A Sinking Heart

bleeding-hearts

There are times we move through life with our hearts on our sleeves.  Wide open to receive God’s amazing love.  Moved to listen and understand, we are part of the vast family of the children of God. We offer prayers of gratitude for belonging.  We reach out to our sisters and brothers in loving communion.

With our hearts on our sleeves… we sing, we laugh, and we love.

There are times that our hearts curl inward.  Nestled deep within our souls.  We enter into a period of searching and deep contemplation.  Our hearts are wrapped in mystery.  We long to hear God’s whisper.  We know there is something God wants to teach us and we cling to the quiet so we may uncover His truth.

With our hearts drawn in… we listen, we pray, and we learn.

And still other times our hearts just sink.  We are lost in the fragments of a broken world.  Hope eludes us and despair overwhelms us.  We cannot imagine a world in which God is present and working for good.  Our rational minds tell us that God is out there, but with plummeting hearts we cannot see Him.

With our hearts in the depths… we doubt, we cry, and we ache.

If our hearts are going to sink, let them sink into God.  Not an out-of-control free fall, but a falling in faith. This act of surrender will bring us closer to God than ever before.  We give up our pain, our flaws, and our doubts, confident that God is strong enough to bear it all.  The further we allow ourselves to fall, the higher God will lift us up.

If our hearts are going to sink… let them sink into God.

Leaving Our Nets Behind

The Fisherman

Matthew 4:18-22 tells the beautiful story of Jesus calling two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew and James and John, to drop their fishing nets and follow him. This reading is one of the gospel stories I remember most distinctly from my childhood. Not because I liked the story—although I did enjoy it—but because something about it made me supremely uncomfortable. It always boggled my mind how quickly those men dropped everything to follow Jesus. Twice Matthew uses the phrase “at once,” suggesting that they didn’t stop to think about it for even a moment.

As a kid, I wasn’t prone to doing anything spontaneously, preferring to think things through before making my move. And so I marveled at how these brothers were able to do that. I often wondered…what else did they leave behind? Their mothers? Sisters? Were they married? Did they have other commitments? If they weren’t fishing, who was providing food for their families? All of these musings really pointed to the one question I couldn’t bring myself to ask—the question that was at the root of my discomfort with this story:

If I was one of those fishermen, and Jesus called me to follow him, would I drop everything “at once” and go? There was a part of me that always wondered if perhaps I wouldn’t be able to do it. That I just didn’t have it in me.

Have you ever felt the same way? That you might be one of those people…clinging to your fishing nets, unable to let them go and follow Jesus. What holds us back? What are the nets that we’ve become tangled up in…that tie us down and prevent us from being free to follow Jesus? It’s important to reflect on this question, for if we can’t identify these nets, we can never be free of them.

I believe the answer can be found not in where we cast our nets, but in where we cast our eyes. Imagine for a moment, you are standing on the shore. The air smells of salt and seaweed, a warm breeze flits across your skin as you drag your net along the water’s edge. Jesus approaches you and says, in a quiet yet compelling voice, “Come along with me.”

Where do you direct your gaze when Jesus speaks to you? Are your eyes cast downward, unable to look directly at His face? Do you feel too ashamed or too unworthy to look him in the eye? I believe this feeling of unworthiness can be the single biggest impediment to living a life with meaning. And it’s absolutely without foundation. God loves us and accepts us exactly the way we are. The fourth Psalm says, “O God, you have declared me perfect in your eyes.” Does this mean we’re perfect? Of course not. Only God is perfect. So what does this line from Scripture mean? Years ago I attended an evening retreat where the presenter said the following: “God has a plan and a purpose for you, and He made you exactly the way He needs to you to be.” You can disagree with that statement, feeling you have far too many flaws for God to ever want to use you for much of anything – but you’d be wrong.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” (And if you saw my garden last summer, you would know how wholeheartedly I embraced Mr. Emerson’s theory about weeds!) You may think of yourself as a useless weed, unworthy when you compare yourself to the beautiful flowers around you… but God knows who you truly are, and what you can accomplish, if you would simply drop your net and follow Him.

Psalm 139 says: “O Lord… you made all the delicate, inner parts of my body, and knit them together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.” If God made each and every one of us so wonderfully unique and flawed and complex, why wouldn’t he want to use us for an important purpose? I believe if you stood on that seashore and told Jesus you couldn’t follow Him because you weren’t good enough, He would laugh gently and say, “Silly child, my Father made you this way for a purpose. Come… let’s see what you can do.”

