Response Required

1833-1834 oil painting by American artist Thomas Cole

This past summer I added a new title: Father-in-law.

While 2020 lacked the typical amusement of social gatherings, we created our own excitement through the planning, re-planning, and re-planning of re-planned plans for two outdoor weddings. In short, the brides were beautiful, the grooms handsome, the food terrific, the company lovely, and the tears joy-filled. 

Significant events like a graduation or marriage typically cause parents to reflect on the lives of their children. All the laughable, notable, adorable, and memorable moments. For me, the two weddings of summer brought to mind not just the lives of my boys but the evolution of my parenting. I don’t parent now like I did 20 years ago. While I still tip toward being more rules than grace, I believe I’ve relaxed quite a bit. I’m not as quick to launch a “dad speech” or get miffed about minor misbehavior or inconvenience. Perhaps holes in drywall, wrecked cars, trips to the emergency room, and missed curfews have appropriately tempered my responses.

Beyond parenting, our days have many moments that require our response. It might start with the alarm clock. Then a dog that needs letting out. A diaper that needs changing and children that need feeding. A project summary for the boss, a bill that needs paying, and even a tired body that needs a nap. All theseand morerequire our attention. So I wonder: how attentive to God am I? What activates my engagement with Him throughout the day, and why?

While we might be distracted by the steady stream of issues needing our attention, Scripture assures us that God is here. That before we ever loved Him, He loved us with an everlasting love. He’s promised to never abandon us as He brings all things toward a perfect conclusion. And before we even realized our deepest need, God made sure there would be a way for us to enjoy Him forever. Such wonderful news demands our attention, does it not?

Paul David Tripp in his book, Awe, said: “I am convinced that rest in this chaotic world, submission to authority, and a willingness to give and share power all arise from a certain knowledge that every single detail of our lives is under the careful administration of One of awesome glory. We will rest in the middle of unrest not because we have it figured out but because of who he is. When you are in awe of God’s glory, you just don’t have to be in control of everything and everyone in your life.” (p.142) As I reflect on my propensity to be an anxious parent or fret over planning weddings during a pandemic, knowing that the God of Heaven is with me should be my first point of engagement. He is always in control and completely trustworthy. These truths should affect my response not only to the everyday issues of life, but also to God himself. 

This is the fourth week of Advent. In this season of waiting and contemplation, I’ve been challenged to reorient, to notice, and to spend time alone with God. To attune myself to the love of our Savior. In this week of Christmas, how should you and I respond to God? How do we engage with the One who came to chase death’s dark shadow? Whose law is love and gospel peace? Who can bid all sad division cease and truly be our King of Peace?

We can shout “Glory to God in the Highest!” and “Joy to the world!” We can whisper in our souls, “Thank you, Jesus” and “Lord, you are good.” And perhaps our simplest, most profound response comes from Christina Rossetti: “Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” 

God has done a great thingChrist has come! In our celebrations this week, let’s respond to Him with grateful praise and reaffirm our whole-hearted commitment to love Him and love all people.

Merry Christmas!

A Prayer of Response to Jesus
Dayspring of Heaven and Bright Morning Star,
Laudable Babe and Ruler of Nations
You ransomed us from the darkness of death,
broken our chains and freed us to love.
Enthroned on our hearts in wondering love,
we worship you with anthems praise! 

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
(Ephesians 3:17b-19, NIV)

More Time Alone?

Even the most introverted introvert may eventually find pandemic constraints wearisome. Nine months of disrupted activities and minimized social gathering is difficult. Last night, just to get out of the house, my wife did a web search and crafted a Christmas light tour through nearby neighborhoods. At a minimum, our spontaneous adventure required us to pry ourselves from the couch and have something different to see and talk about (who knew you could cram 50 inflatable Christmas characters onto a small front lawn?). We even got a little romantic taking a selfie inside a tastefully decorated covered bridge.

