When I became a volunteer with the regional blood bank in Southern California, I had to attend a one-day orientation. We were encouraged to be courteous and helpful to the donors, and to show respect, dignity and compassion to everyone. At times this was more challenging than I expected. People can be difficult!
Those three words are still with me, almost five years later, as this secular organization had somehow boiled down the way to treat people to this short and sweet motto. The New Testament has many “one-another” verses, detailing how to get along, but I find them hard to memorize. Respect, dignity and compassion is easy to remember.
Speakers and authors like to pose the question, “What would your life look like if…?” What if I weren’t afraid? What if I believed God really loves me? What if I trusted him more? What if everyone were to treat all people with respect, dignity and compassion? It’s hard to imagine a world like that because it’s never happened. But one day….
A few years ago, if I had heard someone describe him or herself as “woke” I would have been tempted to correct their grammar. I don’t have a t-shirt admitting “I’m silently correcting your grammar,” but I do it. Yes, I do know what it means, but I’m still a bit puzzled by the whole concept, mostly because it seems to be a way to look down on those who don’t share the same opinions.
I would rather describe myself as awake. C.S. Lewis, in Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer, said, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”
This is what practicing God’s presence is – being awake, aware, cognizant – of him, who he is, how he is working and creating, his love and how he wants us to participate with him in loving others. I often pray God will keep me aware of him as I go through my day because I know how easy it is to become distracted and let my eyes stray from gazing at my Savior. Brother Lawrence practiced his presence when he peeled potatoes. For me, washing dishes has become my time to come back from distractions and focus on God.
Being awake to our incognito God is, to me, a much better way to go through life, with eyes and heart completely open to the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Treasure hunting for gems of grace is a little like prospecting for gold, but without the trip to a river or gold mine. It’s not difficult, as it seems the moment I start looking, God reveals what he wants me to find.
A gem he gave me last week is one I have seen before, but he reminded me just to make sure I get it. We are never alone. He is always with us in everything we do. The added gem is that even our “decision” to follow Christ, both initially and daily, is something we do with him, in him and as a participation in his life. He calls us to himself, but he doesn’t leave us on our own. Knowing this really takes off the pressure.
All of life is participation in his life – in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28, NIV). Everything we are, think, do and say are in him and with him. For all of us independent westerners, this may take some getting used to, but we don’t have to worry about that either. Jesus is our constant companion in every step and through every challenge.
Last time I mentioned a quotation about being exited beyond imagination, waiting for what God would do in the coming day. I think about that every morning, waking up with the prayer, what do you want to show me today, Lord? But I realized as the week went on that God wasn’t just dropping exciting things in my lap. I guess I was hoping, but I forgot that’s not how he does things.
Participating in life with Jesus is more like a treasure hunt. I grab his hand, listen carefully and keep my eyes open to the hints and clues he drops. But I do have to look and listen. Getting distracted, which is all too easy, probably causes me to miss a lot. Reading the Bible, praying, meditating and keeping myself focused on Jesus, all help me keep up with him.
I just re-read Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God and I’ve been trying to remember to practice his presence throughout the day. I think of Brother Lawrence having an intimate conversation with God while peeling potatoes and my routine tasks become adventures rather than mundane chores. And when you’re on an adventure with him, you never know what might happen.
I don’t know about you, but around here, every day seems pretty much the same as the one before. It’s like someone said, maybe we should bring back underwear embroidered with the days of the week, so we know what day it is. I don’t have undies like that, but we have established a routine of having the same meals each week: Taco Tuesday, Fish Wednesday and Pizza Thursday. It gives us a routine and something to look forward to. My husband makes most of our lunches, but I’m in charge on pizza day. We all love my sourdough crust.
It can be difficult to keep time with God from feeling the same every day too. It’s important to try to keep it fresh, continuing to learn, grow and know God better every day. This quotation from Bill Volkman (in the book, Spiritual Disciplines Companion by Jan Johnson) gave me a shot in the arm so to speak: “The longer I walk in faith and acknowledge my beloved Spouse by waiting on Him in silence, the more I ‘hear’ Him and sense His leading in the details of everyday life. Now, instead of agonizing over every situation, I rest in Him, aware of his involvement in the myriad of daily decisions, and excited beyond imagination about each new day as it unfolds.”
“Excited beyond imagination” – what a way to begin each day. I must admit, I rarely feel that excited, but thinking about who God is, how he interacts with us and his desire for union and communion with us, truly is something to be energized and enthusiastic about. It’s more exciting even than homemade sourdough crust pizza.
Loneliness has always been a problem in our society. We don’t have the networks of family and friends people had even in the last century. And now with social media and cell phones seemingly growing out of people’s arms, we have even fewer personal connections and more loneliness. The stay-at-home orders haven’t helped either, though some have been trying to connect more online.
If you’ve been reading my blog over the past few weeks, you may remember what Jan Johnson said in one of the sessions of the Trusting God retreat. She said it’s never just me and the pipe, meaning whatever we’re facing, we’re not alone. Jesus is always there to help. I don’t recall anyone mentioning loneliness when attendees chimed in with their situations, but it certainly should have made the list.
