Spirituality


Martha Stewart does it all. She cleans, she paints (after meticulous preparation), she organizes according to season, and creates perfect parties. She is amazing; we admire her. And, if you’ve ever watched her on the telly, she uses this word: “perfect.” Looking at the televised and internet narratives, it seems an apropos term. Perfect. It’s all truly impressive.

A color coordinated crayon box is as close to perfection as I've ever gotten. A story for another time…

A color coordinated crayon box is as close to perfection as I’ve ever gotten. A story for another time…

My husband has made the point that Martha has things I don’t: years of experience in her craft, a persistent drive toward building a financial empire, and (perhaps most critically) a staff of people to do her bidding. True. (Note to self: Get staff.)

Back to our topic of meditation. I am far from perfect. You are not perfect (I hope). Martha herself is not perfect. And yet, we Believers are called to “enter in” to God’s perfect presence.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)

How does this all relate? I in my imperfection am called to present myself to the Lord, trusting in the grace given me by Jesus. In the act of coming before him through meditation, I’m working out some faith. That inexact effort looks like something like this: sitting on the couch with my Bible after a restless night, I doze off. Jerking awake, there is a bit of frustration that I’m not truly ‘present’ in this effort. Read some of the same Scripture again, ask for revelation, meditate with eyes open. I get up and walk, asking for focus. Sometimes it works; sometimes not.

Another day, I’m sitting in the same place, with the same tattered Bible open. Distracted. Things to do start crowding my thoughts. Right, then. I pick up a piece of scrap paper and pen. “Milk, eggs, cocoa…” “…email to…” “…review J’s history project.” Done. I’ve tried to displace those distractions and turn again to meditate.

The scene is the next morning, back in the same place. A friend’s marriage, our finances, or a child’s distress are weighing heavily. But the God of all creation,

Who made everything I see,

Who created time and space,

Who is beyond able to do more than I can ask or imagine

is waiting there for me. And if I can set all of this down and present this person/situation/weight to Him, I am able to then offer Him my worship.

And meditate, and be changed in His presence.

Do you see? Our perfection in the practice of meditation isn’t really the point. Yes, I do what I know to do to set myself up for success in this endeavor. Meditating day in and day out, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so much, provides opportunities for us to be changed, slowly, into the image of Christ.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” Vince Lombardi

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ttronslien-Have you ever seen the play You Can’t Take it with You? There’s a romantic drama wrapped up in a conundrum and all of that, and the action takes place in a large New York City home with a wacky extended family, who are all doing their own thing while taking turns not listening to one another. It’s chaotic and fun, and I’m reminded that my kids have never seen it. (Kaufman and Hart, if you want to look up the play. Or, of course, you could see the 1938 film by Frank Capra. Same name. You’re welcome.)

This is often what life feels like. And here, whether it’s helping with school reports, trying to make a business move ahead, or making sure people are eating more than popcorn and chocolate, there’s never enough time. At least not enough time to sit, rest and breathe.

Deciding to get on this Meditation Train (if we can call it that) means determining to find a place and a time to repose. If you checked that link, you’ll see “to remain still or concealed” from the Latin for “to stop” or “to pause.” Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? “To remain still or concealed.” But in order for that to happen, we have to set aside distractions.

I heard a children’s pastor once telling kids that if a computer or television was distracting them from praying or reading Scripture, they could put a blanket over the item. I remember wondering how many adults would be bold enough to do such a silly thing. And yet, as I sit myself on the couch early each morning, I find myself wondering about email responses and Facebook messages… you get the picture. If I give in, I end up giving quality time to cat videos instead of communing with my Creator. We are truly distracted.

It is a simple thing to do, but sometimes not easy, to put aside the merely distracting, not to mention the truly important. The challenge is this: Will you and I both manage to put the laptop, the phone, the tablet, the tv away from us for a time to repose, to take in, to listen? The choice is ours.

“Help me, O God, to be a still axis in the wheel of activities that revolves around my life. Deliver me from my distractions, which are many, and lead me to a quiet place of devotion at Your feet.”

Ken Gire, Windows of the Soul

Mail AttachmentOver thirteen years ago, I found a sudden desperation to dwell deep, in a spiritual sense. We were walking through a strange crisis – living in the aftermath of 9/11 in a Muslim country. No one knew what would happen, and we hunkered down for over a week. Our email inboxes exploded, full of stressed questions and wonderings from other foreign friends. Gracious neighbors brought condolences, while offering to get us groceries and reporting rumors of happenings as we waited breathlessly for something to give.

With a newborn in the house, there were lots of late nights and early, early mornings. I could, and did, watch tv – admittedly there were a few movies I never would have seen otherwise. But there was an ache of not knowing what form the ominous, warlike specter outside would take next, and this rebuffed any such entertainment as a means of real relaxation. By day we seemed to be surrounded by others with high anxiety, and I didn’t find entering into that mess to be a healthy long-term prospect. The fatigue was overwhelming.

