Catch phrases

Jennifer Rothschild in her Bible study on the book of Hosea pointed out for me that I am ‘bent on turning’ away from God and going my own way.  Now, Priscilla Shirer has called me to “resist the urge to continue”.  Let me see if I can unpack what this phrase means to me.

I’ve spent significant white space in this blog discussing my ‘soldiering years’ — my long period of working hard and believing that I was tackling all of life’s challenges on my own, thank you very much. Although I was rescued from that life of self-sufficiency by my chronic illness, the pattern of striving is deep in my DNA and hard to leave behind.  I still try to turn back to that old way of living, filling my days with work and achievement in order to –let me be completely honest –fool myself into thinking I have some kind of control over my life.  Even though I have been given this opportunity to live a life that has a slower pace, fewer demands, and plenty of time to take care of myself, connect with God, and care for the people around me, I still am bent on turning to what I know best — soldiering.

Now, sure, it looks a little different than it once did.  Instead of power walking down the hall in an a-line skirt and power heels intimidating poor little freshmen into tucking in their shirts and getting to class on time, I now sit at my desk in sweats and a t-shirt grading papers, finding new students, and applying (yes, it’s true) to even more teaching gigs. However, the underlying drive is the same — it’s a need to be busy, to prove my worth, to make myself useful, to be in control.

It’s a rhythm that has felt comfortable to me for quite a while.  Although I don’t always like working as hard as I do, the rhythm makes me feel safe.  It assures me.  It’s a way I’ve come to know.

Priscilla Shirer in Breathe: Making Room for the Sabbath, reminded me that the Israelites, too, had found a rhythm that was familiar during their 400 years of slavery in Egypt.  They had worked hard and long under the fearsome watch of the taskmaster.  They had labored in the heat with very little rest for their whole lives.  You might think it would be easy to leave it all behind and live according to the commands that God gave to them, but old habits die hard.   Perhaps one of the hardest challenges for the Israelites, and for me, was believing that God would provide for all of their needs even if they took time to rest.

Shirer points out the manna example.  God provided the Israelites with enough manna for each day — their ‘daily bread’. They were to collect only what they would eat that day, and not try to store up extra.  They were to trust that the next day He would provide again.  But you know, they hadn’t had plenty to eat in a long time, so they figured it would be wasteful to throw the extra away.  They kept it and woke up the next day to find it rotten and worm-infested.  They were given a double portion on the sixth day so that they could observe the sabbath on the seventh, but you know some of those Israelites still went out on the sabbath looking for manna.  You guessed it — they didn’t find any.  They didn’t find any because they didn’t need any;  God had already provided it.

Those dumb Israelites.

Cricket — cricket.

Yeah, I’m dumb, too.

All that time I was soldiering away, God had already provided for all our needs.  Even though I might like to think that I somehow made the life of my family healthier, stronger, or more provided-for, I was really in all my soldiering making our experience as a family worse. I was overlooking God’s provision.  I was failing to take a sabbath. I was forgetting to turn to Him with all my needs.  And even though sometimes I got a glimpse at what was happening, I couldn’t resist the urge to continue.  My pattern was comfortable.  It felt safe. Putting down my weapons, falling to my knees, and admitting my helplessness before God was, at that time, out of the question.

It’s still tempting for me to think that admitting my helplessness before God is out of the question.  But guys, the past couple of weeks have begun to shift my thinking — is it out of the question for me to not admit my helplessness before God?

It’s got to be.

It’s got to be out of the question for me to think that I can possibly work hard enough to make myself useful, to prove my own worth, or to be in control.  It’s got to be beyond my imagination that I would think that I know more than God or that I am above the need for a sabbath. It’s got to be completely ludicrous for me to believe for one minute that I can do anything at all that God hasn’t already done for me.

It’s got to be.

And yet, I’m bent on turning…turning back to that old life, that old comfortable way. I’m just like the Israelites.  So, when I see myself turning, and you know, I almost always do, I’ve got an opportunity to resist the urge to continue.  I can stop dead in my tracks as I’m heading back to Egypt.  I can say to myself, “Really? You wanna go back there?”

I can admit to myself that all my soldiering was a facade for a frightened little girl who didn’t believe that her Father had gladly given her the kingdom.  But He has, guys, He has given us His kingdom. Let’s resist the urge to continue.

Luke 12:32

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Advertisements

Marginally Speaking

Sometimes when God nudges us to make a change, we make that change and then slowly over time notice the benefits.  Other times, God gives us an immediate indicator that we are heading in the right direction.  That happened for me this week.

