“Be like the cliff against which the waves continually break; but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations “Ay, to the proof, as mountains are for winds, that shakes not, though they blow perpetually.” ― William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew There is always a moving forward, a pressing on, a progression toward the future. There are continuously voices calling for change. Change is good, but can we pause for just a moment and recognize that change can be hard, that there is loss, that there is grief? Can we allow for the fact that in the forward march some beauty sometimes gets left in the dust? We are told that we must continue on, must keep on keeping on, must go with the flow and adapt to the change. But so much changes so fast and there is a sense that sometimes pain is not accounted for or allowed. Chin up, stay calm, soldier on. What about the grand tree with solid deep roots? What about the steady cliff beaten by the waves but not diminished? Can we learn nothing from them? Yes there is change, fairly constant beating of the waves on us. But there are firm foundations and places deep down where we can find the solace of steadfast unchanging strength. Not everything needs to change. And those who push so hard for change need to sometimes stop, breathe, look around, tend to those who are reeling from it all with compassion and grace. We do not all move so fast so easily anymore. And there is wisdom in the knowing that not all was meant for change. Not everything is in constant state of fluctuating or adapting. There is in all of it an ancient undercurrent, a solid fortress, a rock that is higher than the waves, higher than the seemingly insatiable appetite for something new, something better, something, if nothing else, just different than what is. There is time for change. There are moments where acceptance and adapting are necessary and good. But there is also time when it is just as necessary and good to stand still, take a breath, and hold on to what life is right now. There is a time to be as mountains are for winds.
“Rather we need to be exacting with ourselves regarding our integrity and motivation, and very generous in ascribing the best of motivations to the actions and efforts of others.” -Charles Ringma, Seize The Day with Dietrich Bonhoeffer I might have been in a mood. A few weeks ago I began a post I just couldn’t finish. It was nothing to horribly scandalous, but it did cause a twinge in my conscience nonetheless. This nonpunishable post was born out of a recent annoyance I have felt at something we all encounter, likely daily. It was concerning those pesky “than thous” that flit about us, on TV, in conversations, in social media, and even with close friends and family. “Than thou” used to be restricted to the realm of religiosity, as in “holier than thou,” but now you think of an area of life or current philosophy or lifestyle, and the than thous have found a very comfortable spot to nest. Among the “than thous” I seem to encounter (you may have others that come to mind) are healthier/more organic than thou, more of a foodie than thou, fitter than thou, greener than thou, more progressive, hip, or enlightened than thou, more creative than thou, and better overall parent than thou (although that last one has probably been around since there existed more than one family on this earth). And sadly, as much as I love the work of Brene Brown, (and I do), I wonder if we sometimes don’t also slip into more genuine/ “real” than thou and more compassionate than thou. Of course, as soon as I began mulling all these things over, and feeling, well, a bit smug, I had one of those looking in the mirror pointing a finger pointing back at me moments. What am I then? Less “than thou” than thou? And I had to stop writing and start really thinking this through. So where do these “than thous” come from? The more I ponder this, the more I think they actually begin in a beautiful place, maybe like weeds that pop out in a lush lovely garden. We all, I believe, have the potential for passion in us. And that passion manifests itself in different ways, maybe because of what we have been exposed to or educated about, maybe because of people we love and admire, maybe just because we are “wired” that way. So the passion grows and we get excited about it and it bubbles over so that it becomes part of many of our conversations. We want to share, we want others to understand, to see the beauty of the garden. I think where the stink comes in is, well, pride. Pride sneaking in once again. Pride causes us to say things like “Well, I would never…” or “I always…” and then pride gives way to judgement which says “How could anyone…?” and begins to view others as the unenlightened masses. And then, of course, there is the backlash, which I experienced in my own heart and mind: “Well, I would never say those things. I am not prideful.” Um. ok. So what to do? How do I rewrite this? Two things come to mind. One is to humbly suggest that all of us work to cultivate our passions, our gardens, while at the same time mind those weeds (or bugs, pick your metaphor). It is difficult, but not impossible, to bring those passions, those beliefs that come from deep in our souls to the table humbly, graciously, kindly. It is possible to pick up our heads, look around, and see the bounty of all that others are also bringing to the table. It is possible to stop talking (or typing) long enough to listen to someone else’s story, open up to the passion that dwells in someone else’s heart. And secondly, I walk away convicted that I can be guilty of missing the garden for the weeds. I can too easily be distracted by the tone and miss the heart behind it. I need to have eyes and ears to take in what others have to offer and drop the self-focused mindset that this is all about comparison (or frankly, all about me, and how I may or may not measure up). I need to be quiet, even in my mind, and allow the beauty of another’s heart penetrate my own. And so this is the post I wrote and finished. And this is the mindset, and the “heartset” I will (try to) keep.
