vigorous resistance

Killing me is hard.

Long, busy days flow over into time reserved for community and grace. I grow tired and angry and resist the opportunities to meet with others to show love, to be loved.

Without exception, doing battle with me is treacherous. It always seems most dangerous and inevitable after periods of peace and calm before the Lord. Seemingly out of nowhere the self wells in rebellion. That this follows such precious moments feels counterintuitive and yet perhaps that is the root, the logical initiation of the cycle: Growing up and in knowledge of this good and gracious King will only bring about change. We cannot help but be changed by time spent in His presence.

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful,” Flannery O’Connor poignantly observed.

I know (head knowledge know) that Psalm 22, He has done it! He has accomplished His ultimate saving purpose and it is my day-to-day dealing with, well, me that undermines that knowledge. It is that painful change.

My daughter and my husband like to catch snakes. I have seen it many times. It most often involves a long stick or pole for pinning the animal’s head to the ground so they can carefully move in to grasp it and avoid a bite.

My sin nature that lies beneath looks a lot like that writhing snake body resisting capture, resisting being held, resisting being beheld. I am liable to bite. As a redeemed creation, how can that be? Perhaps because if I am fully seen, fully known, there is no hiding the ugly, slithering side of self.

Paul says something along those lines in 1 Corinthians 13. We have dim, not fully developed view of ourselves. Seeing Him face to face will reveal full knowledge. And “then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

I am already fully known despite my resistance, my lack of ability to trust His all-knowing love, His grace. I am already beheld and He has not turned away. And there that verse is smack in the middle of yes, love. It is the love chapter that soars with descriptions that most certainly look unattainable. Does any one really love without envy or arrogance or irritability or resentfulness? Does anyone really endure all things?

I do not.

This forces me to that dim mirror and to the killing of self. The hard and painful ache of change.

Reading through that entire chapter, I find joy in verse 9. “For we know in part and prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

WHEN THE PERFECT COMES.

I could stop there and look fully, contentedly.

The answer is yes. It has to be. Yes, someone really loves without envy or arrogance or irritability or resentfulness. Someone has endured it all. That would be Him—the Perfect.

He has come and in His coming there was a treacherous battle. It was on a cross and the writhing, slithering snake of self was destroyed.

It wasn’t me that was killed. It was Him.

This makes my painful change not so painful anymore.

It makes learning to be beheld possible. It makes my resistance futile.

I am able to move back to peace and calm before God. I am able to behold Him who is perfect love. I am able to trust His gaze and the change it brings.

Advertisements

grief and glimpses of glory

To be alone with me
You went up on a tree
~Sufjan Stevens, To Be Alone With You

When my brother died I looked for him everywhere. I knew without a doubt that his faith had become sight and now he’d seen the King. I know where he is.

Left here on the faltering gray earth though I’d found my sight frequently dimmed. So I would look for him. When the sky was particularly beautiful, I would stare hard at the edges of the lit-from-within clouds thinking I might see a sliver of his healed and whole face. When I drove down the road, I would look to the passenger seat and think for a moment of his nearness. Maybe I could see the outline of him there. When I was out and about, I would often find the shapes of young, shaved-head men. I’d catch sight of one walking away, see the back of his head, and imagine it was him.

It’s silly I know and yet it is comforting. In this lifetime of ours there is much emphasis on sight, on vision. So much of what we believe is correlated to what we see.

Round the clock news channels offer us a continuous view of all that is happening across the gray globe, be it good or evil. If I listen only to these voices though I would absolutely be focused on the latter.

This week, Doris, the wife of a dear Godly friend went to be with our good and gracious king. She’d languished long, aching to go home. Gary had lamented alongside his bride. He wanted her restoration and rescue although separation was an obstacle of heart and mind.

She looked angelic every time I saw her. The brilliant white hair and glorious pale skin and a touch of pink. Despite pain and sadness she still had an impish grin. Faithful 68 years of marriage gave them both a glow of the bridegroom.