Our customized light tour was the extent of our out-of-the-house engagements this week. Like many of you, we are currently working from home and have extra time as a result of cancelled or postponed school, church, sport, or other activities. So right now, no one needs more alone time, right? Well, I propose that in our present circumstance we need some solitude–maybe more now than when our lives were “normal.”

I admit that solitude gets a bad rap. Some label it stodgy and strange. A practice that can be tolerated by only the most pious among us. In my experience, solitude doesn’t need to be any of that. While solitude does require being alone, it’s an opportunity to actively engage God through prayerful reflection. And rather than boring, Henri Nouwen suggests, “Solitude is the furnace of transformation.” (The Way of the Heart, p.25) Nouwen goes on to say solitude is “the place of the great struggle and the great encounter. Solitude is not simply a means to an end. Solitude is its own end. It is the place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world.” (p.31-32)

Indeed, our world provides more than enough distraction and worry to siphon the joy, peace, patience, and gentleness from our spirit. We’re only a click, tap, or scroll away from whatever we desire. Thus the need for intentional times of being alone with God where we can enter a space designed to help us reorient, recognize, and reflect on our lives and His involvement in them.

There’s no prescription for solitude. Simply settle your spirit. Listen. Pray. Rest. Maybe laugh a little. Cry a little. Journal a thought or write a note. Listen to music or sing. Invite God into your physical and mental space with anticipation and gratitude for Him seeing, knowing, and loving you just as you are, right where you are.

In my home, this third week of Advent often coincides with a sharp increase in Christmas preparations. I can be harried with planning, purchasing, cooking, and cleaning. And while time for such things is more available this year than in previous, I still need some solitude. It’s important that I intentionally reflect on God’s kindness, asking Him for unclouded eyes and an open heart to His grace. To confess, repent, and praise. To wonder and enjoy His presence.

Join me this week by setting aside an uninterrupted hour (or more!) to be alone with Jesus. No agenda, no requirements, and no pressure. Just you and Emmanuel. Let Him quiet you with His love as you listen for the song He sings over your every moment.

A Prayer for Solitude
Voice of hope and Word of redemption,
Jesus, lover of my soul;
Shield me from the world’s compulsions
and open my soul to reflection with You.

““The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”
(Lamentations 3:24–25, ESV)

I Hadn’t Noticed

My “behind the garage” office space

In March of this year, I became a work-from-home nomad.

For a while I claimed the living room chair. It was comfortable, with a terrific view of the front and back yard. But the chair was located near the main thoroughfare of our home, and therefore subject to many loud conversations, meal prep, and the general busyness of homelife.

So I gathered my laptop, notebook, and manilla folders and journeyed to the basement. There I discovered less noise but no outside view. I found that I could concentrate better on my work but proximity to a bathroom brought sensory challenges.

As the weather warmed, I summoned my inner nomad and trekked to a small room behind our garage. It’s a workshop of sorts, which proved convenient as I carved-out a space and assembled a workstation. In that room I regained an outdoor view, enhanced solitude, and limited distraction. It was there that I labored during the summer months of pandemic restrictions.

I can’t deny that I rather liked working in that space. It was a bit rugged, but it was mine. While there was room for an officemate, no one (not even my wife) accepted my invitation. I suspect the regular appearance of spiders, flies, a few mosquitoes and of course summertime bees was a deterrent. And early on, I had to fend-off a tenacious Red Squirrel who thought he had squatters’ rights.

In the midst of my working out there, something unexpected happened. Between Zoom meetings, phone calls, and the ever-fresh stream of email I heard something. I saw something. I was enthralled by…them.

Birds.

Lots of birds. Goldfinches, Blue Jays, House Sparrows, and Cedar Waxwings. Chickadees popping from branch to branch. Robins wrestling worms from the lawn. And on occasion, in the quiet of early morning, I’d hear the call and response from a pair of owls. It was wonderful! There were birds everywhere, all the time. I know they’ve been there all along, but I simply hadn’t noticed. Not until my nomadic wandering led me to construct a makeshift office did I see what I’d been missing. Which got me wondering: What else am I not noticing?

