When the Longing of God Surprises You

I sat back into the overstuffed leather couch a little stunned. I begged Professor Robert Woodcock at my spiritual direction program to repeat what he had just said:  “We sometimes forget that there are two people in this relationship, us and God. We forget that we are in a relationship with a Person with feelings and hopes and dreams for our life together.  Sometimes we are brave enough to ask God what He thinks but rarely are we brave enough to ask God how He feels.”  

 

 

 

I was undone. My professor’s words exposed the neat little wall of separation I had carefully fit together between me and God. 

 

The point is God feels, profoundly.

 

I had never let this little piece of knowledge get personal. I had tucked this one in the bottom drawer of the left hemisphere of my brain. On purpose. Now I wondered if shame was the culprit.

 

Shame was overused in my church growing up, a whip to prod parishioners to sign up for cleaning day or push us out of perceived apathy. It was used for everything from hustling people to the altar during the sixth verse of “Just as I AM” to filling up the list for nursery duty.  

 

And what wires together, fires together, right? Soon God and shame were welded. Guilt leads us to repentance and back into repaired relationship. Shame is quicksand and we soon self-identify with our new home.

 

 

Exhibit A. Ask anyone at Asbury College in 1994 about the VUL-TURES sermon during chapel. As I watched the preacher energetically point to the wooden urns over Hughes auditorium and re-symbolize how they represented vultures ready to feast on our sinful hearts, I began to feel like I was having an out of body experience. Sometimes shame can be subtle, a little jab to prod us into movement but this time the ridiculous had brought the use of shame up to the light, exposed. That year I began to have an exquisitely fine-tuned shame radar. I began to see it abused in the emotional coercion of a worship leader, in the preacher’s clapping us awake during long sermons, and whenever I heard it, I’d shut down.

 

 It took decades to unwire.

 

 

After hearing my professor invite us to ask God how He felt, I began to wonder. I wondered if in order to shake myself free of shame’s constant demand, I had turned off my ability to sense God’s emotion, to be truly present to the Divine Other. I was sure that if I asked, I would only feel more shame.

 

By holding God at bay with a neat and tidy Heisman, I became a subtle consumer of God. I look back now wondering how often this relationship was a one-way exchange. Or perhaps I did my best to control what emotions I perceived.  Reading scripture I note a whole range of God’s emotions.

 

Delight:

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17

 

Empathy:

When Jesus saw Mary (the sister of Lazarus) weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. (John 11:34-35)

 

Desire:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Luke 13:34)

 

Jealousy:

For Israel said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’ Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. (Hosea 2:5-7)

 

Sadness:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)

 

Joy:

But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (John 15:22-24)

 

 

I kept this awareness of God’s emotions locked down tight in the jar of scripture. 

 

As I slowed down today’s lectio divina in Jeremiah 3:19-22a and listened, I was forced to acknowledge God’s sorrow: 

 

How I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most beautiful of all nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me.”

 

Can you hear it too Friend, His profound longing?

 

 

“I thought you would call me, My Father.” He had stood watching his prodigal, the entire nation of Israel, skip away with the inheritance money.

 

As I listened, in my small way, I recognized the discouragement of a parent. I know the stab of hurt that comes from disrespect, the ache of disappointment when my offer of time together is refused. I’m all-too familiar when my generosity is rejected, when my meals are pushed away by picky eaters. I can’t imagine the grief of a child who shuts the door on a warm home to live on the streets, let alone a heroine house.

 

“I thought you would not turn away from following me.”

 

I stop.

 

I spend a few moments remembering those times I bushwacked my own path AWAY. I sit still registering His sadness. I sit with His extravagant longing.

 

I glance up and see the Father of the prodigal searching the horizon calling out: “Return O faithless sons, and I will heal your faithlessless.” (Jer 3:22a).

 

It’s so over-the-top generous, isn’t it? 

 

There’s no sting. There’s no whip of shame. There’s a wave of His arm home, a full feast, and an invitation to heal our waywardness.

 

A weekly lectio divina video like this one (lectionary based) is slipped into the inbox of subscribers on Tuesday. Sometimes they connect with what I write and I post them here. Subscribe on the right so that you don’t miss a week.

Join me for this lectio divina from Jeremiah 3:19-22a:

(All photos from Deb Howard photography.)