“I miss innocence/ I miss the arms of my mother/ I miss feeling light, like a childhood summer.” -Sara Groves There is a certain ambiguous heaviness I feel every year around this time. I think most anyone who has suffered a significant loss that ties back to a certain time and series of days can relate on some level. There is a deep longing, an ache, a trying to bring back someone, or somewhere, or sometime. There is a sense that you have lost something, or maybe it is you that is lost, a sense of reaching out and grasping, of holding on, and then realizing, what was there, is not, but also that what is there, is not lost. What is left, what is not lost, is the pure sweet memory of what was. It is with these thoughts that I re-post my first blog post, in memory of my mother:
“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'”- Matthew 11:17 “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever…What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” –Ecclesiastes 1:4,9 Pride is as alive as it ever was, and it is so very seductive. No one is beyond its grasp. Pride whispers sweetly in our ears until we are lulled into believing we have the absolute right to demand the church be molded into our image, brothers and sisters in Christ bend to our personal tastes and preferences, and Christ himself be whittled down into a comfortable pocket guide for living. No one is exempt and no moment in time is safe from the siren call of pride and the assertion of the will. Each one of us is as prone as the other to fall into the trap. I will preface a link to the recent article by Rachel Held Evans by saying the words and specifics may vary, but the idea is not new. Nothing is new under the sun. We all at one time or another have desired to tailor God, His Word, and His purposes to our will. Evans addresses the evangelical church, and its perceived failure to hold captive the attention and loyalty of so-called millenials. The desire to cast a wider net is understandable, but some of the ideas represented here seem to be rooted in the desire to have a sovereignty of self, to base our criticisms of institutions on our own authority, not the authority of scripture. “It is clear,” Eugene Peterson writes urgently in Eat This Book, “that we live in an age in which the authority of Scripture in our lives has been replaced by the authority of the self: we are encouraged on all sides to take charge of our lives and use our own experience as the authoritative text by which we live.” Not only this, but “we are in the odd and embarrassing position of being a church in which many among us believe ardently in the authority of the Bible, but, instead of submitting to it, use it apply it, take charge of it endlessly, using our own experience as the authority for how and where and when we will use it.” We can slide so easily into the habit of self-appointed authority with God’s word, with His people, and, (this should cause us to shudder), with God Himself. It is so tempting to say we want a big God with power and glory and majesty, but in the same breath want to manage the Almighty and His work on earth. We want the great King to be safe. But we are to be admonished in this kind of thinking, just like the character of Susan in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: “Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.” This foolish desire to waltz into God’s house and lay out a list of demands has surely been a problem since the time of the writing of Ecclesiastes, prompting these words: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know what they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth. So let you words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3) Let our words be few. And let those words be appropriately humble. Let us remember, no matter what generation we are in, that we do not call the shots. It may be that it is more tempting for the generations now coming of age to feel entitled than previous generations. (Though I doubt it. Nothing is new under the sun). It also may be that there have been some misguided attempts by various churches to cater to one group or another, motivated by fear of losing numbers. Haven’t we been warned though, that “the love of most will grow cold?” (Matthew 24:11) I believe a church’s effectiveness in pursuing and carrying out the will of God does not lie in popularity but in holding fast to His Word, and in effectively using those who will be counted present and available. The question, then, isn’t what is the church to me, but what kind of instrument am I in the church? What do I bring? How can I humbly serve, minister to, love, console, rejoice with, and walk alongside my brothers and sisters? How can I be hands and feet to those outside the walls of my church and beyond the boundaries of my comfort? This is to walk in the feet of Christ. This is, again in the words of Eugene Peterson, “liv[ing] these Holy Scriptures from the inside out, instead of using them for our sincere and devout but still self-sovereign purposes.” This is the antidote to pride. So let our words be few. Let our demands be silenced. Let our condescension and criticisms be muted and our actions speak volumes. And let our actions not just show that we love our neighbor, as important as that is. Let them show that we submit to the will of the Father, and follow the first and greatest commandment, which, if we truly take Christ at His word, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37-38) Let our words be few. Let our awe be genuine. Let us humbly acknowledge that God is God and His Will will be done, whether we choose to be a part of it or not.