How are my worries and distractions obscuring my vision? Are my passions and desires consuming my imagination? Have I oriented my life around too much of me? Am I thinking too often about my disappointments, my comfort, what’s next, or what I’m missing? And if any or all of this is true, could I be missing moments to recognize and experience God?

In her book, Signs of Life, Stephanie Lobdell suggests, “However it comes to us, the knowledge that we are seen by God—and invited by God to see God as well, to know God deeply—changes us. It breaks us open, creating space for the resurrecting Spirit of God to infiltrate our minds, enlivening our dead imaginations and allowing us to see a new future.” (p.54) Might a call to notice God’s presence be instilled in a work-from-home nomad through something as normal and everyday as birds? Absolutely!

Advent is a season when we alter our routine and seek to quiet ourselves to reflect and reorient. It’s an invitation to center ourselves and recognize the presence of God. To listen for Him. To remember His care and provision. To submit ourselves to His love and embrace the truth that He is always near and will never abandon us. To thank Him for his love and mercy, acknowledging that He is our only comfort in life and death.

During this second week of Advent, join me in crafting intentional times to be still. To notice. To be prayerful, inviting the Spirit to help you recognize God in ways you may not have before—or perhaps have not in quite some time. Like the birds in my yard, God has been here all along. And while we might know that in our heads, may our hearts receive and experience afresh the beauty and wonder and love of our God who is with us!

A Prayer for Noticing
Our Heavenly King, robed in a garment of light,
Your presence pervades like the light of the sun;
Tune my ears and open my eyes
to Your everyday touches of grace.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
(Psalm 16:11, ESV)

Reorientation Needed

Our Newest Adoptees — Benito and Sophia

We adopted, again.

Early in October our family grew by two. This time we didn’t need to travel to Ethiopia. Instead, we drove 20 minutes down the road to a local animal shelter.

Soon after the sibling pair of 8-week old kittens set paws in our home we realized we had not adequately prepared ourselves, nor our home, for the onslaught of frenzied play and prolific use of tiny claws. The jumping and climbing and racing about brought us joy, laughter, and a few disciplinary actions. Those moments also served as a reminder of what it’s like to have “children” in the home once again. Before adopting it may have been helpful to reorient ourselves to the demands of pet ownership since it has been almost a dozen years since welcoming our last young pet (we still miss you, Nacho!).

While our acclimation to the kittens has been swift and enjoyable, the same cannot be said about the circumstances of this year. The unexpected and unwelcome have been unsettling and disorienting. My response to the pandemic, the US election, disrupted holiday plans and general upheaval in most things has generated a blend of anxiety, fear, discontent, and at times, anger. I’ve wrestled deep in my soul with the unmooring of predictable things that provide a sense of security. It seems nothing is as it was, and I wonder if it ever will be again.

Several weeks ago, the Spirit led me to meditate on Psalm 146. In the succinct beauty of those ten verses are comfort, encouragement, and perspective. Through those inspired words we’re reminded that God lifts us when we’re discouraged. He takes notice and cares for the needy, forgotten, and marginalized. He is our help and our hope. The psalmist also implores us to orient ourselves not to the people and plans of this world, but to the One who made heaven and earth. Our God, who in this moment–and in every moment during this disorienting year–has remained faithful as He rules and reigns in perfect goodness and love.

As we enter the Advent season, now is a good time for reorientation–not to pet ownership, but to God. Advent offers an opportunity to quiet myself in prayerful, intentional reflection on my past and present situation. As I ponder my anxieties and disappointments of the past several months, I find this perspective from David Benner helpful:

“Jesus is the antidote to fear. His love—not our believing certain things about him or trying to do as he commands—is what holds the promise of releasing us from the bondage of our inner conflicts, guilt and terror. Jesus comes to show us what God is like. Knowing how we would react to a god who suddenly turned up on the human scene, God becomes human, to meet us where we are and minimize our fears. The incarnation is God reaching out across the chasm caused by our sin and starting the relationship all over again. The incarnation reveals true Love reaching out to dispel fear.”

