Repentance redefined: Giving up exhaustion and opening to change

Day 4: Repentance redefined: Giving up exhaustion and opening to change

“exhaustion was not fertile soil for growth and change”

We had been meeting for about two years when my directee said to me: “You know the most helpful thing you’ve said to me since we’ve been meeting is

“God is not in favor of exhaustion.””

As a woman who struggles with over-work, conversation about balance and spiritual practice were a large part of our conversations together.  But it wasn’t until we began to talk about the theology behind  exhaustion that change began to happen. What does chronic exhaustion say about what I believe about God?

Many of us have heard it time and time again:  “You have to lose your life to save it.”

Jesus said that or something similar repeatedly in Scripture.  I grew up hearing that those words meant that I was to work until I could work no more, sacrifice until I was depleted, and then I would be deemed as faithful and transformed by that exhaustion.

But in my life, that view made less and less sense. I found that it just wasn’t working.  I was just exhausted.  And exhaustion was not fertile soil for growth, change, or anything that looked like love, joy, or peace.

And then I read three words that came just before one of those statements by Jesus:

Remember Lot’s wife.

Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.

When I went back to Lot’s wife’s story , what I saw was a woman who died because she was afraid to change. She was called to flee from the city to the mountains, told by angels no less, and turned back to her old life instead.

Change is hard. Really hard. Even good, freeing, soul-satisfying wonderful change is hard.

Even change that leaves behind exhaustion is a challenge.

 Or change that reconnects us to family.

 Or change that lets us shine in our giftedness.

If you’ve followed this blog this lent, my hope is that you have experienced that non-traditional upside down redefined repentance is bringing light and joy and freedom to your soul…. that freedom to connect in messiness, to speak and to stand tall is producing the fruit of God’s spirit.  Counter-intuitively, at the same time, I trust that it has been hard. Actually even more difficult than if I had asked you to give up chocolate or facebook or a lot of your hard-earned money.

As women, an invitation to more sacrifice can deepen our ruts of caring for others and is often not helpful.

 Self-care challenges those ruts, and sometimes even our theology.

As Brother Vryhof writes in today’s version of Brother Give Us a Word,

 We may be afraid to be totally and unconditionally loved by God. What would it mean for us to begin to see ourselves – and to live – as beloved children of God? What image of myself might I have to let go of in order to embrace this new identity?

– Br. David Vryhof
, Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Letting go of old beliefs and patterns is hard, even if those old patterns are destructive forces in our lives.

How would your life change if you really believed that God is not in favor of exhaustion?

One of the changes I am opening to presently is the delight of being welcomed into our daughter, son-in-law and grand-daughter’s life. My parents and I always struggled to connect. I am sure it was a co-created reality that we never managed to get past.  There was no estrangement; simply little connection. So, though I worked and hoped that that same distance would not be true with my own children, a part of me fell into that rut and never expected anything different.

But it is different.  In fact, we are going to our daughter’s house this evening to witness Georgia eating sweet potatoes for the first time. If recent history is a predictor of the future, it will be wonderfully enthusiastic, impossibly messy, great fun. To say “yes” to the invitation to go and make room in my life for such joy is what it means right now for me to lose my life (the distance I experienced and expected) to save it (to be transformed by the love of God in the form of a 6 month old and sweet potatoes.)

Who knew repentance could be such fun?… I promise I will share the pictures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Focusing curiosity on ruts

“So many factors work against our visionary initiative.It is a human tendency to become stuck and to build ruts.”

Isn’t it funny how we tend to sit in the same place every time within a classroom or at church or sometimes even in our own dining room?

I am just finishing up my first semester of teaching as an adjunct professor at the Seminary of the Southwest .  I’ve had a great time with a small group of nine amazingly brilliant, exceptionally open, motivated learners.  Interestingly, for the most part, each student has sat in the same seat or close to it each time we have met.

I do the same thing.  Ever since I began to attend the Episcopal Church almost 15 years ago now, I tend to sit on the far right side about three quaters of the way back.  At St. Stephen’s, I sat there because it allowed me a good view of the garden space out the clear paned windows.  Now in a very different worship space at St. David’s, I am still in the same place but no longer for the same reason.  I realize now that I like to sit there because I can see the backs of the heads of people whose stories I know. Though we are in a larger parish, over time I have had the privilege of hearing many stories of God’s grace at work in the hearts and lives of the people who sit in front of me… and that “hard evidence” of the love of God enhances my worship. I am also in a rut.

I am always a little leery of ruts.  Perhaps it is my inclination toward prophetic gifting.  As my friend Mary calls it: “the gift of sanctified criticism.”

18“Forget the former things;

do not dwell on the past.

19See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the desert

and streams in the wasteland.

Though God is always doing a new thing, it seems that the same forces that make me want to sit in the same seat in church, are always at work in the church moving the fresh work of God toward institutionalization (read ruts). In response, God is always sending prophets to remind His people of His ways and to look once more for that fresh work of God. If you want to read an amazing (albeit academic and very dense) book on this pattern, I recommend Walter Brueggemann’s classic Prophetic Imagination.

Another reason I am leery of ruts is the story of Lot’s wife. This is what I wrote in My Own Worst Enemy:

 Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. (Luke 17:32–33)

Many scholars say that the best commentary we find on Scripture is another portion of Scripture. This New Testament reference to the story of Lot’s wife is a small illustration sandwiched in the middle of a section speaking of the time when the kingdom of God comes suddenly to earth. The message of this illustration is clear: If you try to plant yourself in the past—save your life as you define it now—you will lose it. But if you take this leap, if you let go of your life as it is, as you know it, you will be saved. This is not presented as a nice option but rather an essential element of our faith journey.

