Happily Ever After

I like Hallmark movies. My husband (among others) makes fun of me and the movies, telling me who wants to watch a movie where you know exactly how it’s going to turn out? He says you only need to record one movie as they are all the same. I let it run off my back because no matter what he says, I like happy endings. Maybe I read too many fairy tales as a child (the happy ones, not the scary ones). 

Unfortunately, in real life, not many get a happy ending. I don’t have to tell you about that. Even men who don’t like chick flicks want happy endings, whether or not they admit it. We all want to be loved, we all want the good things in life and we all want everyone we love to be happy and healthy. Happy endings are possible but not usually in this life and if there is one, it always comes with pain. 

Jesus’ life didn’t have a happy ending, at least from the disciples’ point of view. They and all of his followers were expecting a lot more than an illegal trial, a beating and a crucifixion. They also weren’t expecting the happy ending or the way it happened: resurrection! The resurrection is the biggest and best happy ending ever and because Jesus came back from the dead, we can also have our happy endings. As Paul said, we have been crucified with Christ and we have also been resurrected with him – given new life now and forever. That’s a happy ending even a non-fan of chick flicks can get into.


Solitude Isn’t Scary

It may be that after the lockdowns, social distancing and avoiding crowds in the interest of staying healthy, the last thing you want to do is be alone. But as you may have read here last week, solitude is a wonderful and even necessary tool in the transformation of Christians. It’s where we shed all the trappings of things like money, possessions, status, even gender, race (Galatians 3:28), family, culture – everything we are – and come before God in naked, open vulnerability. It’s just you and him, working through your issues, like lack of trust, doubt, anxieties and fears. It can also be a wonderful time of praise and worship.

If you’re afraid to dip your toes in the water of solitude, I have some guidelines for you. And it doesn’t require large amounts of time. You can practice silence and solitude for short periods, although the more you do it, the more you’ll want to do it – 15 minutes or half an hour won’t be nearly long enough. The following five tips are from A Model of Solitude, a handout from The Springs Retreat at NEWIM (Network of Evangelical Women in Ministry, www.newim.org). 

Intentionally place yourself in the Lord’s presence. Be silent for a few minutes, listening with pen and paper to jot down any troubles, concerns, or to-dos as they come to mind. Release them and as you do, withdraw from the busy world, leaving behind its pressures as you create this inner space for listening for his voice. 

Reflect on Scripture. Read a chapter or passage of the Bible out loud, hearing the words as an intimate message to you from your Abba-Father.

Silence your soul and listen for his words. Be still as you seek to hear his still, small voice of love whispering to your heart. Hearing his voice is an art and a skill that develops over time. Just enjoy being in his presence as you draw near to him. 

Write out your response to God. Include any words of encouragement, insights gained, nudging of his spirit, your feelings and experience in his presence. Pour them out without self-consciousness or hesitation. He knows them anyway. 

Pray and praise. Move gently out of your time of solitude, thanking him for his presence. Perhaps end your time by listening to music as you start to re-enter the world of activity. 

Give it a try, even for a few minutes at a time. We can’t all be monks who live in seclusion and take vows of silence. But a little bit of solitude can lead to longer times of being alone with the Lord and might even turn into a good kind of addiction – a hunger and thirst for righteousness that can only be quenched by his beautiful presence.

Afraid of a Little Solitude?

The first time a friend of mine went to a silent retreat, she brought a suitcase full of books. She was afraid of spending several hours alone, with “nothing” to do. After the retreat, she was pleased to tell me she hadn’t needed all those books. She had enjoyed her time alone with God, including the silence. 

I think most people are afraid of silence and solitude. The proof is in the plethora of devices, distractions and diversions available to us – and we all make good use of them, don’t we? It’s especially difficult to get away from them if you’re at home. I made it about ten hours last time I tried a mini retreat – too many distractions within easy reach. But the hours I managed to forget about all of that were great. Solitude and silence are necessary tools in the Christian life. 

Henri Nouwen called solitude “a place of conversion – where the old self dies and the new self is born; the place where the emergence of the new man and the new woman occurs” (The Way of the Heart). He also said we must first remember solitude isn’t just getting privacy, time on our own to do our own thing, or simply recharge our batteries. It’s so much more – it’s just me, just you, being vulnerable, weak, sinful, broken, nothing, before God. This is so difficult most of us want to run away, back to the safety of our distractions and devices. But if we can stick it out, we can come to the place of complete surrender. We can face our sin, show our wounds, give up our fears and face our true nature. That’s where we become the new creature. 

(I have paraphrased some of Nouwen’s thoughts from The Way of the Heart.) Next week: how to develop a discipline of solitude.

His Faith Is Sufficient

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you may remember I ask God to choose a word for me at the beginning of each year (it’s called My One Word). This year my word is crucified. (I often create artwork to remind me of my word.) Galatians 2:20 is my theme verse: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (NIV).

Many translations of this verse are similar, stating that we live by faith in the Son of God. But I have discovered that other translations, such as The Passion Translation and even the King James Version, say our new life is empowered by the faith of the Son of God; a few others say we live by the faithfulness of Christ. The distinction is important as the one translation can lead to reliance on the self and trying to have enough faith to live a crucified life. Believing we live by his faith does two things – it takes the pressure off to try to have more and more faith, and it frees us to trust him more, without worrying about how much faith we have or don’t have. 

As David Torrance said in a You’re Included (gci.org) interview, most modern translators have altered the Greek in this verse to say “faith in Christ.” He also said our faith is a response to the faith of Christ. Our faith doesn’t save us, sanctify us or justify us – and it certainly hasn’t moved any mountains! But the faith of Christ does everything. It changes everything. It helps me live the crucified life I so long to live. 

As he lives in us, he imparts his faith to us, which means we don’t need to beat ourselves up (or anyone else) for not having or believing we don’t have enough faith. He has all the faith we need – and more.