It was time to do something different. To find a way to enter into real peace with such chaos swirling about would take real strategy. I’d tried meditating before many times, with some measure of success for short periods. This had to be radically different, even intentional for it to really work.

This is what I plan to do, both for myself and for you reader friends: to lay out the steps identified that have helped in a personal pursuit of working out meditation as a follower of Christ. It is a practice as ancient as the hills, but relevant for today’s hectic pace. I look forward to hearing your input, as well.

“…little by little, we enter into prayer without intentionality except to consent… and consent becomes surrender … and surrender becomes total receptivity… and, as the process continues, total receptivity becomes effortless, peaceful… It is free and has nothing to attain, to get, or desire … So, no thinking, no reflection, no desire, no words, no thing … just receptivity and consent.” Thomas Keating, Heartfulness: Transformation in Christ

Are you trusty? Author Seth Godin asks that question. He defines trustiness as the “appearance of trust,” instead of the real thing. We can work to make ourselves look better than we really are. Integrity requires truth, even when it’s inconvenient, or is even harmful to us personally.

We’re in a tough situation as a family, with some serious injustices done against us over the past two months, largely by people we had invested in and trusted. When you hear the truth is being twisted to make people and their past actions look better – noble, even – it can get under your skin. There’s a temptation to get in the game and set everyone straight. Or worse, to join in by exaggerating what you know through extrapolation and presumption. But ultimately, we answer to no individuals and no groups of people. Careful, there. Guard the truthfulness of your heart.

I heard a short part of a radio sermon while away for Christmas. I don’t even know who it was, but it was timely (Hey, God somehow does that coordination thingy when we’re not looking). The preacher talked about church unity, and how disunity is traced back to at least one individual who lacks personal integrity. Integrity is based on personal conviction. How serious is it, really, to please God? Does he truly want our obedience, or is he willing to whistle while we fudge?

“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.” Proverbs 2:6-8

Keep a trustworthy heart, not one holding to “trustiness,” then. No matter what others choose to do. If we want his hand of favor, and to please him no matter what, we stick to truth.

I’ve been reading a book on parenting teens. Fun stuff, the teenage wrangling. But really, this book is good. It’s Losing Control and Liking It, by Tim Sanford. One point has come home to me quite well: perfectionism kills relationship. My teen can be persuaded (occasionally) and influenced (sometimes), but in reality she can not be controlled. It’s a relational deal. Not just with teenagers, of course, but perfectionism between me and God. Extrapolating Sanford’s concept, if I think my heavenly Father expects perfection of me, the way I define it, there’s a stranglehold on our relationship because I can’t live up to that. There’s just no way for me to fill those big ethereal shoes. Yet, the Apostle Paul writes “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Colossians 1: 28). He wants you and me to be perfect, but in his way, not ours. I’m reminded that the same guy told us that “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

When my husband and I were newlyweds, some prayer and prophecy people came to minister at our church. We were asked if we’d like for them to pray over us; we agreed. They were given our names ahead of time for prayer purposes, but otherwise knew nothing about us. Sitting onstage in front of our congregation, one of the things I remember most clearly was his kindly face as he smiled and said to me, “You deal with a certain degree of perfectionism, don’t you?” Cringe. Yep. Not in terms of order and organization (don’t open my closet!), but in terms of what I expect of others. There’s been progress, but it’s been a lifelong process, and will likely continue to the grave.

God’s “perfection” for us is so different than the perfection we often impose on ourselves.  Mr. Sanford suggests we say “could” rather than “should” to cut off that perfectionism in our expectations of others. Subtle, but I’m finding it to be true. Self-talk can be impacted, as well, if we’ll just allow ourselves that kind of space. We have choices, and sometimes we don’t make the best ones. BUT we have more opportunities, more options. I’m aware of the danger of allowing myself to procrastinate and always leave the best choices for later. But removing that self-imposed perfection gives me more breathing room. Our Father gives us a perfection to shoot for that sets us free instead of putting us into bondage. You could breathe a bit more, then.

About four months ago, I had an encounter with a person in our church who is also in leadership. We’d had some terse moments in the few weeks before, and I was more than a touch on edge. He asked a question of me that I took as critical. I spoke to him in terms that were less than kind, and frankly dismissive of his feelings. Worse, it all happened in front of a few others who were seated with me around a table. As he walked away, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even looked at him as we exchanged words. Yuck.

The next day my phone rang. It was a close friend, one of those who had witnessed my graceless retort. “That didn’t go so well between the two of you.” Internally, rancid excuses raised their ugly heads and growled. I paused. One word echoed in my head. “Christlike.” In this moment, thinking on that situation, did I want to be like Jesus? Overall, in my life, yes. Here was a real life opportunity to choose his Way when my flesh would rather not.

