Thursday, May 7, 2015

Casting all our cares

Photo by telomi via Flickr

I've been getting up at 5:00 a.m. this week. Yes, I know. Five. In. The. Morning. Some of you probably just unfriended me on Facebook. It was really the next logical step for me, though. I've been waking up at that time for months, every muscle tense with anxiety, nothing to do for it but take deep breaths, and say the Lord's Prayer over and over as I doze off, then awaken again with my jaw locked and my muscles tight. That gets old after awhile.

Anxiety is still a part of my life. A smaller part than it used to occupy, but still there, still sending my body into fight or flight mode at the most unexpected times. I'm starting to accept that this is part of who I am.

For years I've heard the know the ones:

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.[Psalm 55:22 NIV]

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. [Matthew 6:34 NIV]

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. [Philippians 4:6 NIV]

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. [1Peter 5:7 NIV]

Lovely verses, really, and they make such lovely memes when superimposed over pictures of babbling brooks, majestic mountains, or sandy shores. And for some people, that's what they need. But when you live with chronic anxiety sometimes those verses are a reminder that you've failed. You are a Bad Christian. You've cast your cares on Him again and again and again, but you still feel pretty shaken. You've taken your requests to God in prayer...when you know what your request is. It's not so much worrying about tomorrow that is troubling you, it's the fact that you need to get from point A to point B and the quickest way to do that is via the interstate but you can't make yourself do it because what if your tire blows out while you are driving at 80 miles per hour? (True story...I finally got myself driving on the interstate again and they raised the speed limit to 80. Thanks a lot, South Dakota.)

So yes, I used to think that if I was still anxious I was somehow lacking in faith. I didn't know and stand on Scripture (and yet, I could recall each one of the afore-mentioned verses). I struggled with the thought of taking medication for it because SURELY that reveals a lack of trust, an inability to rely fully on God. (A line of reasoning that somehow never extended to my need for medication to compensate for an under-performing thyroid.)

And then this weekend I was about to jump out of my skin with anxiety when the thought popped into my mind "I need to take a walk." So I did, and although I had nearly finished my route before my brain calmed down, it DID indeed calm down. I think that I had a realization on that walk; that maybe sometimes what God wants from us is the most practical thing in the world. Maybe, just maybe, he doesn't want hours of me wrestling trying to figure out how to 'cast my cares on him'. Maybe he wants me to take a walk.

God has given us a myriad of coping mechanisms. Nature, music, kittens, exercise, talking. Do we do him a disservice when we insist that he remove our anxiety with no cooperation on our part? I'm not discounting prayer, but maybe we miss the whole point of communication with God when we struggle over and over to shift the anxiety off of our shoulders by spending hours on our knees and the whole time God is saying "Go pet a kitten." (Even my ten year old instinctively recognizes the benefits of kitten therapy when he's had a rough day.)

I don't want to make it sound like I am discounting everything that is taught in the church about anxiety. Some of it has its place. But so often I think it is disconnected from the real work that it does in us. Many of us have been handed a list of verses or statements to meditate on. The "I Am" list that affirms who we are in Christ. The verses about casting our cares on Him. They are handed to us like some magic formula; if we just recite them enough, just believe them enough we will be healed of all our anxious thoughts. It leaves us frustrated when they don't work.

Lists and verses can be helpful as part of a regular relaxation or meditation technique. Much like any other technique they can become a key that reminds your brain to slow down, your body to breathe, your muscles to relax. Practice it often enough and your body will recognize and respond to them quickly when you call them to mind.

And yet often when I'm struggling most with my anxiety I find that the most helpful scriptures aren't the ones that tell me what to do with it, but the ones that just let me feel what I am feeling. The Psalms are beautiful examples that run the gamut of human emotions. Fear, anxiety, sorrow, anger...the Psalmists deal with these without holding back the full weight of what they are feeling. And, in the end, sometimes like a whisper and sometimes like a victory shout, the authors remind themselves that God Is. Maybe that's what it really looks like to cast our cares on the Lord. It's not some easy shifting of a burden, a casual "Here God, you take this." It's walking through the fire and even in the midst of it, when the smoke is choking you and you can't see the way out, reminding yourself that God is here.