The Christian life is one that we are called to live in forward motion. Sometimes, though, we get stuck in a rut without realizing it. One common way we avoid the transformative, shining life we have been called to live is to become caught in what I call the unimagined life. As wonderfully gifted nurturers, we can get lost in fulfilling the dreams and agendas of others and never even think about what God might have in mind for our particular lives . . . beyond taking care of those we love. We choose to live passively, responsively, without personal vision, investment, or creativity. Or for those who may dare to sense God’s unique calling, it can become a call we never get around to answering. We struggle to find time for our own hopes and dreams, never thinking to take or make the time. As the saying goes, “A woman’s work is never done.” Let’s face it: It’s less risky to operate from someone else’s vision, passion, and plan.

So many factors work against our visionary initiative. It is a human tendency to become stuck and to build ruts. Understandably, the better the life, the greater the temptation to preserve it as is. Remember the rich young ruler? (Matthew 19:16–30). When the flow of our life is good, we want to institutionalize whatever has brought that goodness. We want to turn our living God into a fixed idol.

 So, this Advent, I am focusing my gentle curiosity in the direction of the ruts in my own life:

  • Morning coffee in bed (okay, this one’s not negotiable)
  • Watching “Morning Joe” as I drink my morning coffee
  • Living with a messy office (curious, very curious… Why do I seem to be resistant to order here? What would it take to order my work?)
  • Suffering in silence (a definite calling to change here…. Am I willing to learn to lament?)
  • Going to bed after watching the weather at 10:20 (I sound like such an old lady!) I say I want to get up earlier, maybe I can go to bed earlier, too.
  • Believing that faithfulness means working all the time.

On our trip to Germany, I was inspired by the brilliant work of Marc Chagall on the stained glass windows of St. Stephen’s church in Mainz (above). Their beauty alone is inspiring but even moreso the fact that Chagall began the first window at age 91 completing a total of 9 before he died at age 99.  Taking on a new project at such an age tells me that he likely had little tolerance for ruts, at least in his creative endeavors.

So, where are there ruts in your life? Which ones are asking for your gentle curiosity?

Pack lightly and carry a big heart

Packing this week, okay, this month, for this pilgrimage has been an interesting exercise in self-reflection.

My gathering theme has become: pack light and carry a big heart.

Linguistically, it has the same rhythm of that old saying:  Walk softly and carry a big stick

Though I remembered that saying from a movie decades old it looks like the saying had more noble origins.

 

Years ago I heard Oprah say that women have so many clothes in their closets because they are dressing three women:

the woman they were

the woman they are

the woman they are becoming.

I can go through my closet and label most of what I own in those three ways.

 

As I set out on this pilgrimage, I also recall the words of my favorite poet, Alla Renee Bozarth  who begins her epic poem Passover Remembered with these words:

 

Pack nothing.

Bring only your determination to serve

and your willingness to be free.

 

Honestly, I am not doing so well with the pack nothing idea… but I do hear the wisdom in theory.

 

As I sit at the airport waiting to board our flight, I wonder: What do I need to leave on this side of the ocean?

Fears

Identities

Limitations

Questions

Analysis

Old resentments

Assumptions

Expectations of myself or others

Work

Usual ways of being in the world (like thinking too much)

 

In the recent days, my pain, which had been relatively stable, has ramped up.

Boy, would like to leave it behind.

As I’ve grieved its presence in my life, seen a new doctor with new ideas about it.  and prayerfully sought to listen to what God might be trying to say to me through my body, all I “hear” is

 Let your pain open your soul.

 One of the reasons I have internally labeled those words as an invitation from the Spirit is because it’s nothing I want to hear. Nor would I say I really know what it means much less how to do it. When my pain increases, I want to do anything but open… I want to contract and shut down, to clinch my fists and my brace body against it.  I want to curl up in my bed.

Instead, I am heading across the ocean on pilgrimage.  Go figure.

Let your pain open your soul.

 It makes me think of being in labor with my children. Painful contraction worked to open the way for someone new to be born.

 

May I, like Mother Mary, breathe, “Let it be.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting myself again for the first time

Something is up.  I’m not sure what, but something is up. I just get the feeling.

Maybe it’s Jesus’ wisdom “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48)

I love my work right now; it is a gift. Yet, the question rises: what might be shifting?

I love my husband of 33 years. He is a gift. Is my marriage changing,too?

I love our children and new granddaughter.  They are gifts. How can I love them better?

Interestingly, this trip is a gift that my work and calling have given me.  It is an adventure in the art of pilgrimage, of traveling with the hope of being transformed by the journey and the intention to open my soul through experience and geography. Several months ago, I found this blessing by the late John O’Donahue:

For the Traveler

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

~ John O’Donohue ~

(To Bless the Space Between Us)

Through the thoughtful gift of a friend, I have this blessing beautifully printed on a card to take with me.

This blessing makes me think of Lot’s wife who could not find within herself the grace and strength to leave the life she knew for a new one in the mountains.

It also makes me think of some of my favorite definitions:

Obedience: progressive liberation from all that is not God’s love.

Discipline: remembering what you really want

Retreat: not escaping from my life, but simply escaping from all the usual ways I avoid my real life

Will I be willing to leave home? To leave the “me” I know and let the place where I am going introduce me to the woman I am becoming?

Jesus said: 32 Remember Lot’s wife!33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. Luke 17

Am I willing to lose my life to save it?

Today as I “walked” through our itinerary  via the internet, I felt like crying. For joy and excitement and vulnerability and, yes, a little fear. I have encountered these moist and green places along the way before… St. Hildegard calls them Viriditas.  I always like who I become… the process of such becoming however is sometimes not so much fun… maybe this time will be different.

Something is up.  I’m not sure what, but something is up. I just get the feeling.