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10 Surprising Songs for When You Need to Rest in God

 

{Join me for a Lectio Divina from this next Sunday’s lectionary below and listen to this great hope that we have from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Subscribe on the right to receive a weekly lectio divina in your inbox and join the SLOW Word Movement.}

 

I woke up on Sunday morning with what Brene Brown calls a vulnerability hangover.

 

Saturday I led a workshop at our Diocesan Synod on overcoming anxiety by learning to rest in God’s love. My talk was not some nice info I spliced together from a pile of books I’ve read all neatly objective. What I presented was my own story filled with the debilitating paralysis from anxiety and how God is healing my brain through his love. It was a complete joy to share and the fact that many experienced God’s love in a fresh way, I felt like Mary witnessing Easter. But when I woke up on Sunday morning my legs were slow and my brain was slower. I sat in the bath filled with Epsom salts and put my finger on it. It felt like the outskirts of depression.

 

When I was in the parish, every Sunday night this hangover drove me to escape into the Help Wanted Ads looking for those ever cliche greener pastures.

 

This time, however, I was expecting it.  Vulnerability hangovers are a part of the risk of using our deepest wounds to offer others the greatest healing. The day after big movements of ministry, I always have two thoughts: first, maybe I overshared and they’re going to think I’m an idiot, and second, perhaps it will all come to nothing. Even worse: Why did I offer anyways? Sounds like a toxic cocktail of my greatest fear and Satan’s greatest lie, right? But I’ve heard it all before.

 

That cocktail no longer has the power it once had.

 

Why?

First, I’ve received such powerful healing that sharing is integral to my gratitude. I can’t stop. I’m the woman at the well running towards the townspeople, “Let me take you to a Man…”

I’ve finally separated my deepest lie, “I will always be rejected,” from physical exhaustion. It’s no longer intertwined. Now, I know to rest, eat healthy food, exercise, and keep clear of the toxic whirl.

Second, I again recognize that it’s not about me. That truth is a deep sigh of relief.  I’m not the center of the world. I’m not the center of God’s world. I’m just a pointer to Jesus.

Third, He’s in charge of outcomes, I can only be responsible for offering.

 

But when I’m deep in the exhaustion of a vulnerability hangover and crawling back into life I often use music. I’m too tired for journaling. I’m too tired to pray. I can only pray through liturgy or music.

 

This is what the movement of my music listening prayer sounds like. It’s a sampling of my favorites from bluegrass to pop, from the profound to the quirky. I hope you’ll find a deep breath right here:

 

When I have a ministry hangover I often start here acknowledging the exhaustion:

 

 

 

 

Songs for resting in God’s love:

 

 

We’ve got all of these Scripture Lullaby albums. The kids often go to sleep to them. Loveliness. You can buy them here:

 

This next song is for celebrating our smallness and worshipping. I bought this album before one of our trips to Mount Desert Island, Maine and every time I hear the words, it’s forever linked to the winding drive up to Cadillac mountain, the bald rock hills on one side, the oceans dotted with islands on the other. Nature always reminds me how small I am, that I’m a very small part of a great big redemption story. I can say yes to my very small part and then turn and worship.

 

 

 

This song by Audrey Assad is an invitation to confession. It comes from the Litany of Humility here. As I listen, I ask myself, “Am I holding onto outcomes? Was I hoping it would be a validating experience, that I would come out as the hero of the story?”

 

 

After confession, we receive the victory of Christ and start to walk into hope. This song by Steffany Gretzinger takes twists and turns and captures us by surprise but somehow it’s exactly what we needed to hear:

 

 

This song is perfect when I’m exhausted in the morning but still need to get going: (This song from The Brilliance is usually on repeat while I make breakfast.)

 

 

When you’re ready to move out into the day. We are late the the Josh Garrels party but oh. my. word. after hearing this two part podcast about his vision for his vocation, we fell hard:

 

Quirky to the Nth Degree, this song is from my favorite movie, About Time. It’s a gentle reminder to listen to the spaces of redemption among the ordinary.

 

 

And then prayers for further anointing:

 

I’m linking with #tellhisstory over with the fantastic encouragement guru Jennifer Dukes Lee here.

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How Lectio Divina Can Reshape our Habits

Technology and the way we are consuming information is resculpting our brains. It’s slicing and dicing our attention span.

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In an article by writer Philip Yancey in the Washington Post called The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul, this prolific author was confessing an internal pull to skim, to jump from article to article, and to read short little ditties instead of immerse himself between the covers of longer books.

