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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4 Thanksgiving Links from the Tasty to the Meaningful

A few links to make your Thanksgiving better:

Yummier:

I don’t like turkey. In fact, I’d choose beef, ham, chicken every day of the week. Maybe that has to do with the fact that the famous white Albricht birds were strutting their stuff all summer long at their farm on Route 61 a mile from our home as I grew up, but after Thanksgiving, silence. No birds. But after wanting to up my Thanksgiving game, I tried this bird, and well, I wanted seconds. Check out the recipe on Bon Appetit here.

 

More Organized:

Thursday we’ll be in Maryland in St. Michael’s in one house with ten adults and six children. If it’s nice enough, the kids will ride bikes on the driveway. More than likely they’ll want to be inside listening to the adults, playing on the floor in front of the kitchen island. Mom will be making her sausage and mushroom stuffing. I’ll be making mashed potatoes. No one else has enough courage to put in the necessary bars of butter. If I were in charge, I’d want a Thanksgiving mentor. Misty Krasawski from itsabeautifullife.org has us covered. Find Misty Krasawski’s amazing Thanksgiving Timeline post here.

 

More Meaningful:

Throwing Thanksgiving dinner can make even the most organized hyperventilate. We can miss the THANKSGIVING in the midst of the stained and scattered recipe cards, the timeline, and the orders barked at the kids setting the table. Mom introduced this family tradition of the three kernels of corn thirty five years ago and although it’s the very definition of simplicity, what it builds into our family Thanksgiving traditions is profound. I wrote about it over at AnglicanPastor.org today.

 

“I found them in her dining room tucked into a lowboy drawer: a sandwich sized Ziploc bag of corn kernels.  I looked around at the china hutch still full, her table shrunk small.  She had passed away just a week before. She was red-haired spunky but always full of welcome. We had driven to Akron for her funeral. I choked out the eulogy and together Andrew and I had handed out the bread and the wine.”  Click here to read more.

 

Recovery and Rest

Need a space of rest before or after? Join the Slow Word listeners pushing play and resting in God right here. {subscribe on the right so you don’t miss a lectio divina.} Join us here:

(Opening picture from Death to Stock photos)

Want to share your favorite Thanksgiving tips? I’d love to hear your family recipes and meaningful traditions right here in the comments!

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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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He Upholds Us When We Fall

Listen. Savor. Respond to God.

“The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all those who are bowed down.” Psalm 145:14

 

We were in a long season of exhaustion and I had lost hope we would ever make it out. Andrew and I were struggling to make it through each day. We had had three children within four years and a church plant. At bedtime I would make out a schedule of fifteen minute increments: playdoh – 15 minutes, sand play 15 minutes, snack time 15 minutes, just in order to wake up feeling armed. Every day I would crumple it up knowing it was meaningless. We were leaning too heavily on each other because there was nowhere else to lean. Until we couldn’t anymore. We were depleted. There was nothing extra. Love felt thin as one of Aunt Margie’s hand-me-down sheets, see-through, brittle.

 

And so I would lay down. On the bed. On the floor. It didn’t matter.

 

When tempers were strong and love was thin I would lay down. Knowing God was holding both of us up. He was the ground of our marriage.

 

“For in Him we live and move and have our being” from Acts 17 merged with Paul Tillichs’ “God is the ground of our being” and I would lay down feeling the ground hold us up. Because I couldn’t anymore. But I could lay down intentionally knowing God was “upholding those of us who were falling.”

 

And a strange comfort would come. Grace catches us when we fall backwards.

 

I didn’t have any answers and yet I could depend on He who was the Answer. I didn’t have the energy to stand and yet I could fall…into God’s strong arms. Because the ground always held and God always held even when I didn’t have the strength to carry us.

 

Where do you need to be held up today? Where do you feel as though you are falling?

 

 

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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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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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What Jesus Says to your Fear *SLOW Word video*

Ever sense you can already feel the spray from an impending circumstance, like Peter overwhelmed by that coming wave?

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Anticipation becomes worry. The worry deepens.

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You stand on the water and watch the swells and can’t help but calculate the time for the massive roll to reach you. You try your darndest to push it back down into your subconscious to strong arm your day but that nauseous feeling has a way of rising back up unbidden.

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Maybe it’s a credit card bill that’s looming, a deadline, a yearly procedure, the prospect of connecting with a family member that always leaves you cradling a tangled mass of emotions.

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Maybe your wave is way simpler: morning. Maybe just waking up and punching in and going through the motions leaves you drained and apprehensive.

Get still. Take a couple deep breaths and then ask yourself: what am I anxious about?

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When you have the answer, enter into the story of Peter walking on the water as if you are Peter.

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Hear Jesus in front of you inviting you out onto the rough sea. Hear his voice saying, “Come.” Take that first step out of the boat. Linger with Jesus for a moment and enjoy His company. You have just heard him say: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” How do you feel when you’re with Him? Stay there a moment. Then feel the water just under your feet, flooding your sandals, the fierce wind pulling at your hair, playing with your clothing. Feel the spray of the water. See the wave coming, and then be present with Christ with your wave.

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What happens next, Dear One?

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Listen. Watch.

Join me in a short 11 minute lectio divina on Matthew 14:26-31a

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Let the Word become a springboard for prayer.

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Matthew 13:1-8 Lectio Divina *Slow Word*

Come sit on the dock with me?

We’re listening to the Parable of the Sower with a view of Bar Harbor, ME just down from this week’s vacation house.  *Pinch me!* Bar Island is over my right shoulder.

In order to amplify this scripture to the crowds, Jesus climbs into a boat to make a natural amphitheater of the hills around the Sea of Galilee. I’ll bet the boat rocked and swelled with Jesus’ words just like the dock does here.

 

 

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