If you read my recent post, Margin, you know that I decided, while reading Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe: making room for sabbath, to turn off my phone from 8pm to 8am every day. I made that decision just two days ago while sitting right here on this futon doing my Bible study. I blogged about it then went through my day.  I got home Tuesday night, played all my turns on Words With Friends, checked Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, then turned off my phone a bit before 8.

I wasn’t quite ready to go to bed, so I sat next to my husband on the couch, crocheting and watching “Bizarre Foods” (I only recommend watching this show if you would like to curb your after dinner eating — yuck!).  We watched and laughed at its ridiculousness.  Then, I crawled into bed and, as usual, settled in to read.

Typically after an evening of watching TV and constantly checking my phone, I can read for thirty to sixty minutes before falling asleep.  Not Tuesday.  Nope.  I got into my comfortable position, opened my book and made it through two or three pages before I had to surrender to sleep.  I slept hard.

Then, I woke up around 7:15am.  Usually, the first thirty to sixty minutes of my day are spent in bed checking email, messages, Facebook, etc.  But it was 7:15, and I had made a commitment to keep the phone off until 8am, so I crawled out of bed, showered, made my breakfast beverages, and dressed for a day of Bible study, teaching and tutoring.  Around 8,  I checked messages, emails, etc. I noticed that I had missed a call, so I messaged the friend who had rang me, talked to my husband for a few minutes before he left for work, then settled in to prepare for Bible study.

The phone rang.  The same friend called to explain why she had called — to talk through the fact that her day was not going the way that she had planned.   She’d had an interruption that was causing her to spend an extra two hours on the road to retrieve an item that had been left on our campus.  I commiserated with her then hung up to go back to my Bible study about margins.

I started reading then thought to myself, “You’re dressed.”  Yes, that’s right, I was dressed and ready to leave for Bible study and I didn’t have to leave for another 30 or 40 minutes. I turned back to my reading.

“You know, you could  get that item and meet your friend half way.” That one wasn’t me.

How do I know?  Because I argued back, “but I’m supposed to be at Bible study in half in hour.”  I went back to my reading.

“What would happen if you were late?”

“Well, I’m always late.” Yes, I picked up my phone, made arrangements, and started driving.

So, here’s my analysis of what happened.  If I had not decided to add in a margin to my life — some white space — by turning off my phone from 8p to 8a, I might have still been lying in bed when the friend called.  I would not have been dressed. I would have been reading Facebook posts and playing WWF.  I wouldn’t have had the space in my day to drive twenty minutes to help her out.  But, I did make that decision.  I did put the margin in my life.

And the very next morning after making that decision, God provided a tangible reward — an opportunity to use that same time, the time I’d been filling up, to help a friend.

You might think that my friend is the only one who benefitted. Not true.  The whole time I was driving I was thinking to myself, “Really?  You’re gonna respond to my decision that quickly? You want to affirm this decision that strongly?”  I was flabbergasted. I was stunned to notice God working in my life in such a way.

And here’s the nugget, guys.  I noticed because I wasn’t face-down into my phone. Yes, this is hugely convicting and embarrassing.  I have spent far too much time in my phone.  I’ve known this.  I just didn’t want to make a change.

And, I’ve got to be real honest here and say that it’s been just as hard as I thought it would be.  After 8pm last night, I kept mentally reaching for my phone to check for messages, see if everyone was ok, or if I’d missed anything.  I had to continue to remind myself that I had already turned it off for the night and that everyone would be ok without me for twelve hours.

The hardest part, however, wasn’t the lack of checking in, it was the awareness of all the thoughts I have routinely shoved down by occupying myself with my phone.  With my phone turned off, lots of ugliness creeps to the surface — regrets and questions about how I have parented/continue to parent, worries about finances, personal insecurities, and all sorts of stuff I have chosen not to think about.  With my phone down, I can not ignore these nagging concerns.  I am forced to look them in the face.  It’s not pleasant, guys, to look at all that stuff.  It makes me feel yucky.  I don’t like feeling yucky.

Last night after I put my book down, I closed my eyes because I thought I was ready for sleep. I was tired, but as I lie there trying to sleep, the ugliness started playing out on my mind screen.  “Ugh,” I thought, “why!?!?!?”  I felt overwhelmed.  In desperation I said to God, “Is this real?  Is my memory real? Please replace these images with what is true!”