David Benner, Surrender to Love, p.50.

During this first week of Advent, join me in reorienting to Love. Let’s acknowledge what’s real and true through honest moments of personal examination, confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Together let’s proclaim, “I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (Psalm 146:2) as we align ourselves to the King who reigns yesterday, and this day, and forever. He is our only hope, and He is worthy of our praise.

A Prayer for Reorientation
Father in Heaven, my welcoming King,
I’ve wanted and wandered, longing for more;
Attune my affections to You alone,
and help me surrender to Love.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
(1 John 4:18a ESV)

Complaining at Christmas?

The Wise Men Journeying to Bethlehem – James Jacques Joseph Tissot

It’s Christmas week. The fourth week of Advent. The time when all the scurrying and baking and frenetic wrapping reach their zenith. This can also be a season ripe for complaint.

Complaint about the weather. Complaint about traffic jams, visiting relatives, toddler fits, and shopping trips. In the midst of candy canes and popcorn cake, we prop-up idyllic Christmas celebrations, which can be unexpected setups for disappointment. Even in this season of comfort and joy, grumbling can rise like steam from the wassail.

I’m certainly not immune to complaining. Even if I don’t voice my dissatisfaction, my mind is all too eager to write a negative script. Why? M. Craig Barnes suggests, “Complaining is usually a veiled lament about deeper issues of the soul.” (Pastor as Minor Poet, 16) Barnes goes on to add, “The primary symptom of a soul that has become sick is that it becomes blind to the poetry of life.” (38) When we complain, the presenting issue may not be the issue.

Complaint may seem off-topic for an Advent meditation, but the ubiquity of societal (and personal) grumbling is evidence of our longing. If we’re wrapped too tightly in wish dreams, our senses dull to the grand story unfolding before us. How enthralling, explosive, and poetic was the Incarnation! The shattering of time with the advent of the Christ-child was a longing fulfilled. A promise kept. The genesis of hope and assurance of renewal that affects this very moment.

Even so, we wait. Our souls lament as we cry, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

And yet there’s a song in the air! Can you hear the Creator singing His melody of grace harmonized with justice, mercy, and kindness? Release yourself into the mystery, wonder, and beauty of Salvation’s song that satisfies our soul’s longing and extinguishes complaint.

As we celebrate Christmas this week, let’s remember the One who had justification to complain, yet never did. Who with incomparable humility carried the Song of Love to the Cross and sung redemption into eternity. Thanks be to God for the gift of our Savior — Jesus!

Merry Christmas!

A Prayer against Complaint

Holy Song-Singer and Word of Life,
Jesus, our Savior, strong and good;
Forgive my complaint and steep me in joy —
Have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
(Philippians 2:5–8, NIV)

Food Democracy

Long ago those miniature, plastic-coated spoons disappeared from our home. They accompanied the gnawed sippy cups and Bob the Builder plates that were sent for recycling. It has been a while since my wife and I battled a toddler’s will against ingesting liquified carrots, spaghetti, squash, pears, chicken-n-dumplings, and other assorted glass-jarred baby foods. In their first days of semi-solids, our children did not hesitate to express their preference for specific types, textures, and flavors of food.

Those preferences continue but have matured to include philosophical and ethical considerations. Instead of struggling through a preference for Apple Blueberry over Sweet Potato, food is chosen by convictions about organic, processed, vegetarian, local, free-range, fair trade, and all-natural characteristics. Even so, my family’s passion for fulfilling their dietary needs is no less intense than when pulverized peas were ejected in a moment of disapproval.