Christian Kettler, in an interview on gci.org, talked about the vicarious humanity of Christ and how we don’t take it seriously enough. In his humanity, he has taken on our despair, our doubt and our anxiety. When Jesus prayed on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Kettler says he was praying on our behalf, taking our despair to the Father and in doing so, healing it. Kettler says, “We are not alone in that despair. We are not alone in our aloneness. We may still be lonely, but we’re not lonely alone. Jesus is lonely with us.”
How encouraging to anyone who has ever felt alone or lonely (I’m pretty sure that includes all of us), to know we aren’t lonely alone. Knowing this means we don’t ever have to feel lonely again.
P.S. This is my 500th post! Thanks to everyone who’s been reading and supporting me these past several years. Love and blessings to all!
Exercising is something people love, hate or do because they think it will give them a benefit. If you’ve ever tried to get in shape, you know it doesn’t happen overnight. Depending on your fitness level, it can take weeks, months or even years. I’ve made the mistake of overdoing a workout after taking a break and paid the price in sore muscles. I’ve learned to start slowly and build up. I’m riding my bike again and not embarrassed to tell you I have to walk up some of the hills near my home.
Thinking about physical exercise made me think of our spiritual muscles. How I wish the parallel didn’t exist. For some reason, I can be patient with myself when it comes to building up my muscles and fitness level, but I can get frustrated when my spiritual fitness seems to take too long. I want to be more loving, patient, kind, giving and compassionate – now. I’d also like to keep my mouth shut more often. But sometimes I feel I’m taking a step back or treading water. I do sometimes feel like I’m moving forward, but never fast enough.
I’ve been telling myself I’ll get to the point when I can ride up one, then two of the hills I have to walk now – perhaps I should remember the same thing when it comes to spiritual growth and transformation. It takes hard work in the form of practicing the spiritual disciplines (the same as if we were learning a language), focusing on Christ and continual trust in the work of the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus. And of course, patience.
One of the few true freedoms we have is what we do with our minds. We are free to think about whatever we want. We can go anywhere in our imaginations, which is one of the reasons I love to read. I can go back or forward in time; explore outer space or become embroiled in a mystery. We can create, plan, solve problems – or get ourselves in trouble.
Controlling where our thoughts take us is difficult, but so very important. If we let our thoughts go in negative or destructive directions, our actions will likely follow. (For an in-depth study of this, I recommend The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.) It’s easy to get caught up in worry and anxiety, especially when situations in life seem – or are – out of our control.
What can we do about wayward thoughts and rabbit holes of negativity and discouragement? We can do as Jan Johnson suggests in the Trusting God retreat: make the pivot. As some of the psalmists did, process your feelings with God, rant and rave a little if necessary, lament and cry. And don’t worry – he can take it. Then pivot back to him, remembering the reality of who he is and what he’s done for us. And as always, he’s the one who can help us make the pivot. We’re never on our own, even when we’re down in the dumps or angry at life.
Since we moved, I’ve been doing a lot of baking – sourdough baking in particular. And no, I didn’t start because of the virus or the stay at home restrictions. I began a sourdough starter last year and made English muffins, crackers and bread sticks. It was fun and felt good to create what I considered culinary works of art. Lately I’ve branched out into pancakes, pizza dough and bread. I’ve even used it in banana bread and chocolate cake!
You may be wondering what this has to do with God. No, I’m not going to tell you about a trinity of yeasts in sourdough. But a sourdough starter is alive, and all life comes from him. When I’m tending my starter, I enjoy seeing it bubble with renewed life after being fed.
The life of God is the life force of the universe, even in sourdough starters. His life force is what raised Jesus back to life from his grave and it’s what gives us new life in him right now. It’s also our hope for eternal life with him, his resurrection that is also our resurrection. When he died, we died and when he rose, we rose. His life is in us. When I feed and use my starter, I praise him for his life and his love that causes him to want to share it with us.
I was happy to learn that some of you signed up for the Trusting God retreat with Jan Johnson and Matt Rhodes. I hope you were able either to listen live or to have accessed the recorded event. I also hope you enjoyed it and benefited from the teaching and interaction.
One lesson really helped me and has stuck in my mind since I heard it from Jan. She told the story of how she mentioned to Dallas Willard that she had been struggling with a pipe and felt the problem was insurmountable. He told her it was never just her and the pipe – Jesus was with her and she was never alone. Then Jan asked attendees to share their problem, phrasing it as “It’s not just me and _______.”
It’s not just me and this computer. It’s not just me and this flat tire. It’s not just me and this tree root. It’s not just me and this person I’m arguing with. What a great way to look at trials and frustrating situations. It’s never just me alone with whatever is going on in my life. God is always with me, always on my side and when I ask, he helps me figure it out – or gives me peace about it.
Learning to trust God is a daily, ongoing process. If you’d like to share something you learned from the retreat or needed to be reminded of, we can help each other along the path to greater trust.