I think now the loss is cavernous. When life has grown up around you, intertwined, united with roots so deep, the loss can only tear and undo and hurt. Like the upending of a great and weathered tree, roots are exposed. The dirt flies, the groans are loud and long. The hollow must ache and pull like nothing else. Suffocating.

The eyes tell us she is gone. We see her there, but not.

I think that was a big struggle for letting go of my brother. I did not get to see him again. The brutality of death would not allow it. My mother and I so longed to just see a glimpse of his skin again. Just to graze his freckled arm with a fingertip. To see and know he’d gone on. Maybe that’s why I looked for him everywhere. To my puny mind, I’d not seen his end. I had only had lunch with him at Moe’s, listening to him tell funny stories and watch him laugh with my son and daughter. I had only hugged him that last time, grabbing him, feeling his absolute solid physical presence.

My need to see him however was superseded by his vision now, vision I long to have.

It is vision I pray for Gary.

My brother’s faith became sight; he has seen the King.

Doris sees Him now as well.

I read this week of a dear family friends whose two youngest daughters suffer a rare and fatal brain disease. They work hard every day to to care for, enjoy, treasure their girls despite knowing the ache of separation is all too close, too real. Yet their faith holds fast.

They also cling to greater vision. The immediate and unrelenting now forces them to focus on things they cannot now see. The ache and desperation provides greater perspective. Their perspective grows every day as does their vision. It is a vision of glory, of God’s goodness in the darkest moments. It is trusting in what they cannot yet see.

I long for this vision. To step back and get a good glimpse. I think of 2 Kings 6 and the prophet Elisha as he prays for his servant to have vision. Early in the morning the servant finds that he and the prophet are surrounded by the horses and chariots of a greatly troubled Syrian king. He was greatly troubled because somehow this prophet knew what he was going to do before he was going to do it. It was irritating.

The king sought to seize the prophet.

“What do we do?” was the cry of the servant and the calm and measured response came from the man of faith, of sight. “Do not be afraid.” Elisha prayed for the servant to see—and did he.

“so the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

In the moment of fear and desperation, the servant only sees the enemy and imminent destruction. He needed vision and Elisha knew it.

It is the vision we all long for whether we know it or not. We are called to trust. On occasion we are offered a glimpse of eternal proportions.

The only one we are called to fear is God. And He is the one who gives us the sight, for there is nothing He does not see. (Hebrews 4:13, Psalms 33:13)

So I pray now for the hollow and lonely places of those who are hurting and alone after 68 years of communion and oneness. I pray for those who daily deal in the reality of things we only dare whisper to one another. The faith and vision of the King is enough for us all. The tree He went up on has reach even deeper than the roots of the oldest around.

Restored vision is achieved here. This is where we behold full-on the glory and majesty of all we hope for.

When we gain perspective, when faith becomes sight, when vision is restored it is because we understand that the story is not about me. I am not the central character upon whom all hope is laid. Our struggles, our suffering, our grief does not end here with us.

All the world would deceive, would turn us over, like the reflection in the concave mirror of the spoon. Everything is upside down on this side of eternity, us alone, at the center. None can withstand the pressure of being the center of the story. To be the center means being suffocated, eventually killed.

Thankfully that One is not us. That One was killed. That One did upend the tree when He burst forth from that dark, deep, buried place.

We are pressed down, held under, we face the broken, sinful, wretched curse of death. Yet it is in the darkest places that our eyes strain to see a glimpse of light. And here in the dark, it is somehow easier to spot the light. As we draw nearer to it we begin to gain greater vision, to see the story clearly. Here we find freedom to breathe freely as our faith becomes sight.

“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
2 Corinthians 5:6-9

i am in the way

“I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”
~Flannery O’Connor

This is the ‘i’ society.

iPhone.
iHome.
iCar.
iFood.

While Apple may take credit for the little ‘i’ naming phenomenon, it has more than caught on. Most likely this is because the ultimate little ‘i’ is well, me.