Psalm 13

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Fire and bones

 But if I say, "I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. [Jeremiah 20:9 NIV]

Photo by Lon Martin via Flickr Creative Commons License

A friend of mine posted this verse from Jeremiah the other day, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Thinking about fire and words and how it seems that we flip between two extremes, letting our own words burn inside or letting them out to lay waste and burn others. I know Jeremiah is speaking about prophetic things and Words from God; I lay no claims to being a prophet or hearing Words, but don't we all still sometimes walk that line of trying to figure out when to speak up and when to shut up?

We'd speak up, but then we'd know where we differ from our friends and isn't it safer to keep the silence and the friendship intact?

We'd speak up, but we aren't articulate like that person over there.

We'd speak up, but what if we're wrong?

We'd speak up, but we're confident in our stance and don't want to start an argument.

We'd speak up, but we're ashamed of our brokenness.

We'd speak up, but what if our words aren't worth saying?

We'd speak up, but we feel alone.

We'd speak up, but we don't want to waste our time.

We'd speak up, but we don't trust others to hold us and our words gently...or maybe we're afraid that we won't be gentle with theirs.

I learned early on how to be silent; I think that many of us do. We hold our words in; we stifle our thoughts, our feelings, our opinions, and our dreams. Everyone else seems so certain, we just defer to them because it's simpler than risking words. Easier than risking laying our feelings bare.

I was good with that for a long time. The silent introvert, hovering on the edges, never really taking a stand, never saying anything of great importance because the specter of disagreement was a frightening shade.

But then there's that fire burning within us.

Shut it up too long and it melts our bones, it wearies us. We exist as incomplete people because it's the being known that completes us. And yes, disagreement bears the potential to melt the bones and wear us out; I've been there, most of us have been there. But there's always that potential for new life to flourish when the dead has been burned away, when the heat brings new seeds to life, when the air and the sun can finally reach down and touch new growth.

I'm weary of keeping silence in the name of keeping peace.

I want to speak up, to wade into disagreement with my friends, trusting that the God of peace can breathe unity in the midst of all our disagreement, trusting that friendship doesn't call us to be mental clones.

I want to speak up, in all my inarticulate fumbling, trusting that it is the heart that reaches out, that other hearts will understand.

I want to speak up, even if I'm wrong, because if we all waited for absolute certainty little of value would ever get said.

I want to speak up, but be humble enough to listen.

I want to speak up, to share the brokenness and the being made whole so that others can see hope.

I want to speak up, because we all have worthless words sometimes, but more often they are the words that someone needs. And we don't know the difference unless we speak them.

I want to speak up, because that's how I become known.

I want to speak up, because I don't want my thoughts to waste away.

I want to speak up. To hold my own words gently, an offering of warmth and not a wildfire of judgement.

It's time to speak up, because that's where community forms.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The way of the Cross

Yesterday morning some well-intentioned local meteorologist posted a shot of the radar showing from the National Weather Service with the question "What do you suppose is causing that cross near our radar?" While some people surmised about geese, cars, or aliens, there were, predictably, some who said "Well of course, it's Good Friday! It's God showing his love for us!" Which begs the question, why was God wasting his time showing his love to a bunch of comfortable, middle-class American Christians while half a world away letting nearly 150 people, many of them Christians, die at the hands of al-Shabab?

It also raises the question, which is more like the true message of the cross? Is it the warm pat on the back from God, the celestial affirmation that borders on the superstitious? Or is the message of the cross wrapped up in blood and nightmare, violence and loss, and the voices of a broken world calling out, "My God, my God...have you forsaken me?"

The cross is only joy because we know what comes tomorrow. We know that what was done on the cross did something in the unseen spiritual world. For some, that's enough. But the reality is, we are still living in a Saturday world. We've seen the world ripped apart at its seams and the cross isn't enough to convince us there will be a resurrection at the end. "My God, my God...have you forsaken me?"

It's the gay Christian, spurned by the church that he loved. "My God, my God...have you forsaken me?"

It's the teen struggling to be loved, cutting herself open to let the pain flow out. "My God, my God...have you forsaken me?"

It's the mothers teaching their black sons to be polite, to be MORE, to reach a standard not imposed on their friends so that they come home at night. "My God, my God...have you forsaken me?"

It's the children, forced to flee homes for their faith, starving and cold in the refugee camps. "My God, my God...have you forsaken me?"