- How Not To Speak for a Generation: Rachel Held Evans on Millennials Leaving the Church (pietistschoolman.com)
- Ecclesiastes 8. Obey authorities for God’s sake. (bummyla.wordpress.com)
I am tired of small. I want big, grand, overarching words and ideas. I want big imposing rocks, not small pebbles. I want immensity. And I know it is there.
I am tired of small discussions revolving around small concerns that generate more small concerns. I am tired of topics that wind themselves down to childlike arguments. I want vast oceans of thought. And I know they are there.
I want the ocean, the mountains, the waterfall, the big clear overwhelming sky on a cold quiet winter night. I want to be overcome by all that is out there. I could never climb it, swim it, or touch it, but I want it there.
Why do we dig ourselves into little caves of personal taste and preference, of self sovereignty based on our limited experiences in our small lives? Why don’t we grasp for the greatness of God’s presence and the width, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love? Why do allow ourselves to be held back from throwing ourselves into this never-ending boundless sea that is laid out right before us? It is right there before us.
We are blind and deaf and too easily sidetracked by the tiniest of thoughts that we somehow miss the looming grandeur of our Creator, our Lord, our Savior. We pick over a grain of sand when right before us is this colossal eternal Rock. We should be pondering, discerning, perceiving, knowing, grasping for the One who is able to do immeasurably more than we would even dream in our wildest dreams.
This is huge. This is what we are aiming for. We cannot miss it. It is there for us, if we will be rooted and grounded in His Word and His love.
Let us forsake the small. Let us reach for the impossibly wonderfully overwhelming overcoming Love that is there to be lavished on us, if we will only open our eyes and ears and reach out our small, feeble hands. It is there.
So a strange thing came in the mail the other day. It was the latest issue of Marie Claire with an offer of one year free subscription. I have no idea how or why it was sent to me. It really doesn’t matter. Because (after paging through it), I threw away the magazine and went online to cancel the subscription.
Why did I do this? Out of fear that “if it seems too good to be true, it is,” that I may somehow be incurring charges that are hidden in some fine print somewhere? No, though that thought did cross my mind. Out of some purist revulsion to the images of less than fully clothed ladies littering the pages? Not really, but that did make it easier.
I did it because, as I sat on my deck on a warm summer evening and casually flipped through the pages, I felt myself at once drawn in and repelled. And I recognized a feeling that washed over me, a hauntingly familiar feeling. I can trace this feeling back to looking at Seventeen Magazine when I was probably 12 or 13, then Glamour into my 20s, and more recently, really any magazine within reach when I am getting my hair done. This is a feeling that I am quite certain most women who flip through these magazines can recall easily. The feeling? Inadequacy.
When we browse the enticingly glossy pictures of impossibly beautiful impeccably dressed women, we are told, in bold type, how we do not measure up. The message is loud and clear. You are not (fill in the blank) enough. Whatever your insecurity, there likely is a photo spread or article to make you feel worse about yourself. But, wait! In three easy steps, you can improve yourself! You can have fuller lips, a more toned body, better hair, hotter style, a cooler career, you name it. If you’re single? Here’s how to “catch a man.” If you’re married? Boy, are you missing out! The new thing? “Taking a lover” How empowering!
The thing is, I know all of this is so ridiculously across the board false. I know it. You know it. We all know it. But something insidious happens when we allow our eyes to rest on the impossible images and the false claims of what it is to be beautiful and whole. The lies seep into to our minds as we glance down at our own bodies, look around at our houses and wardrobes. “I am not good enough. I can (and should) be taller, skinnier, cuter, edgier, more stylish, have better skin, go out more…”
It takes only a few minutes to be drawn into this made up world where everyone is having more fun than you with more flair and style than you’ll ever have, and looking oh so wonderful doing it. And while part of your brain says “whatever” part of you gets sucked in, and you turn the page, read the article, study the fashion tips. Suddenly you are lifted from a world where things are just fine into one where, well, something has to change. And, most tragically, we begin to buy into the deception that any of these vapid concerns or surface changes could ever provide lasting and pure happiness.