Did you see that?  I didn’t shove the images down.  I held them up to God and asked for His reality check.  Why was I able to do that? Because I’ve put a margin into my life.  I’ve left some white space, expecting that He will step in and fill it.  I am acknowledging that the story I am writing is rough and needs the hand of the Master.  I need Him to speak into my life — to offer encouragement, correction, and guidance.  I haven’t been leaving room for that.  I’ve been writing all the way to the edge of the paper.

I’m a mere two days in, guys, but this change is so important that God is already dramatically stepping in.  It’s like He’s been standing by waiting for the opportunity.

 

I Samuel 3:10

“Speak for your servant is listening.”

 

 

Margin

I’m still behind on my new Bible study, Breathe: making room for sabbath by Priscilla Shirer, but I’m not feeling the need to rush.  I’m trying to drink in the ideas and let them tumble around inside my head for a little while.

What I’m tossing around today is the idea of boundaries. Priscilla Shirer uses the terms ‘margin’ and ‘boundary’ almost interchangeably.  The idea is to leave space in our lives — to not plan ourselves out to the edges.  When I think of the term ‘margin’ , as a writer, I think of the edge of the page.  My students are required to double-space their papers and to leave a one-inch margin around their text.  Why?  Well, for one thing, it makes the page look nice.  But more importantly is the fact that they are leaving room for me. They are leaving space on the page for me to engage with their ideas, to comment, “nice job!” or “I see what you mean!”  They are leaving a place for me to give guidance, “I am wondering if you could clarify this a bit for me” or “Say this more concisely.”  They are planning for the actuality that I will be joining them on this page.

So why don’t I apply this rule to my life?  Why, so often, do I plan my life right out to the edge of the paper, single-spaced, in 10 pt. font!  I’m not leaving room for anyone — not the people I pass throughout my day, not my kids, not my husband, not my own thoughts, not God.  Nope. I’m filling it up, often well ahead of time.  And I’m sitting here wondering if I do it so that I won’t have time for others, myself, or — gasp — God.

Let me pause for a minute and say that I have more freedom for boundaries in my life right now than I have had in a very long time.  I am only working part-time and much of that is scheduled by me.  We live in a very small home, which, except for the interior, is maintained by someone else.  The only other beings who live with me are my husband and my dog — both of whom are extremely low maintenance.  And still, still, I plan myself out to the edges of the page.  And, when I don’t have anything planned, I fill my time with activity — crocheting, television, Words With Friends, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  I don’t often let my mind be still.  And I’m starting to think I am doing this on purpose.

Why? Because when my mind is still, it wanders to things I don’t like it to think about — mistakes from the past, worries about the people I love, things I wish I could change. So, rather than looking those thoughts square in the face, I occupy myself, or at least my mind.  It’s a way of avoiding reality, I suppose.  But, you know, I think I am also avoiding something else.

By eliminating the margins in my life, I am eliminating the spaces where anyone else can enter in.  I’m making myself so busy that I have little time to chat with a friend, to phone my sister, or to pray. And by not leaving much room for these others to engage with my life, I am limiting their ability to encourage me and to guide me.

The first chapter in this Bible study challenged me to identify specific areas that I let have too much control over my time. I identified two — working and social media. Let me explain.

The nature of my work right now is that I teach one class at the college where we live — three days a week for fifty minutes.  That is very easy and do-able.  Yes, it is an English class, yes I have papers to grade, but it is very manageable.  However, in addition to that I am a private tutor/proofreader.  I have an online profile through which potential students can contact me at any hour day or night.  Sometimes I get a message at 9pm asking if I could proofread a 3-page document before midnight.  I also get requests all day long for in-person tutoring.  I can make my schedule as busy as I want it to be. I don’t always do a great job of maintaining a healthy boundary.

Social media is a great modern tool.  It allows us to connect with people around the world.  We can share photos, engage in political dialogue,  or promote causes we care about.  However…..we can also use it to fill in the white spaces in our lives.  If I’ve got five minutes to wait in a line, instead of noticing my surroundings, I often check email, text a friend, or post on Facebook.  If I’m in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, I play Words With Friends or read my Twitter feed.  If I’m sitting next to my husband on the couch at night, I usually have my phone in my hand — checking messages, playing games, reading posts.  I’m not allowing a margin that invites others to engage with me.