When anyone at any time could “go viral” in a virtual world, it is no surprise that much of life begins with ‘i.’ It’s all about self, making things available for me, to me, about me. Communication via the latest tech has made it the ‘i’ in isolation. It is a selfie nation run wild wielding selfie sticks threatening to pound one another into internet oblivion.

The ‘i’ we project is usually filtered, flattered, and false. When we are actually—not virtually— faced with who we are in real community, how and what do we do with our “me”-ness? Our little ‘i’ issue?

Unfiltered us is often ugly. When we can’t cover, we want to fix.

A friend and I recently lamented our personal struggles, the real, the daily, the disappointing behaviors we admit and long to have repaired. We ache to be made new. We rejoice in redemption received and wrestle with sanctification. We want to be fixed.

The desire to fix, however, often fixates us on us. This is where the problem lies. What’s wrong with me? Someone help me. How do ‘i’ fix me? It is the unpleasant cycle that returns us to the ‘i’ issue. Recognizing the need is essential. We usually stop there though and focus on the need while problems only loom larger.

We can trace this family problem to garden lies that were all about this small ‘i.’ There is something little ‘i’ am missing, a knowledge ‘i’ need. This is the small ‘i’ lie: it’s all about me.

It’s why Flannery O’Connor’s pleas in her prayer journal resonate to my depths, “I do not know You God because I am in the way.”

Little ‘i’ am in the way! Help me push myself aside.

I find my struggle reminds me of the upside down economy of God’s kingdom. There was a man with a bit of an identity issue, who in a moment of frustration—perhaps righteous rage even—took the life of another. He covered it up. When the deed was uncovered (and his little ‘i’ confronted) he ran. He ran to hide his ugly little ‘i’ problem. He could not, however, outrun the solution. In Exodus 3, as he lays low shepherding a flock, content with the quiet he meets the Word we all need.

“And Moses said, ‘I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.’  When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’  Then he said, ‘Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey… And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.’
Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’
Moses is given his calling in the midst of hiding and readily admits his own insignificance, his own lack of authority. Moses is more than acquainted with his own short comings, his little ‘i’ problems. (Return where I am wanted for murder?) I have issues that need addressing. If you are sending me, what can little ‘i’ say that will possibly make a difference? Then comes the answer that we all desperately need.

I AM WHO I AM.

Relief.

Rescue.

Can you feel the exhale?

Little ‘i’ is no longer an issue.

This is insignificant ‘i’ before the face of I AM. There’s no need to tack on some meaningless object to that name, no iPhone, no ithis, ithat. I AM is the Word alive, the Creator and Sustainer of any and all. There is no hiding in obscure, filter-filled, avatar-laden, alter-ego worlds. This is where we build the altar and lay that little ‘i’ on it. This is where we bow low. This is where the focus shifts and the little ‘i’ that leaves us ultimately alone and isolated is replaced.

Discernment is possible because we have shifted, held down the shift on that small ‘i’ and find capital I AM is all there is to need. Faced with Author, Finisher, Healer, Redeemer, rest is readily available. Fretting forgotten.

It is not a superficial shift. It is the sanctifying variety. It is facing I AM who created, who knows. He knows about the buried bodies. He knows about the running and hiding. He knows about the little ‘i,’ the insignificance, the ugly. He burns it away and we are left with focus restored. I AM knows what needs repair.

He knows because He was there. He answered the call when they sought Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. We exerted our little ‘i’ in a garden, creating the problem. Big ‘I’ in the garden solves our problem. In John 18: “So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am he.’”

This I AM, the living Word of God, spoke the truth about his all caps existence. The power of those words overpowered those armed and ready to arrest. Verse 6 tells us that “when Jesus said to them ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” The big I in the garden always trumps the little ‘i’ there.

And perspective is regained here.

Though the power of His Word spoken was enough to defeat his captors and flee, instead I AM submitted fully. He submitted to death on a cross. He let go of self.

Let us follow this lead.

Let us let go.

Eyes off ‘i’ and on to I AM.

We have the opportunity, the ability to cast the care there. To cast it where it is redeemed, restored, swallowed up. We can acknowledge the need and rest in the rescue. The problem is solved and now we initiate a new identity. We are made for bigger things, bigger than us.