As I’ve watched these convictions develop, I’m surprised by my push-back on beliefs that differ from mine. When I find them unreasonable, confusing, altruistic, or unbalanced I respond with an exasperated rebuttal through a raised voice. I’ve been cynical, skeptical, and grumpy. I’ve balked at purchasing foods that cost more, smell funny, or crowd-out my preferred choices in the pantry. A fan of simplicity, my reserve of patience runs low when I’m required to prepare different meals to accommodate convictions I don’t agree with.

While diversity makes our lives interesting, it can also bring conflict. In my previous post, I mentioned my affinity for solitude and contentment with quiet, peaceful spaces. That independence affords me a measure of control over my circumstances. I can manage and even steer clear of volatile issues as I protect myself from having to reconcile my own convictions with others.

Yet, consistent isolation or cloistering with like-minded people can foster attitudes of justified self-centeredness. Howard Thurman, African-American theologian, philosopher, educator, and civil rights leader said, “All men belong to each other, and he who shuts himself away diminishes himself, and he who shuts another away from him destroys himself.” (The Search for Common Ground, 104) Does Thurman’s proposition apply to the food fights in my household? Absolutely. If I willingly shut-down or fortify myself against different ideas, beliefs, and behaviors I risk not only stunting my development but limiting the quality of my relationships.

When I find myself experiencing repeated frustration, negative emotion, stereotyping or making assumptions, I’ve given my desires inappropriate priority. I’ve allowed my convictions to corrupt my relationships. Henri Nouwen said, “Our human relationships easily become subject to violence and destruction when we treat our own and other people’s lives as properties to be defended or conquered and not as gifts to be received.” (Reaching Out, 119) My goal should not be to convert critics or overpower dissenting voices. To get vegetarians to eat meat or Ford owners to drive Chevys. Those aims can lead to frustration, misunderstanding, and division. As a believer in Jesus, my behavior is to support a peaceful unity. I’m to do justice, love kindness, and be humble. This does not mean I jettison my convictions. Nor should it imply that I be silent when I disagree. To the contrary, I should engage, speak, and advocate.

The Apostle John noted that Jesus came “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Notice the order: grace then truth. The grace our Lord gifts to us should inform our interactions and relationships. We should be kind and hospitable, listening first to understand. We should not fail to offer dignity and respect to everyone, allowing for disagreement while not maligning or disparaging one another. In short, we should love each other.

In the past few years I’ve learned a lot about food. I’m grateful to be led by my children into a new stewardship of my food consumption. Beyond food, I’m seeking to assume a humble, grace-filled, listening posture that promotes dialogue and relationship. I’m praying for strength to hold my convictions while being kind to those who think differently. I’m asking the Spirit for a holy courage to speak with gentleness.

In this third week of Advent, as we continue to ponder our “doing” (week 1) while being diligent with our togetherness (week 2), lets also consider our words, thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Are we advocates and unifiers? Does the grace of Christ pervade our interactions even as we stand firm in our convictions? From peas to politics, how we relate to one another is an indicator of what we think about God.

A Prayer for Unity
Heavenly Father, Obedient Son, Comforting Spirit —
Unified in divine diversity;
Temper our spirits with grace and truth,
and quicken our love toward peace-filled community.

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
(Galatians 6:10, ESV)

A Converted Caravan

The photos shuffling on the display of my computer are of the Gros Ventre Wilderness near Jackson, Wyoming. During the summer of 2018, my youngest son and I, along with a handful of other fathers and their sons, set-out into that remote part of the American West for an 8-day adventure of vigorous hiking.

While the mountainous vistas are worth every step, such trips are not without tense moments and uncertainty. Weather, terrain, injury, illness, and mental fortitude are ever-present variables. During our 24-hour drive to the trailhead, our group pondered some important questions: Would the trail be navigable? Would there be good places to camp near a potable water source? Would the snow pack cause us to re-route and lengthen our hike or send us bushwhacking? What do we do if a bear eats our food, and did we bring the bear spray?