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I’m recognizing this same shift. I have the bizarre tendency to go from amazing quote to amazing quote on instagram and skim like I’m trying to make a satisfying meal out of a light buffet of petit fours. I have a sugar rush and the slight dizziness to prove it.

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This is where the slow feast of lectio divina comes in as a gift for reversing this trend. It can be an awkward practice at first, sitting with a scripture not packaged in a tweet. We’re used to immediate emotional connectivity, someone curating a quote that has the potential to go viral. We’re accustomed to the jolt, the effortless “aha” moment. If we’re not careful, we will be building our summer home in the shallows.

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In lectio divina we learn to pause, to linger, to listen. We learn to invite the guest home. Then, the guest turns host breaks open the bread and we grow silent in wonder as we realize how much we’ve missed Him.

Action step: watch this Lectio Divina video for Philippians 4:11-13. Allow yourself to experience the awkwardness of silence. Stay present.

(These days I’m writing over on Instagram and Facebook a 31 Day Detox for the Tech-Weary Soul. Join me there? Subscribe to get the entire thing nicely packaged and tied with a bow, figuratively of course.)

Join me in sitting down for a meal? 

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Loving Cruciform

Dear friends, every Tuesday we gather for a slow meal of manna, a lectio divina, straight from this next Sunday’s lectionary. Join the Slow Word Movement and subscribe to get a free how-to video to deepen your time in the Word.

 

Ever have that feeling as you stand at the end of the high dive that you just want to watch someone else go first? He jumps, you watch the landing, and then your body remembers. You can follow.  You pull your legs in tight and the water engulfs you. No harm. No foul.

In Philippians 2, we watch the way love shapes Jesus’ body cruciform so that we too can learn to stretch out our arms to serve in true humility. Only, here’s the catch. This stretch into service doesn’t make sense unless it’s fueled by a mighty love. I’ve seen people try to shape their body into humble service and it looks ghostly, a wisp of self. It looks like victimhood.

Whereas humble Love is always voluntary.

I’m reading two books right now that go beautifully with this text.

Hidden by Sara Hagerty a beautiful book which has challenged me on every level.

Free of Me: Why Life is Better When It’s not About You by Sharon Hodde Miller which comes out next week. Woo hoo! Sharon’s chapters on when we make our calling about us and image management have been especially profound for me. Pre-buy and receive lots of goodies at Sharon’s site: Sheworships.com

Interested in a short book that will rock your world? Tim Keller’s book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness is a must read.  Check it out here. It’s always $2 on kindle.

I honestly believe that this concept of embracing others through humble love is the hardest for modern Americans to grasp. We have so much baggage along the lines of army recruiting messages like Be All that You Can Be and journals spouting, “Dream on.” But the way of love is not always victorious, it’s cruciform and it’s only Jesus who can show us how.

Blessings dear ones as you listen,
Summer Joy

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Renewing our View of God

 

It’s easy for us to view God through the grimy lens of our own imperfect parents. Honestly, it makes sense. It’s the only lens of love we’ve got. But the problem is that we have a horrible tendency to anthropomorphize God. We put human features and characteristics onto a perfect, holy, and all-loving God. We think he’s as fickle and capricious as those we witness walking around this solid earth.

 

We fear His love morphs with our attempts at holiness. We imagine He showers us with compassion on the good days and withdraws his love, hiding in the shadows, leaving us in the cold, when He’s not pleased.

 

This. Is. Not. God. This is not unconditional love.  Psalm 103 is a good place to sink into in order to let God share his self-revelation.

 

Listen. Savor. Pray. Ask God to reveal Himself to you. Ask Him to tell you how He sees you!

 

Thirsty? Want more?

 

“The gardeners at the Center where I bought my white hydrangeas said to chop off the big snowball blooms for two full years. The roots’ establishing was more critical than beauty, she lectured, tenderly patting the black plastic base. Let them spread all their energy to the tightening, spreading roots and then, she promised, they’ll bloom strong into the years.” Read more here.

 

Want a daily practice to resting in God’s love? It’s a simple practice called the 3 R’s that can be done anywhere.

Read more here.

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Invitation to the With-God Life

Listen. Savor. Pray.

 

Are you feeling thirsty for more of the with-God abiding life? Here’s my story and why practicing God’s Presence has become one of the chief desires of my life: http://www.athirstforgod.com/tag/practicing-the-presence-of-god/

AND, by the way, did you know every Tuesday we have a lectio divina from the lectionary for the following Sunday? Come back on Thursdays (today) and pray through scripture using a lectio divina series I’m calling The WITH-GOD LIFE. We’ll be soaking in John 15 for a few weeks and then head out to the Psalms. I promise it will be strength for the journey.