It's the ones who go to war, and the ones they war against. "My God, my God...have you forsaken me?"

It's the fathers holding a baby who has just breathed her last. "My God, my God...have you forsaken me?"

It's this whole mess of humanity, with all of our hurts, our aches, our wonderings and our not-knowings, looking for a sign. "My God, my God...have you forsaken me?"

And the warm and fuzzy, the cross in the radar and Jesus in a piece of toast, they just aren't going to cut it any more. Because it's Saturday and we are living in this cross-shadowed world and it is broken.


We will wake up tomorrow morning and we will celebrate the rest of the story. Jesus, conquering death, saving the world. And yet...we're still living in Saturday. Two thousand years later and it's STILL Saturday. STILL waiting for the promise of a world made new where pain and sorrow are no more, where the lion lies down with the lamb and there will be no sickness, no killing, no death on all God's holy mountain. And all I know for sure is, I'm tired of trying to squint to see the cross in the radar map when my feet want to carry me out to sit with the ones calling the darkness, "My God, my God...have you forsaken me?"

*Photo of refugee girl by Zoriah via Flickr creative common license.

Monday, October 27, 2014

When there's a wall

On Tuesday morning the kitten threw up on the floor. In four different spots, all of them on the living room carpet. I told the cat that I hated him and the boys begged me not to sell him. Because I am not my mother, the cat stays. He stays in spite of puke, litter box messes, couch scratching, screen climbing and everything else that one little five pound fuzzball can dish out. But in that moment I felt as though I'd run face first into this brick wall called life and my will wasn't going to carry me one step further.

Cute, but pukey.

It might have been the rushing about to get children ready for school, feeding them breakfast, finding clothes, checking backpacks, hoping that this would be a morning that left me enough time to eat breakfast.

It might have been the looming knowledge of my husband's foot surgery. (Nothing dire, he only broke it. Twice. In one week. I know that it probably violates wife code to mock him in his infirmity, but such is the relationship that we have. When we mock, we mock in love.) I'm staring down at least four weeks of him being underfoot while he recuperates. Four weeks of me shouldering All The Tasks and I am being a bit of whiny baby about it. Although four weeks of just me and my computer sounds a little bit heavenly and so I am jealous.

It might have been the stress of work, suddenly a staff without a pastor, the fear of not knowing if we will be up to the task of carrying on the vision. Of being certain that something will get forgotten, or dropped, or a million things that could go wrong. On day one I already called animal control on the sprinkler guy's dog. Although in my defense, unless it is a special, sprinkler problem sniffing dog, it should not be digging unattended on the corner of our building. And so the dog became a metaphor for all of the things that I SHOULD know about but am now worried that I don't know about.

And yes, it might have been that sometime that morning one of my best friends would be hitting the interstate heading east, and it is entirely possible to be excited for someone's new adventure and heartbroken all at the same time.

And so, on Tuesday morning I knelt on the floor sponging up cat puke with tears running down my face.

I don't know what your cat puke is, but I know that sooner or later all of us feel as if we've run into a wall.

Maybe it's a sick child, a job change, family difficulties, changes in your life that you just didn't sign up for. And so you pull up the chair and you sit down and stare at the wall because quite frankly you don't know what else to do. There doesn't seem to be a way around it, over it, through it or under it.

Pull up a chair next to mine, we'll sit here and stare at our walls awhile together, ok? We've been here before, against the wall, with tearstained cheeks and tired bodies. And do you know what I think? Sometimes a wall isn't so much an obstacle as it is a marker, a resting place. It's the place where we finally have to stop all of our trying and our fixing and our worrying because there's a wall there and we can't do a blessed thing about it right now.

So I'm just going to sit here for a bit, in the midst of everything that is in my way and I'm not going to try to change a thing. I'll place my hands on the wall and trace the cracks, find the stains, the green of moss and the smell of damp earth. I will go toe to toe with this wall and feel how it cools in the dark and warms in the light.

And one day when I have rested long enough I will push back the chair and I will stand to my feet. I will place my hand against the wall and I will trace my way out. Step by step, I will discover where the wall is pointing me. Through darkness, towards light, I can't really say. But I'll be ready to move again, no matter what is waiting at the edge of the wall.
"I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me." Psalm 3:5 (NIV)