Our concerns were not unfounded. We encountered snow. We detoured. But there were no bears. More serious and unexpected, however, was our encounter with illness. As the days passed, one of our teammates became weak and exceptionally tired, struggling more and more with the rigor of uphill climbs. To assist, we lightened his load by dispersing items in his pack among the group. This continued until he walked packless, clutching only a small bottle of water. Still, his body wearied toward delirium and heat stroke. We stopped and rested often. Fully spent on our final day, our sweat-drenched friend groaned as he sat hunched over a scraggly Western Pine, and wept. We wept, too. And prayed. As we baked in an arid, sun-soaked valley, miles from our exit, a new dimension was demanded from our fraternity.

That hiking experience is not unlike the Christian life. The journey of faithful living is arduous, unpredictable, and shouldn’t be done alone. Yet in our current culture of rugged individualism, we might be lulled toward habits that isolate and behaviors that exacerbate a prideful disposition of, “I’ve got this!” And this individualism can seep into our spiritual practices. How? For me, I’m very content with quiet mornings of coffee, reading from Scripture and another book (or two), a bit of conversational prayer, and some writing. Just God and me and the stillness of the pre-dawn morning. While this solitary practice has merit, if I neglect to supplement my peace and quiet with face-to-face interactions, I’ll be spiritually under-developed and relationally malnourished.

Referring to the collective of professing Christians, Jamie Smith said, “Conversion is joining this caravan, not setting out alone.” (On The Road With Saint Augustine, 51) More importantly, Scripture commands us to make togetherness a priority. (Heb 10:24-25) It is in our gathering that we apply salve to wounds and reorient those who’ve strayed. We support and carry those who are weak. We encourage, edify, celebrate, and grieve — together.

In his book, Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen said: “The Church is not an institution forcing us to follow its rules. It is a community of people inviting us to still our hunger and thirst at its tables.” (88-89) From time to time, each of us will be desperate and tired, mustering our last bits of courage to take one more step. When those moments come, we need each other.

In my previous post I challenged us to consider our “doings” — our involvements, behaviors, and activities that determine who we are becoming. I’ve been meditating on my “doing” this past week as part of the Advent season. For the second week of Advent, I’m going to consider how my desire for introverted independence tugs me toward seclusion. I’ll be evaluating the balance of time alone with time in community.

How about you? Are you wandering alone? Are you regularly engaged with like-minded people of faith? Do you have friends who both challenge and support you? Do you consistently give of yourself and your resources for the good of others?

To finish the story, we made it out of the Gros Ventre. It required patience, humility, empathy, encouragement, and of course God’s kind providence. Looking back, it was a privilege to pace with our hurting friend during that intense and painful episode. He couldn’t have done it without us.

As people of faith, we’re members of a glorious caravan. We journey together. This day, let’s encourage one another to walk by faith, trusting the One who gives us hope through His birth, death, and resurrection — our traveling companion, Jesus Christ.

A Prayer Against Isolation
Friend and Brother, our Lord Jesus Christ,
Pioneer on the path to glory;
Invade my realm of detached independence,
amend my affections with desire for your people.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
(Hebrews 10:24–25, NIV)

An Advent of Becoming

It’s been a long slog through jack-rabbit starts and anti-locked stops. Back roads and main roads and residential roads. Blind spot blindness and forgetful signaling. Missed turns and tight turns but always (fingers-crossed) a safe return. Now we’re rounding the final turn with our youngest child. Number five. Just a few more hours to log and we’ll be done — forever — with driver’s education.

Our progression toward becoming safe, proficient, confident drivers requires the acquisition of knowledge and skill. We study the rules of the road. We practice driving to gain familiarity with  vehicle characteristics. We travel on different types of road to master the nuances of city, highway, and residential driving. We push buttons, turn knobs, and adjust mirrors to develop our man-machine relationship. Learning to drive is a process of doing specific things to foster driving competency. In short, we do to become.

