Paul has been away for military training for the last two weeks so I agreed to write our first “now that the summer’s over” blog post. Sadly, this task has been less intuitive than I would have liked. Plenty happened this summer, we learned about God, ourselves, our marriage, our children, our church, and our family. The possibilities for interesting blog topics seemed wide and rife with potential.
Nonetheless, this whole week I have been unable to nail down what I wanted to say. In spare moments I’d begin formulating tentative outlines or titles or first paragraphs only to mentally chuck the mess in frustration.
Partly, like any writer knows (and I don’t consider myself a “writer” in the academic sense so I maybe I shouldn’t lump myself in with them : ) the job of simply “conquering the white” was daunting. Without a compelling message, the idea of staring at a blank Word document was unpleasant.
But more significant that my fear of white pages, was the fact that if you asked me how my spiritual “walk” was currently, I’d have to be honest and tell you at that at the moment, my soul feels pretty dry. Listless. Wilted. Much like the poor basil plant that is currently sitting on my kitchen window sill, desperate for sustenance but more likely to dry up and be thrown away since I am horrible at remembering to water it. (Paul says that I a “black thumb” : ).
The state of my soul isn’t the result of avoiding or neglecting God. No, it’s dry because circumstance have wrung it out. Situations faced this summer seemed to twist and squeeze my faith – extracting all the reserves that I would build up – until I was left, tired, limp and hung out to dry.
You may think that I am being dramatic here, but I’m not. When I tell you about the circumstances that I faced (as I will in future posts) you may shake your head and think, “oh come on, it wasn’t that bad.” But circumstances don’t need to be mammoth in sheer agony to test the soul. Sometimes, it’s facing one moderately-sized difficulty after another in quick succession that truly tests our limits.
So that’s where I am. That’s where I was this morning when, unable to sleep after Paul got up and left for the Guard base, I got up and armed with a cup of tea (coffee has just lost it’s appeal with this pregnancy) began reading a chapter from Brennan Manning’s Book “The Ragamuffin Gospel.”
Halfway through, I was crying, unable to even see the pages because of the tears. It was as if God just reached into my soul with the most perfect, most quenching, most beautiful truth. It felt like a hug. It really did. A hug from God and a tall glass of spiritual water right when I needed it the most. (Which, actually sounds like something my Mom would do if she discovered me exhausted and emotionally strung out. It’s no wonder that God is described in motherly terms sometimes in scripture : )
The timely truth that nourished my soul wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard about or thought on before. But it was stated so clearly that I had no other reaction that grateful thanksgiving to my heavenly Father. In my current state I feel tired, apathetic and with limited spiritual functionality. But God’s grace doesn’t demand that I “fix” these problems. God’s grace calls me to rest in his unwavering acceptance of me as his child-broken and inadequate but declared as righteous as Christ. God’s graces calls me to be sustained by his love, his relentless and unceasing love, during this period of hardship. What a glorious thought.
So, I finally had a message that I really wanted to share with you : ) Only, Brennan Manning said it so well, that I am just going to copy and paste a good-sized chunk of the chapter I read this morning. My hope it that it will feed your soul as it fed mine.
“The gracious God enfleshed in Jesus Christ loves us.
Grace is the active expression of his love. The Christian lives by grace as Abba’s child, utterly rejecting the God who catches people by surprise in a moment of weakness – the God incapable of smiling at our awkward mistakes, the God who does not accept a seat at our human festivities, the God who says “You will pay for that,” the God incapable of understanding that children will always get dirty and be forgetful, the God always snooping around after sinners.
At the same time the child of the Father rejects the pastel colored patsy God who promises to never rain on our parade.
A pastor I know recalls a Sunday morning Bible study at his church when the text under consideration was Genesis 22. In this passage, God commands Abraham to take his son Isaac and offer him in sacrifice on Mount Moriah. After the group read the passage, the pastor offered some historical background on this period in salvation history, including the prevalence of child sacrifice among the Canaanites. The group listened in awkward silence.
Then the pastor ask, “But what does this story mean to us?”
A middle-aged man spoke up. “I’ll tell you the meaning that this story has for me. I’ve decided that me and my family are looking for another church.”
The pastor was astonished, “What? Why?”
“Because,” the man said, “when I look at that God, the God of Abraham, I feel like I’m near a real God, not the sort of dignified, businesslike, Rotary Club God we chatter about here on Sunday mornings. Abraham’s God could blow a man to bits, give and then take a child, ask for everything from a person and then want more. I want to know that God.”
The child of God know that the graced life calls him or her to live on a cold and windy mountain, not on the flattened plain of reasonable, middle-of-the-road religion.
For at the heart of the gospel of grace, the sky darkens, the wind howls, a young man walks up another Moriah in obedience to a God who demands everything and stops at nothing. Unlike Abraham, he carries a cross on his back rather than sticks for a fire…like Abraham, listening to a wild and restless God who will have His way with us, no matter what the cost.
This is the God of the gospel of grace. A God who, out of love for us, sent the only Son he ever had wrapped in our skin. He learned how to walk, stumbled and fell, cried for His milk, sweated blood in the night, was lashed with a whip and showered with spit, was fixed on a cross and died whispering forgiveness on us all.
The God of the legalistic Christian, on the other hand, is often unpredictable, erratic, and capable of all manner of prejudice. When we view God this way, we feel compelled to engage in some magic to appease him. This God expects people to be perfect and to be in perpetual control of their feelings and thoughts. When broken people with this concept of God fail-as inevitably they must-they usually expect punishment. So they preserve in religious practices as they struggle to maintain a hollow image of a perfect self. The struggle itself is exhausting. The legalist can never live up to the expectations they project on God. …
Our experience of God’s unconditional love must be shaped by the scriptures. God’s written word must take hold of us. The Word we study must be the Word that we pray. My personal experience of the relentless tenderness of God came not from exegetes, theologians, and spiritual writers, but from sitting still in the presence of the live word and beseeching Him to help me understand with my head and heart His written Word. …
Philosopher Jacques Maritain once said that the culmination of knowledge is not conceptual but experiential-I feel God. Such is the promise of the Scriptures: “Be still and acknowledge [experience] that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). I mean that a living, loving God can and does make His presence felt, can and does speak to us in the silence of our heart, can and does warm and caress us till we no longer doubt that He is near, that He is here. Such experience is pure grace to the poor, the children and the sinners, the privileged type in the gospel of grace. It cannot be forced from God. He gives it freely, but He does give it and has given it to such as Moses and Matthew and me.
In essence, there is only one thing God asks of us -that we be men and women of prayer, people who live close to God, people for whom God is everything and for whom God is enough. That is the root of peace. We have that peace when the gracious God is all we seek.”