We are all Learning

It was an extraordinary day that I’ve been thinking about for a week.

It started when one of the people I love called me at 7 am to admit a failure at work. Some words had been spouted toward a coworker — the kind that aren’t easily called back. Supervisors had gotten involved and, rather than meting out punishment, had normalized the situation saying something like, “We are all learning. We want to support you as you grow through this.”

As I hung up that phone call, a nurse arrived at my door. I’ve agreed to be part of a study in which I set some goals to improve my health or quality of life, I track my progress, and this nurse follows my path, provides coaching and encouragement, and we see what happens.

Perfectionist that I tend to be — I immediately identified a few habits that I am ashamed of and stated my intention of eliminating them. The nurse, fellow human that she is, reminded me that we are just setting goals — some days we will meet them, some days we won’t. That’s how life is.

We are all learning. Not one of us has it all together. She wants to support me as I grow through this.

When the nurse left, I started listening to a sermon I’d missed a few days prior. We’ve been in a series on Exodus for several weeks, hearing about the Israelites’ journey through slavery, the plagues God used against Pharoah, and — this week — the miraculous rescue of the Israelites.

They’d been suffering in slavery for four hundred years and just like that, he swoops in with shock and awe and delivers them out of slavery.

And you have to ask yourself why? Why did He wait so long?

And then, once he had parted the Red Sea and delivered them from the Egyptians, why did He allow them to wander in the wilderness for an additional 40 years? Couldn’t He have spared them so much pain? Didn’t He see their difficulty? Couldn’t He tell they were lost?

And questions like that lead me to why? why did you let me continue in my soldiering for so. damn. long. Why didn’t you send a messenger much earlier? Wouldn’t you have spared us all so much pain? Didn’t you see the difficulty? Didn’t you see the looming consequences? Couldn’t you tell we were lost?

And I hear our pastor, Gabe Kasper, say, “In the difficulty of the wilderness, God shapes His people…God will place us in difficult circumstances, in challenging situations, in order to shape and form our character…and to strengthen our faith.”

We are all learning. Only One of us has it all figured out. He wants to support us as we grow through this.

I can see it. I can. I can see how through that difficulty my character has been formed. The most desperate of situations have pressed me to make new choices, live differently, and see clearly. They have, indeed, strengthened my faith.

I was lying on the table of my physical therapist the other morning, chatting about some recent develops in the long journey we are on, when she said, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I’m ready.

As the Israelites stood next to the not-yet-parted Red Sea, the Egyptian army bearing down upon them, Moses said, “Fear not. Stand firm. And see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today. The Lord will fight for you; you have only to be silent.”

I have only to be silent.

I was sitting in an instructional meeting at work — me, an educator for the last thirty years — and I found myself being challenged to consider how my tone, my energy, and my language can motivate or demotivate my students. How the nuance of my voice, its inflection, and my message can make or break a lesson. The presenter said that we should use language that is calm, neutral, and assertive to direct our students toward their tasks. We should use messages like, “Read this paragraph, starting here,” in a calm tone, as we point to the page and then wait expectantly. When we give a clear direction and the space to respond, we provide safety — a secure spot for our students to step into.

And safety is everything!

Knowing I am safe, emboldens me to take a chance — try reading the words or even make a mistake. If I feel safe, I can try, because I don’t fear judgment or punishment or embarrassment. When I’m given direction from a calm, neutral, assertive voice, I don’t feel bribed, used, or threatened. I feel free.

The nurse from the study spoke in a calm, neutral voice, offering reassurance as we wrote out my goals. She showed me how to record my progress and scheduled our visits for the next eight weeks when she will check in and offer support.

I breathe easily, I know I’ll be ok whether I meet my goals or not — whether I walk more, watch less television, or sit on the couch all day.

Moses (perhaps in a calm, neutral voice) said, “Fear not. Stand firm. And see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today. The Lord will fight for you; you have only to be silent.” The Israelites bravely stood there; the Red Sea was parted, and they walked through on dry ground to safety. When their pursuers followed, the sea un-parted and swallowed them up.

Now, long story short, the Israelites didn’t immediately apply all the lessons they’d learned from their time in slavery or from this amazing rescue, so they ended up wandering around in the wilderness for an additional 40 years, so that God could continue to shape them and turn their hearts back to Him.

And, coincidentally, after my rescue from the soldiering years, I did not immediately apply all the lessons I learned, so I ended up walking through some additional challenges through which God has continued to shape me and turn my heart back to Him.

Just yesterday, our pastor delivered the truth that I’ve been clinging to– the words that let me know I’m safe and that I can step into this learning day after day — “God in His sovereignty is in control of whatever situation I am in.” He, the one who has been with me through the soldiering, through every difficulty, through every rescue, through every lesson, is in control.

He keeps showing up because He wants me to know that He is the Lord my God. He knows I’m just learning, and He wants to support me as I grow through this.

He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

2 Sam 22:20

“Trouble Talks”

I was sharing some of my troubles with a friend the other day, and when I realized what I was doing I apologized.  “I am so sorry I used our time to complain about my life.”  She replied as most of us would, “Not at all.”  But then she followed that up with, “It actually makes me feel a little better in a weird way.”  We talked more and came to the conclusion that it is comforting to know that you are not the only one who has a complicated life.

Years ago I heard a speaker at some women’s event (I’ve been to dozens over the years.) who said that for centuries women have gotten together to cook, or sew, or do laundry, or drink coffee, or go for walks.  The speaker (I wish I could remember who it was) said that regardless of time or place, these women almost always have engaged in conversation that she called “trouble talks”.  They have shared their burdens about marriage, children, work, finances, housing, etc.  In these “trouble talks” women have found support, camaraderie, connection, community.

I am a verbal processor, so this is no shock to me.  I talk through everything — with my husband, a coworker, a sister, my mother, a friend.  But I think I have been missing the communal piece of this — the banding together of women.

Somewhere along the line I got the memo that in public gatherings with other women, I needed to present myself as flawless, above reproach, intentional, skilled — perfect.  I’m certain my own insecurities fed into this lie that I believed, but it was also likely bolstered by my beliefs about being a leader, a teacher, a pastor’s wife.  And it was probably fueled by our culture that seems to promote competition among women rather than community.

But over the last six months, as I have tasted sisterhood in a new way — through my Bible study battalion, through new friendships, through regular sharing, I am learning the blessings of being vulnerable and “bearing one another’s burdens.”

A couple weeks ago, in my Wednesday Bible study, one of the women shared a concern about her adult children.  She painted a picture of the “trouble” she was experiencing.  The women around our table listened, nodded in understanding, shared the woman’s sadness, offered suggestions, and prayed.  I didn’t feel a shred of judgment in the room — just pure care.

I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that each of us in the group (each of us in any group) have our own “stuff”, our own “troubles”.  Her sharing, her vulnerability, allows another in the group to share her “troubles” in an environment that is free of judgment.

Now, of course, I am not advocating that we each run to our respective groups and share every little detail of our lives.  Many things are private, and should be.  But it is healthy to foster the creation of safe spaces where we can come alongside people we trust, share our burdens, and have our load (at least temporarily) lightened.  It’s not a sign of weakness to need others.  It’s a sign of strength to recognize the need and to ask for support.

It’s all part of the turning that is resulting from what I am learning in this next chapter. 

Galatians 6:2

Bear each other’s burdens and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.