at least been mapped, if not overrun with people and paths and conveniences (especially in the US)–but perhaps you can imagine what it might be like to stand on the edge of a desert, or at the end of the road leading into the nature preserve (if that’s the closest we can imagine to “wilderness”!), and try to conceive a way through the uncharted space to wherever it is we’re supposed to go.  Even if it’s like a park, and there are paths running through this “wilderness,” such ready-made paths never seem to go quite the right direction.  Though we face areas of wilderness in our lives–relationships that are stuck and have no clear direction out of the mud, medical or financial or other problems that have only walls and uncertainty–God will guide your path (the one for just you–not a pre-made, well-worn path, perhaps).