Near or Far

foggy morning

There are times when I see you through a thick fog.
My eyes squint and strain…but you don’t take shape.
I want to BELIEVE you are near
But you seem far away.

There are days when I hear you through a pounding rain or a crashing sea.
I lean towards you…but your voice is faint.
I must HOPE you are near
But you sound far away.

There are moments when I feel you through a crowd,
They press and pull on me from every direction.
Feeling off balance and unsteady…I don’t know how or where to reach for you.
I need to TRUST you are near
But you feel far away.

Loving God,
Emerge from the fog
Sing through the storm
Touch my heart through the chaos
I will turn my eyes and ears – my whole being – towards you. 

The fog still surrounds me, the waves crash, and the crowd presses.
But I am safe and strong – with YOU.
I can sweep the fog away. I can swallow the rain. I can embrace the crowd.

You are near… you are HERE, always.

AMEN.

Drifting Towards God

two boats

I have a friend who is a social worker at a middle school, and she spends a lot of time talking to her young students about the peaks and valleys of friendship. Children’s loyalty can change with the wind. A best friend one day can be an icy acquaintance the next. This can lead to confusion and hurt and can be very difficult to navigate. To help her students make sense of it, my friend uses the metaphor of two drifting boats. It’s ok to drift away from a friend for awhile, if that’s what seems best. It doesn’t mean you can’t come back together at some future point.

More than anything, God desires to be in relationship with us. But the metaphor of the drifting boats isn’t quite right in describing this divine relationship. God never drifts away from us, but is instead the constant fixed point. Firmly anchored in a place of love and faithfulness. We may come and go depending on our feelings, emotions, doubts, and life circumstances…but the best news is that God never moves. We can always drift back (or even come crashing back!) onto the shores of God’s love. 

In her book Journal Keeping: Writing for Spiritual Growth, Luann Budd poses the question: “On a scale of 1-10 (10 being intimate), how close do you feel to God today?”  Before continuing with this blog post, sit for a few minutes in silence and answer this question. Write down the number.

Now spend some time this week examining why you scored yourself that way. If your number is on the low side, why might that be? Have you drifted away from God for some reason? What is holding you back from moving closer to God? Very often it’s guilt. Or maybe confusion. A feeling that God has abandoned you during a time of need. Or it may be a fear of revealing yourself. If God truly saw me for everything I am, God couldn’t possibly love me! 

Recognize that these thoughts may be natural and very human, but they are not based in the truth of God’s love. Try to spend a little bit of time each day pondering God’s unconditional love, acceptance, and presence in your life. You’ll find your thoughts begin to change and you’ll drift closer to God each day.

If you scored high on the scale, that’s great! You’re feeling close to God in this moment. Drink it in and let yourself be filled with gratitude. Examine the circumstances that have you feeling so close to God right now. What methods are you using to connect with God in your life?  

  • Maybe it’s nature. You’re in touch with the beauty of God’s creation. You find God in the warm sunshine, the gentle breeze, the endless ocean, the enduring woods. 
  • Maybe it’s relationships. You feel fulfilled by the love in your life, and you know that God has placed these people in your path. You feel God every time you hug your child, smile at your spouse, laugh with your sister, or cry with a friend. 
  • Maybe it’s your ministry or vocation. You are doing God’s work and you feel a sense of fulfillment and purpose. You can hear God speaking to you through the work that you do. Helping others, caring for the earth, tending to the needs of God’s Kingdom. 

Whatever the reason may be, lean into it. Capture the feeling. Write about it in your journal.  There will come a time when you inevitably drift away again, and it will help to have a reminder of this time when you felt close to God’s radiant love.  

And remember, our spiritual practice is constantly changing and evolving. Your score today may not be your score tomorrow. Return to this exercise again and again in your ongoing journey to draw closer to God.

 

Background Photo by Evgeny Nelmin on Unsplash

Lost and Found

compass

Loving God, bless the times when I am a seeker. Forever seeking to know You more deeply. Traveling to all places and all times to discover You in our midst. I seek those thin places where the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and I can gaze upon Your face.