Like I said, I don’t know how or why I came upon this “free gift,” I also don’t know how or why this seduction works. But it doesn’t really matter. Because the only way it works is if I let it in.
So Marie hit the recycling, and I sat outside, listening to the chatter of my children, breathing a quiet sigh of contentment, before going in to tackle the dishes.
Once again, I sat stunned, unprepared. I was sitting on the front steps of our house with my 9 year old daughter. My beautiful girl, with tears in her eyes, was trying to convince me that she is fat. She slapped at her thighs and held her stomach between her fingers, saying “See? I’m fat!” I stared at this darling girl, with the deepest pools of blue eyes I have ever seen, who in her best moments is the embodiment of light and the sweet confidence reserved just for children, and my heart broke. Because in this moment, and in the moments leading up to it, some of her innocence had been lost and she seemed to me now uncharacteristically unsteady and insecure. My mind felt like time was speeding up and slowing down all at the same time. I whizzed through all the appropriate cliches, passing by phrases like “you’re perfect just the way you are” and “you are beautiful on the inside” until I landed on a few that I thought would be ok. I am not honestly sure what exactly I did say. I felt a bit paralyzed, the weight of this moment heavy on me. I became acutely aware that there are things I should say and things I should probably not say. I think back to days when, though a bit older, I had similar conversations with my mom. One particular time I remember her response was to chide me a little bit, saying something like “Don’t you think it makes God sad to hear to talk that way about yourself?” Great. Now I’m not just fat, I’m also making the Creator of the Universe sad. So I stayed away from that one. I did try to communicate to her that I believe she was created uniquely and wondrously, knit together by her loving Heavenly Father. And that she is a healthy, beautiful, growing girl who is kind, funny, and smart. During and after this deer-in-the-headlights moment, I felt inadequate and unarmed. I went to my Facebook community, and received kind and understanding encouragement and advice. In the following days I did a bit of research, and I am clear now, if I wasn’t before, that there are volumes of books, magazine articles, DVDs, and the like that are out there to help moms like me in situations like this. That is great, it really is. But can we just take a step back for a moment and acknowledge that this just stinks? It is ridiculous that a child of this age is even beginning to struggle with body image. I am loathe to pull the “when I was that age” bit, but seriously, when I was that age I was playing with my smurfs and running around, getting dirty, and, I am pretty sure, oblivious to the inner and outer critical voices that would make themselves heard soon enough. I just hate this for her, hate that this bugaboo of body image that will continue to resurface likely for a lifetime, has already shown its ugly head. This moment happened about a month ago. Happily, I have not heard the “I am fat” mantra from my daughter since that time, and for that I am grateful. I have watched her playing outside with her friends and her brothers, doing cartwheels, playing some made up game or other, in a world where she is, for the moment, not worried about how she may appear. These are perfect childhood moments, and I am soaking them up. And as I sit and contemplate this whole thing, I try to understand my role in what I hope will be a journey of healthy self image for her. Just yesterday, the morning crew on the Today Show discussed fat talk (women basically competing with complaints about their bodies). I realize this is a trigger for me, as I often grow so weary of these types of conversations and find myself just wanting to walk away when I feel them beginning. Hopefully, I have been at successful at my attempts to keep my own self criticisms in my head, because I am certain that whether either of us wants to admit it or not, I am a role model for my daughter. I know it will only become increasingly important to model a healthy self image, as well as paying attention to and honoring a inner life of beauty. This is a balancing act for sure. I want my daughter to know that cultivating a spirit of compassion, humility, and love far outweighs (ahem) all the trappings of what our culture will define as beauty. But there are times I look at my daughter and I catch my breath, thinking “she is so beautiful.” And I tell her. Which brings me to perhaps the sweetest and simplest advice I have received on this topic so far. It came from my beautiful and wise 17 year old niece. I frantically texted her after the incident, searching for the input of someone closer to her age, hoping for some magical wording that would poof! make this go away. Of course I know this is impossible, but her response came as close as I think I will ever get: “Just keep telling her she’s beautiful until she starts believing you.”