Our small and fragile finite fixing is overshadowed:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

We plead, “push me out of the way.” We fix our eyes on I AM and find the only way to know the One who fixes us.

the thorn isn’t leaving

I look for tidy answers to tiring days. Those long days, moments discouraging seem to run me down, even during what should be sabbath rest. It’s as if attacks are more prevalent when we’ve celebrated worship, rejoiced in The Victory. I can run down lists of all the ways the kids are awry and how I long for it to be made right. Running down the list though is more like running down the kids, pointing out flaws. The consequential sting spreads and aches and I swell hurt. I recognize myself. These short comings and failures are equally my own.

So I look for happy, quick-fix answers.

There is a verse for this somewhere, some devotional that tells me I am not a bad parent. They will “get it” and grow up and be kind and love others, even their own siblings. My own weaknesses overwhelm those thoughts and I recall 2 Corinthians 12 and Paul receiving the not necessarily quick-fix answer in the face of fleshy thorns, trials, hurts, longings for those he’s been striving to bring along in the faith.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (NKJV)

I have plenty of that last part to go around. So if it’s made perfect here, He’s made perfect in this weak fleshy moment of mine and my kids, where is it? When is it becoming perfection? How do I see it?

I know it is true and authentic and applicable today. I believe it is true. Is this the faith without sight? Because it doesn’t look like strength is abounding when a child says they are no longer sure they believe. It doesn’t feel like strength when tempers flare, egos swell, and no one “likes” each other anymore.

Perhaps this isn’t a simple solution I am offered. Maybe underneath that isn’t what I am really seeking, or more importantly really need. The need is to first acknowledge the need, for the need to fulfill the intended purpose and drive me to that intimate space, that quiet where I meet Strength. How else is anything made perfect? Flare prayer with instant results would not teach or train or accomplish heart mending at deepest levels for the long term. It would only be instant gratification and a moment fixed in a world overflowing with these things. And those are not the things that last.

I need to need Him, to long for Him, to ache for repair and the repair begins here when I meet Strength. I only begin to glimpse that as I go to my knees in these times, the times when I recognize I cannot do this. The shortcomings fall long and failures pound me down to the earth.

This is where I find Him.

We all want the simple, smooth answers. We request ________, He grants__________.

The simple. The slick.

I think relationships that only exist this way may not actually be relationships. Could this God who is relationship in and of Himself, possibly want more from and for His children? The gritty, zipper-stuck-push-and-pull of a true knowing, true relationship. He isn’t content to leave me slick and falsely satisfied. We aren’t moving on without the knowing that comes in the struggle, the gritty moments.

Consider those you truly love, truly know. Not the idols, the idealized versions of someone you think you want to know. Knowing comes with that rub, the rubbing off of the rough edges, the changing one another.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (ESV) Proverbs 27 tells us for a reason. That sharpening means we are having the dull, the useless parts filed away. It does not feel good. It does, however, accomplish His purpose.

God wants us here. This is where, this is when we know Him. When we know strength.

Here, bowed low, I find immediate relief and strength for the moment. When I recognize that this too is in a sovereign plan, I can breathe. When I remember  Strength was truly perfect the moment He went up on a cross, that moment when onlookers only saw weakness, I can know it isn’t all on me. I am not alone and there is a work in progress—in them, in me.

It is the Jacob wrestling the angel reality, the push and pull for souls in Sodom. It is Paul pleading repeatedly to have this thorn removed.

Paul receives that answer. This thorn is not leaving. This particular trial is necessary now for humility, for purpose accomplished. So Paul leads by example, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (ESV)

There is no other way to truly know Him, unless we know Him in the struggle. When we can wrestle and then declare His grace all sufficient. When bad is worse and He is still more than enough, it is only then that we do know.

When it doesn’t look like strength, when it doesn’t feel like strength, I have to let go of the perception and hold fast to the reality of God.

I hold fast to the God who knows me and is enough.