I’ve known this for a while.  And, I’m a little hesitant to continue this paragraph because I know I am about to publicly commit to change. And change, my friends, is not always easy…especially when it relates to those behaviors that offer us some kind of protection from ourselves or the world around us.  I’m thinking that one change I can choose to make that will allow me a little more white space, a little more opportunity to engage with others, including my own thoughts and God, would be to put my phone down. Every night. From 8pm to 8am. There it is. In print. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it?  I think I’m going to actually turn it off during those times. Any messages I receive between 8p and 8a can wait. Right?

Are you like me?  Does a decision like this raise a little anxiety?  What if I get bored? What if someone needs me?   What if I miss something?  Yeah, the fact that I’m freaking out a little bit tells me that this decision is long overdue.   I’m feeling very resolute at 2:35 pm, but I have a feeling that I might feel a little uncomfortable around 8:15.  Nevertheless, I believe this is one small step God is calling me to in my quest for Sabbath.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Hebrews 12: 1b

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

Re-thinking Sabbath

Yesterday, after having missed two weeks of my Bible study, I returned. While I was gone, the battalion had finished the study on Hosea and had transitioned to Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe: making room for sabbath.  

I joined the study already in progress, so I’m a little behind.  I tried to skim and engage during yesterday’s gathering, but I kept feeling like I was missing out because I hadn’t read every word from the start.

So, today I sat down and turned to page one.

But before I tell you what I found, let me rewind a bit and tell you what I have thought about the sabbath during these first fifty years of my life.

Many of the women yesterday resonated with my first understanding of sabbath.  “Sabbath means going to church. Every Sunday. Without fail.” Going to church is an excellent practice.  I am all for gathering in community, hearing the word of God, uniting in prayer and song, and devoting a regular portion of my week to public worship.  However, sabbath is not church attendance. 

I have also understood sabbath to mean an absence of work. This has Biblical grounds, of course, and traditional significance.  Many people, for centuries, have observed the sabbath by refraining from work.  Again, I fully support this notion.  I think it is healthy and even godly to find a rhythm in which we regularly cease toiling.  However, the sabbath is about much more than just the absence of work. 

So, I’ve started my definition of sabbath by telling you what it is not. Why? Because that is where I am starting.  I am acknowledging that my previous understandings of this word were limited and not exactly what God modeled for us when He “rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.”  Nor do they line up with the heart of God behind the third commandment to “remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.”

I’m starting with what sabbath is not, deleting my previous notions to make room for a new understanding.  I am feeling a need to do this because the very word ‘sabbath’ is weighted for me.  It is weighted with feelings of obligation, neglect, and guilt.  Somewhere deep inside me is the belief that if I were a better Christian, I would trust God enough to take a whole day every week to rest in Him.  This belief is scripturally illustrated in the story of the Israelites who were told to gather manna six days out of the week.  God provided a double-portion for them on the sixth day so that they would not have to gather manna on the seventh day.  See, they didn’t have to work and still God provided.  Should I not learn from the Israelites and ‘go and do likewise’.

We have to be careful when we start down that path, because even in our attempts to do good, we can reduce sabbath to a rule or requirement.

Also planted deeply inside me is the belief that I am not healthy if I don’t give myself one day a week to rest and recover from my labors.  Haven’t you heard people say, “even God rested on the seventh day.”  They are intentionally, or unintentionally, suggesting that if I refuse to rest on the seventh day I am somehow elevating myself above God — “I don’t need rest.”

Well, of course I need rest.  And of course I should trust God.  But after reading the first sixteen pages of Priscilla Shirer’s study, I jotted down my response to a question and I surprised myself.  After leading me through the Genesis account and some thoughts from a Jewish scholar regarding the sabbath, the study asked me: “how is the concept of rest more than simply stopping an activity? How is rest a positive, created thing rather than a negative cessation of activity?” Before I knew what was happening I wrote: “It’s a destination rather than a requirement. It’s a capstone, not recovery.”

Whoa.

That’s the kind of stuff that will sit you down and make you think for a minute.  God created for six days straight, so that He could appreciate all that He had created on the seventh.  His rest was the capstone of His creation — the finale of his well-spent week. He put the sabbath in our commandments, not to require our worship, but to protect His rhythm.  Why? Because His rhythm is good. All that He created was good.

Why, oh why, do I push against what God has created to be good?  Because, as I learned in the book of Hosea, I am bent on turning….turning to my own ways, to what I believe to be best for me, rather that what God knows is best for me.

Are you bent on turning, too?  “Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you His kingdom.” And in his kingdom, my friends, He has provided a sabbath rest.

Re-think it with me, won’t you?

 

Hebrews 4:9

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God