Loving God, bless the times when I grow weary of seeking. When I simply want to be found. Come and seek me wherever I am, whatever I may be doing. When You are part of the ordinary moments of my day…then I am home.

Loving God, whether I am seeking or sought, lost or found…I praise You in all things. Your love is mighty and good. Your power is everlasting.

AMEN.

Filtering out the Background Noise of Life

yoga

Last year I signed up for a weekly yoga class during my lunch hour. The class was called “Sweat and Surrender” and I thought it would be the perfect break to de-stress from my day and return to work relaxed and rejuvenated. The class was great, and the instructor was gentle and encouraging. There was only one thing preventing me from enjoying it…the very loud Zuumba class held in the room next door.

Yoga takes concentration. You need to focus and listen—both to the instructor and to your own body as you move through the different postures. The Zuumba music was so distracting, I could never reach this level of focus. I tried my best to ignore it. To tune it out. But I just couldn’t.

We all move through life with varying degrees of “background noise.” We try our best to tune it out, but it can become a significant challenge to hear—and really listen—to the voice of God. The noise is always there to distract us, pulling us away from the calm, the stillness, and the focus we need to listen to our Creator.

Can you identify the background noise in your life? For most of us, it begins with the general hectic pace of today’s world. We get used to it until we don’t realize how truly “noisy” our lives have become. It’s so important to retreat once in a while. To escape from the noise and be still. I’ve written about silence and breathing in the past. Both are excellent ways to minimize the background noise of a busy life.

Maybe the background noise you struggle with is negativity. Fear is always there, waiting to drown out any truths we might hear from God about trust, about God’s faithfulness, about God’s promises, and the knowledge that God is carrying us and caring for us always. Negativity can build up inside us like an automatic response, until it becomes a thick wall that blocks out God’s messages in our lives. It can take practice, but you can intentionally turn your thoughts towards God when you feel negativity creeping in.

And finally, our own Inner Critic can be a damaging source of background noise. Telling us were never going to be good enough, the voice of the Inner Critic is loud and constant and very hard to turn off. But if we’re aware of it, we can recognize it and name it and begin to strip this voice of its power. And once you do you’ll be better able to listen for the Voice of Truth—the Voice of your loving God. The Voice that says you are loved and accepted exactly the way you are!

During the month of February, I’ll be writing about the importance of LISTENING in our faith lives. When we pray, we do a lot of talking (Please! Thank you! Help me! Do this!) If you can be still and quiet long enough, you’ll begin to hear God speaking to you. Messages of love that are unique and meant for your ears alone.

I’ve joined a new yoga class this winter. It meets in the evenings in the library of an elementary school. The room is quiet and peaceful with dim lights and an inspiring, gentle-voiced instructor. It’s just what I was looking for…but never would have found if I didn’t make the decision to leave the noisy environment of my old class.

Take some time this week to examine the background noise of your life. What’s the “Zuumba music” that might be preventing you from hearing God’s whisper? How might you minimize that noise and focus on what really matters?

Share your ideas in the comments section below!

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The Unfailing Faithfulness of God

waves hitting rocks

Happy New Year!

The beginning of a new year is a season marked by change. We come up with a list of resolutions…things we want to change about the way we live our lives. Our health. Our habits.  Our goals and dreams. My sister and I like to call this month Jan-NEW-ary. (One of my resolutions is to be more consistent with posting to this blog!)

But the passage of time can also bring unwelcome change. Sickness, job loss, a change in relationships or circumstances. When this happens the ground shifts beneath us and we feel unsteady—unsure of what lies ahead. Change that is unplanned can lead to stress, anxiety, and a host of other uncomfortable feelings, all of which are rooted in fear.

During times like this, it helps to remember something that will never change.  

“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” (Deuteronomy 7:9)

One of my best friends experienced a great deal of loss in her life over a short period of time—losing two dear friends to cancer followed by the death of her father. Not knowing how best to comfort her, I sent her a card with one simple phrase:

“I’m not going anywhere.”  

I wanted her to know that she could count on me. That I would be there for her. The solid ground she could cling to when so much else was slipping away. I couldn’t bring back her loved ones, but I could offer her my presence. I could be loyal and steadfast. I texted her several times a day for weeks on end, hoping she would trust in my promise. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but she later told me how much it helped her, just knowing I was there.