Join the Slow Word Movement and subscribe to become a part of the community! I’ll be making a video on Five Simple Ways to Deepen your Scripture Meditation and sharing it right there next week. We also have a lovely Facebook Community for subscribers that’s continually growing.

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More Instructions on Prayer

Lectio divina is an ancient practice dating back to the 500’s which is a companion to Bible study. It’s a doorway to prayer, a landscaped path to relationship. Every Tuesday we listen to a gospel reading looking for bread, but not just any bread, The Bread. We’re hungry to connect not just to a new aha moment, an momentary intellectual high, but to Jesus Himself.

 

Lectio divina is a slow walk home to the Beloved where we lean in close to listen to His heart. I wonder what you will hear today? (If you desire more companionship on the journey, a free Intro to Lectio Divina video, and a private facebook group, join the Slow Word Movement by subscribing on the right.)

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Keys to Overcoming Fear of Rejection

 

 

Every Tuesday we have a lectio divina taken straight from next week Sunday’s lectionary. It’s a sort of appetizer. If there’s a second lectio in the week, I get to choose! It’s sometimes a scripture that I know will minister to struggle. Sometimes I pick it for me. Isaiah 51:12-16 was for me. It represents an area in my life that still needs more healing: fear of rejection. Yup, it’s like an onion, there are often more layers which are uncovered at different times. Verse 14 is my prayer when I’m crying out for transformation: The cowering prisoners will soon be set free. They will not die in their dungeon. Nor will they lack bread!

 

You can read more about my wrestle by clicking here.

 

Maybe you can relate. I wonder how the Lord will speak to you through these verses.

 

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Four Simple Ways to Deepen your Lectio Divina Practice

Did you know that Tuesday’s lectio divina video always corresponds to the next Sunday’s scripture if you’re in a lectionary-based church?  Want to get it slipped into your inbox? Would you like to join our private Facebook group to share with other listeners? Subscribe on the right.

 

 

Four ways to deepen your lectio divina practice:

 

  1. Get friendly with the pause button.

    Don’t rush what the Spirit may be doing. Stay present. Listen. Gather up all the manna.

  2. Stash a 3 by 5 card.

    Don’t let the seeds slip through your fingers. Write down the phrase the Spirit seems to be highlighting.  Write down the invitation. Put the card in your pocket and take it out throughout the day. Walk that truth out into your day. Look at it like a prism in your hand, turning it around and looking at it from different angles, in different lights.

  3. Write in your journal.

    When the lectio is over, continue the conversation. At its simplest, Lectio divina is using the scriptures as a doorway to prayer.

  4. Get present with Jesus through the Scripture.

    If Jesus is asking a question, take it to heart. How does that question reverberate in your own soul?

 

Now let’s try it out. Here’s Jesus’ question to us today:  

 

Let’s go deeper. What would it look like if you gained success but lost Jesus?

 

Let’s put skin and bones on that question. Think about it. Imagine your craziest, worthy-of-a-book dream coming true.

 

Go ahead. Walk around in the heady success for a bit. Who’s there? What are the trappings, the curtains, the toys, the numbers? Touch the grandness of the dream. Smell it.

 

And now here’s the most important question: Where is Jesus in the midst of this dream? Where are you? Who is at the center? Who is on the outskirts? Whose dream is it?

 

Along those same lines, what does this scenario truly cost your soul? What did it cost your soul to get there?

 

Next question: where is your true self in the scenario? No really. Where is that smallish but beloved and barefoot child of God? Is He or She plastered over with a thick mask? Does she get lost in the dream? What does her voice sound like? Is it authentic? Who is putting on her make-up, caking on a false self? Who is his tailor?

 

So, now you know that this is where I’m parking myself for the next few days. And now your turn, what word/phrase connected with you?

 

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How Meditating on our Identity Gives Courage: *SLOW Word Lectio Divina*

Find a Lectio Divina video right here every Tuesday (Yup, Tuesday. Some weeks we’ll also have a bonus on Thursday or Friday).

Join the SLOW Word Movement by subscribing on the right or pass it on to a friend.

 

Want a short 3 minute video introduction to this passage? 

 

Join me in slowing down the word and praying the lectio divina (divine word) right here:

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