What we do — the activities, involvements, relationships, and places we inhabit — determines the trajectory of our life. Our “doings” mold our imagination and develop our character. Pause now, just for a moment, and review this past week. Ponder your everyday activities. Your noble acts, secret indulgences, and subconscious routines. Where did you go? Who were you with? What conversations did you have? What did you do to rest and refresh? What caused frustration and how did you respond? Don’t bury, ignore or conveniently forget a thing. God is neither unaware nor surprised by you. It’s important to dwell upon your doing because it directly affects who you are and who you are becoming.

The life of a Christ-follower should be a deeply earnest, all-out effort of submission and contrition. An uncompromised commitment and trust that God will come alongside and masterfully balance our pain and progress toward becoming more like Jesus. Granted, me writing (and you reading) those words oversimplifies the process. While I long to be more Christ-like, it doesn’t take much to knock me off kilter. It could be a poor night of sleep, frustrations at work, parenting struggles, misunderstandings, illness, a dwindling bank account, loneliness, headaches, shopping malls, or a rough driver’s ed drive. Even running out of coffee can unleash my dark side.

Photo by Rota Alternativa on Unsplash

Christian living is neither simple nor automatic. It’s packed with mystery into which we must venture by faith. But faith requires… faith. In his book, Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff said, “Faith is a footbridge that you don’t know will hold you up over the chasm until you’re forced to walk out onto it.” (76) To trust is to risk. And rather than release my moment-by-moment existence to Jesus by faith, I’m tempted to corral my activities into safe places. I craft what I believe will be a simpler, easier path that routes me around pain and keeps me in relative comfort. But if my doings are self-protective acts of distrust, then who am I becoming?

This Sunday (December 1) is the beginning of the Christian liturgical year, which kicks-off with the season of Advent. Advent is a sacred time of anticipation, longing, and mindfulness. A four-week period to reflect on the cosmic conjunction of the divine and human in the God-Man, Jesus. As we enter Advent, join me as I seek to infuse my Christmas preparations with intentional “doing” as I ask God where I’m at on the path of becoming. Consider whether you’re stepping toward Christlikeness or wandering wild? Perhaps you’re earnest but aimless? Maybe it has been some time since you did any serious spiritual work. No matter your present circumstance God sees, knows, and cares. He beckons you onto the footbridge of faith.

Together, let’s commit to using this pre-Christmas season to evaluate, confess, repent, and pray. Let’s seek the Spirit for counsel and comfort as we invite a personal advent of spiritual refinement. Let’s reform our doing with great expectation for what we’re becoming!

A Prayer for Becoming
Omniscient Father of Providence,
progenitor of life and breath in my soul,
weave my doing with the Fruit of your Spirit,
call forth in me what I’m to become.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
(Romans 12:9–13, NIV)

Listen to This

seeing-shepherds-ii-daniel-bonnell
Seeing Shepherds II by Daniel Bonnell

It was so quiet my ears hurt.

Standing in that chamber is an eerie, disturbing, and unsettling experience. It’s a room in which you can literally hear your heart beating and blood flowing. Scream all you want, but no one will hear. Such are the qualities of an anechoic chamber. A room specifically designed to absorb nearly every bit of sound energy.

My occupational journey afforded me experience with an anechoic chamber. It truly is an uncomfortable yet fascinating room. And while echoless chambers are valuable in specific contexts, the absence of reverberating noise isn’t normal. Sound is ever and always bombarding us. And no matter our quality of perception, sound is inherent to our lives.

A father to five, I’ve become acquainted with all manner of sound and noise. My children have solidified my understanding of hearing versus listening. Rarely do my kids fail to hear what I say, but they sometime chose not to listen. Listening is an active engagement. An attentive behavior that willingly receives and responds. And when done well, listening can be a physical, mental, emotional, and sometimes spiritual experience.

Our path this Advent season has taken us through a specific weekly focus. First it was humility, then peace, rest, and now listening. Each of these characteristics or behaviors takes cues from the others as they shape our thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions. As we humble ourselves to God’s authority and settle our spirits with a peace-filled rhythm of rest, we can enhance our steps toward right-living with contemplative listening.