God is just like that. The most loyal friend you’ve ever had. The one who will always stand by you, no matter what. The one who welcomes you with open arms no matter how long you’ve been away or out of touch. The one who always tells you the truth, sticks up for you, and loves you exactly the way you are.

“He has given us both his promise and his oath, two things we can completely count on, for it is impossible for God to tell a lie. Now all those who flee to him to save them can take new courage when they hear such assurances from God; now they can know without doubt that he will give them the salvation he has promised them.” (Hebrews 6:18)

Life throws us a lot of curveballs. It’s easy to doubt the future. But we never need to doubt God’s love for us, His presence in our lives, or His plans for us.

God has a plan and a purpose for each of us, but we can’t always know how it will unfold. (At times His plan may seem to directly contradict our own plans!) But we know that God is there to walk alongside us and hold us up, giving us strength and hope. Most importantly, God offers us unconditional love, mercy, and grace. This will never change. We can cling to—and count on—the unfailing faithfulness of God.

For the month of Jan-NEW-ary, I hope to focus on this theme of God’s faithfulness. (Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below!) As you move into 2019, I pray you will feel His presence more strongly than ever before. When you fear anything in your life changing or slipping away, picture God whispering to you:

“I’m not going anywhere.”

A Foundation of Faith

house on rock

I walked into my bedroom the other day to find my husband teaching our boys how to tie a tie. We didn’t have any special occasions coming up so I asked him what prompted this.

“They’ll be leaving for college soon. I only have five more months to teach them grownup stuff.”

Later that week he took them outside to show them how to jump start a car.

I understood what he was doing. He wanted to give them a foundation before they left us. To make sure they had what they needed to launch into adulthood and live on their own. It’s the same reason my dad taught me how to balance a checkbook and my mom taught me how to cook before I left for college.

It got me thinking about my own foundations – figurative and literal.  My dad is a homebuilder and when I was a little girl he would take me and my sisters to new developments where basement foundations had been poured and dried, ready for the framing of a new home. These lots became our playground. Holding tightly to my dad’s hand, we used to run across the hardened concrete like a wide balance beam.  The foundation was strong and sturdy.  We knew it would hold us up.

That’s what our faith does for us…it holds us up. It’s solid and steady and helps us feel safe and grounded when the winds blow and the rains lash. Jesus beautifully illustrated this during his Sermon on the Mount:

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”  (Matthew 7:24-27)

We often talk about faith as something we have to initiate.  We have to “practice our faith” or “believe.”  And because of this, we may find that our relationship with God swells and dips, and sparkles and fades over the years. But there’s another way to look at it.  Our gift of faith is in fact initiated by God, our loving Creator. Just like parents doing their best to provide their children with the tools they need to succeed in life, God has provided us with everything we need. The foundation of God’s love, strength, and power is always there.  Steady and strong…like a rock. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer.” (Psalm 18:2)

All we really have to do is what Jesus teaches us:  “Listen to these words of mine and act on them.”

And keep clinging to the Rock of Ages, no matter what.

 

Background photo by Pedro de Sousa on Unsplash

Prayers from a Night Worrier

digital clockAre you a night worrier? My mother has never had any trouble falling asleep at night. But once in a while, if she’s unlucky enough to wake up during the night, that’s it for sleeping. She calls them “racing thoughts.” Turning, churning, and tumbling in her mind at a pace that won’t stop.

What is it about the middle of the night that things always seem so dire? We awake with a feeling of dread. A worry that seemed small during the day seems to blow up in the dark of our bedroom. Taking on a menacing shape. Like that monster from our childhood, threatening to creep out and grab us in our sleep. Larger problems seem insurmountable, even hopeless.

In the dark we are scared children again. We’re alone and helpless. We forget everything we know about God’s love and faithfulness. We let fear take over. It becomes impossible to place our trust in God. We focus on the darkness (the metaphorical absence of God’s light) instead of the quiet.

But remember…the quiet is the best time for hearing. Listen to what God is whispering to you: Continue reading