Sigh. “Right, it didn’t.”

“If it were me, I’d hope that you’d feel free to let me know.”

“Right. I need to talk to him.”

“Yes.”

And so I did that. Completely discussed me and my words. He forgave me, then made a few comments that I had to decide to ignore.

Pride and defensiveness threaten us. Our culture tells us that they are friendly traits, that we’re number one, that NO ONE can tell us what to do or how to live. But our Jesus looks at us, his Church, and tells us that we’re to be different. Those fiercely independent attributes, ones which my world finds so admirable, actually threaten to steal my determination to become like Christ. I have to catch them in the act and refuse to be an accomplice.

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:15. The words of Jesus himself. Not just for how the world sees us, but how we see one another. How well do I love this person who has such a different take on things, who would do things differently than I do, who defines ministry in terms that are sometimes foreign to me?

Thanks to my phone-calling friend, who compelled me to act quickly, the relationship was moved from strained to at least tolerable. And hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, there may be some love for one another.

Oh, right, another verse comes into play here:

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

Thanks for that.


“Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.” Psalm 25:20

I wondered about doing this. Really, the safe thing to do is wait until it’s all over, talk about what a struggle it all was, and how we were eventually victorious. We could look back and see God’s faithful hand at work. But there is something about the testing of our faith in the middle of trials that shows us how real our God is, how well we grasp and cling to him. We began to have problems with vandalism over two years ago (see this last post), and it has been frustrating, to say the least. This anonymous person has done a good deal of damage. It’s not simply the financial cost, of course, but also the loss of security that is unsettling.

On Friday, though, the anonymity was stripped away. We’ve been pretty sure we knew which family in our neighborhood was initiating this trouble. In fact, while Keith wired my tomato cages together (after our third incident), I watched discreetly from our bedroom window. Someone from the suspect family observed from an upstairs window in their house. This past Friday morning my husband found a dead rabbit which had been thrown in the corner of our yard, near my garden. It died from a head wound and appeared to have been stretched out. It was meant to instill fear. I felt a flash of anger, instead. How dare this person work to intimidate us?!

“He is the God who avenges me. . . who sets me free from my enemies.”  2 Samuel 22:47-49

Later that same afternoon, just three days ago, I backed out of the driveway to go meet a friend. A familiar white car flew around the corner, stopping parallel to me. A youngish man, roughly 25, sneered at me and started screaming. His face was defiant, hateful. My window was up, as the weather was hot. Although I know he speaks English, his words were completely incomprehensible. I was still, and shocked. For perhaps twenty seconds, he continued the tirade, then was off like a shot. A flash of anger, then great fear took me. This was face-to-face. This was serious. The police could do nothing without evidence. I shook while dialing my husband. He would confront them; I asked that he find a neighbor to go with him. It didn’t work out to have a witness, but Keith confronted a young man at the house about half an hour later, who confirmed that I had seen him, but that he was simply “waving and saying ‘Hi’.” Right. We now think he’s covering for his older brother.

We’re talking with our other neighbors. I see concern on their faces, both for us and themselves. No one else wants to be targeted. Police should be called if anything suspicious is seen. Yes, yes, we all agree to be watching.

I’ve been praying constantly since then. Sometimes about this; sometimes for others. The personal trial always moves back to the forefront. The anxiety and the nightmares have made this an exhausting weekend. Now in the middle of a three day fast (there go those trumpets!), I’m asking God to give me perspective, and asking what we should do in the face of evil. Some friends are encouraging us to move. It’s not that easy. I’m willing, but moving takes time, energy and a bit of cash. Not to mention the right buyer and seller. And it’s not necessarily the answer. We are doing what we know to do. But our God who sees all and has a greater perspective has more creativity, knowledge, guts and power than we could ever muster. We appreciate the concern and prayers deeply, but we must hear from our Father.

This morning, I had the strong sense that I was to turn to Psalm 29, that it was mine to take in and digest. It’s all about God’s power and glory.

“God’s thunder sets the oak trees dancing; A wild dance, whirling; the pelting rain strips their branches. We fall to our knees – we call out “Glory!” Psalm 29:9 (The Message)

It really seems that he’s directing me to reform my thoughts. Fear, vengefulness and anxiety have no place. He is powerful. Dutch Sheets teaches that we appropriate and actually send out the Holy Spirit to do God’s will and God’s work as we pray. I’m choosing this morning to turn my attention to a more worshipful focus, while asking him to show his glory in this trying situation. Stand with us, if you will, and ask the Father to show himself to us, to this person or people harassing us, and to our entire neighborhood.

Oh, and by the way, Psalm 29 ends with:

“God makes his people strong. God gives his people peace.” v. 11 (MSG)

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