God’s Work in Progress

potter clay
Christians often refer to the season of Lent as a second chance at our New Year’s resolutions. Our broken January promises are renewed as we vow to give up unhealthy foods, to take on healthier habits, to change in some significant way. For the most part, I love this time of year because it ushers in a season of transformation and renewal, as we embrace growth and progress. But there are some “side effects” of this approach than can actually halt our progress in two significant ways if we’re not careful.

  1. A constant focus on all the many ways we need “fixing” can become a roadblock on our spiritual journey if we hold ourselves back from God because of this belief that we are not good enough.
  2. Our efforts to do it all ourselves as we choose and control our own path to change can get in the way of God’s plans for us.

On both January 1st and Ash Wednesday, I always used to say: “I’m a work in progress.   There’s a LOT of work I need to do.” Somewhere along they way I reframed this statement

I am God’s work in progress, and he is working in me. Continue reading

Making Room for Jesus

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7

On the night our Savior came into the world, there was no room for him. I can only imagine how Mary and Joseph must have felt. Tired and dusty from the long trip through Galilee and Judea. Mary, heavy with child, uncomfortable, frightened, knowing with a woman’s intuition that her time was near. Joseph, realizing with dread that they would not make it home in time, and their child would have to be born here, in Bethlehem. This brave couple, so very young and alone, desperately searching for a safe place to give birth, only to be told there was no room at the local inn.

John the Baptist says: “The Kingdom of Heaven is near” … “Prepare the way of the Lord!”   Just like that innkeeper in Bethlehem, during this holy season of Advent, we are being asked to make room for Jesus in our lives…in our hearts…and the world.

How will we respond to this request? Continue reading

Let it Go!

autumn-smiling

During a few blustery, rainy days here in New England, I watched the autumn leaves fall like snow. (Reminding us of what’s to come!) My imagination conjured the sad image of these trees desperately clinging to their many-colored coats as they struggled to hold on against the unrelenting wind. A few days later, after reading a scientific article, I was surprised to learn what’s really going on.

In autumn, trees “decide” to let go of their leaves.

In the warm and fruitful days of spring and summer, leaves use sunlight and water to make food for the tree. With the coming of winter, these leaves become inefficient and unable to produce food. In order to survive the harsh winter and allow for new growth in the spring, a decidous tree must shed its leaves and seal off the spots where they were growing.

This is done through a process called abscission. When the Northern days grow shorter and colder, trees release a hormone that causes tiny cells to grow at the spot where the leaf stem meets the branch. These are called “abscission” cells. (Think “scissors.”) These cells form a line that weakens the leaf stem and allows the wind to do the rest.

A very different metaphor then what I originally imagined. A story of struggle and loss gives way to one of empowerment and growth. Instead of holding on in vain, the trees are actively participating in a process of letting go. What a powerful example of how we might choose to live!  Think of the autumn leaves as habits, behaviors, or ways of thinking that are not life-giving or sustaining. By letting go of them, we—like the trees—allow for protection, preparation, and new growth.

And so I ask…is there something you need to let go of? Continue reading

Love Enough

Last week’s post, What Does it Really Mean to Trust God, came at a perfect time for me.  Tomorrow I send my twin boys off to their first day of high school.  Four more years before they strike out on their own, to see what the world and our God holds in store for them.  The ticking of the clock is deafening.  And so I wrote this prayer to help me remember what I have always known.

Kindergarten

LOVE ENOUGH

Loving God,
The day draws nearer
when my children will fly out into the world.
To discover, to fall, to grow, to cry
To choose, to lose their way, to find it again.

Fear grips my heart with icy fingers
What if…they choose wrong?
What if…they fall hard?
What if…they do not find their way?

I want to hold them back,
gripping them with my own icy fingers
Hands that used to let go all the time
Taking first steps, riding a bike, getting on the school bus
Why is it so hard this time?

Have I done enough?
Have I prepared them…enough?
Have I taught them…enough?
Will I ever be ready…enough?

I sigh a little
And cry a little
And pray a lot.

And then one thought echoes in my frightened, restless mind.
“Do not be afraid.”
And I remember
What I have always known.

They are in YOUR hands
And that is enough.

AMEN.