Listening is a helpful spiritual practice. It opens our heart and mind to a divine dialogue as we welcome that still, small voice that sings over each of us. And while we don’t need an echo-free environment to experience God’s presence, the many and varied activities of the holiday season make it particularly challenging to create listening spaces. But it is possible.

Over this next week, join me in setting aside time for quiet, sacred idleness. Rise a little earlier, make a warm beverage, and turn on the tree lights. Settle into a comfortable seat and open Scripture. Maybe dwell on a prayer from The Valley of Vision or sit with the incomparable Rossetti or Hopkins. Accent your contemplative listening with some instrumental music. Whatever calms your spirit, craft your listening space so it assists in dialing-down your task-making mind and dampens the pressure to ‘do’. Be still. Allow the beautiful advent of the long expected Jesus to invigorate your listening toward a grateful response of, “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” Our Savior has come!

A Prayer for Listening
Son of God and Son of Man,

Incarnate Word of life and light;

Disrupt my routine with listening spaces,
and tune my soul to your song of love.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
(John 10:27, ESV)

Break time!

Version 3
I debated for days. Which color: red, blue, orange, black or ice?

I settled on orange. A bold choice for me. But this was a statement making purchase — my first Personal Data Assistant (PDA) in the form of an orange-colored Handspring Visor. Handspring Visor Deluxe (Orange)

While nearly 20 years ago, I recall the joy of wielding the tiny stylus and tapping a greenish-gray screen to make to-do lists, move tasks between lists, schedule appointments, and set alarms. It was such nerdy fun graduating from a Franklin Planner to a battery-powered palm-sized gadget.

Achievement, organization, and administration are threaded into my DNA. If there was a society for over-achieving list-makers, I’d be in the hall of fame. I find deep satisfaction in getting things done.

Whether task lists elicit joy or anxiety, we all have things to do. Many of us describe our lives as busy, maybe crazy busy (or just crazy) as we squeeze activities into the smallest cracks in our schedules. And in this holiday season, activity is at maximum capacity as we add shopping, cooking, wrapping, traveling, gathering, celebrating, and feasting. But whether it’s during this festive season or in the midst of a ‘normal’ week, we may be excluding something critical from our calendars: rest.

Rest isn’t just for over-achieving list-makers. We all need a break (can I get an “Amen?”). And before we make assumptions, let’s be clear that resting isn’t just doing less or procrastination. Rest is a state of re-creation where we participate in activities distinctly different from the usual. It’s an intentional activity in which we mentally gather our experiences to reflect, evaluate, contemplate, and celebrate.

George MacDonald said, “Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.”  Sacred idleness. Interesting phrase, but fitting since rest was given to us by our Creator. And if divinely gifted (commanded, really), refusing to rest may signal a lack of humility as we dismiss the notion that God knows more about our needs than we do.

Which brings us back to where we started Advent with a focus on humility. To which we added peace last week. And now we join-in the practice of rest. These three — humility, peace, and rest — work together. Submitting all of our ‘doing’ to God is a humble act that fosters a peaceful soul. As God’s peace settles upon us, our spirits are more receptive to a rhythm of replenishing through rest.

Yes, this is an extraordinarily frenetic time of year. So you may be thinking, “Yep, I agree. Rest sounds great but I’ll start after the New Year.” Let’s be honest: When is the doing done? Or the task list sufficiently short? While we all have good, important, and necessary things to do, it’s imperative that we make room for sacred idleness. To pause and ponder not what gifts need wrapping or food preparing, but the wonder of who God is and what He’s done.

In this Advent season, may our restful musings wander toward reflection on the birth of our Savior. The One who has finished the work of redemption so that we might truly rest.

A Prayer for Rest
Cornerstone layer of Earth’s foundation,
Infinite time-making Lord;

emancipate me from this unrested state,
and set my pace to a sanctified rhythm.

“Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.”
(Psalm 116:7, ESV)