April 28, 2014

CONNECTING WITH GOD IN CRISIS






I have seen in myself and in other friends that what works for us spiritually during normal times of life is not the same as what works in crisis.  Sometimes we act as if God must be limited to or rigid & demanding about the practices that give us the sense of nearness & connectedness with God.  While it seems logical that we change under stress & crisis, often we don´t realize why the same practices that have worked before don´t - and we can feel guilty & confused because of that.

In ¨normal¨ life circumstances I really enjoy reading the Scriptures, doing different studies and reflecting on them in a journal.  When I am in crisis, I find my concentration is so short that reading more than a few verses at a time is a monumental challenge!  Understanding my own physiology - that a short attention span and difficulty concentrating are common symptoms of stress - has helped me to accept my new - and temporary - reality.

The first time this happened in a major life crisis, it was very upsetting to me.  My inability to read the Scriptures with delight made me feel like a spiritual failure...I didn´t understand why what had always brought me joy & insight now made me feel frustrated & inadequate...not to mention far from God because my point of connection was not working!  It took me years to reconcile this within myself and to make healthy adjustments - and to see, to my surprise, that He blessed those adjustments!  It wasn´t the same; it was different...but it worked and I learned to experience Him in new ways in the midst of the storm.

Concentration in prayer was also a failed experience. Although I could still pour out all I was experiencing to Him, it seemed that prayer had become reduced to me and my crisis...the difficulty took on a protagonism that was disturbing!  When under great stress, I had little energy to cope beyond the situation at hand and to look outward to others...I felt curled up in a survival mode and unable to move out at times beyond myself.  Talk about feeling ugly & self-centered!  Again, when I could understand that physiologically, that basic need to survive is God-given, and the preservation of energy for the battle at hand is a coping mechanism,  then I could accept the changes that were occurring.  It helped to remind myself often that this was temporary.  It was also an important step for me to understand that I was the one putting these pressures on myself - not God.

What I am NOT saying with all of this is that crisis gives us license to leave the Scriptures behind or to ignore others.  What I AM saying is that making adjustments during crisis is necessary, healthy,  encouraged and blessed by God.  There is freedom!  We are not limited or trapped by what is usual, normal, acceptable or practiced by ¨everyone else¨.  God is bound by no one nor to any one practice.  We can be pretty sure that He is the One most open to creative approaches to being connected with Him.

Over the years I have experimented with having ¨quiet times¨ with God in shorter intervals throughout the day instead of in one large block of time, praying while walking or reading right after exercising when my mind is clearest (sometimes that´s the only time its clear all day!)  I have released myself from big commitments to Bible studies and have taken to meditating on a few verses at a time, imagining myself in a Bible story and experiencing Christ there, writing out my thoughts & prayers - especially my own laments - and listening to music to drown out anxious or negative thoughts.  Enjoying art & nature in fresh ways have also successfully taken me to His presence. Having others pray for me when I lacked words & strength was sometimes the only way I could pray.  Pursuing new methods has opened my heart up in new ways and deepened my experience of Him in ways I never dreamed.

There are seasons in our lives for simply being held, for falling asleep in His presence, for sitting in silence, for creating rather dark poetry, art or some other outlet as our laments to God.  There are times the stress is so great, that our bodies cannot respond normally and we must overcompensate by sleeping more, exercising more and incorporating more of our spiritual practices into these physical outlets.  There are times our emotions are so drained or clouded or toxic or overwhelmed that we cannot reason or think very logically.  This presents an opportunity to know & experience Him on an emotional level that perhaps is new to you.  It may also be a perfect time to review key truths that provide a foundation for you during an especially emotion-dominated time.

Discovering new paths to God - through community, kindnesses of others, new hobbies, new kinds of literature, various styles of worship or prayer, exercise, work, service, quiet conversation, loud celebrations, fragrances, foods, art & music and much more - can bring a new freedom & depth to your relationship with Him.  When this happens we realize our slavery to our own concepts & practices of spirituality.  We become less demanding of ourselves & others, enlarging our capacity for compassion during others´ spiritual struggles when in crisis.

Are you facing a trial that has you drowning in your own attempts to find Him in it?  If something isn´t working right now, it does not mean that you are a failure or that it may not work again for you in the future.  Why not invite Him to Shepherd you through this valley in new ways?  Determine to be open to finding some new avenues of communion with the One who is always there.  Find what does work!  You will be surprised to discover new facets of your relationship with Him...you will be blessed to experience Him in new ways in some of your darkest hours...you will realize anew that He is so deep, so vast, that we could experiment for all of eternity with different ways of knowing Him and never know it all!  He is limitless.

I hope you will find, as I have, that connecting with God during crisis is not only possible, but it has the potential to provide some of your most memorable times of connection with God ever.  Give yourself fully to this new adventure!




Photo by:  ihu03141

April 16, 2014

MARY STAYED






It is Easter week already.

Today I was thinking about Jordan who just turned 13 last weekend and remembering a special insight he had 3 years ago at Easter time that still impacts me.  I wrote about it back then but I wanted to remind myself - and hopefully bless you all - with the special wisdom that comes from children.

On Easter Sunday three years ago, in a time of family reflection, we read the four gospel versions of that most amazing day in history - the one that divides the timeline into a before and an after.

You know the story.

But after reading the John version, Dad asked if anyone had any insights and our 10-year-old Jordan said simply:  ¨Mary stayed.¨  We were all quiet as the profound simplicity of this observation settled upon us.

¨Mary stayed.¨ 

And oh! to think what she would have missed!


In John´s version, Mary discovers the empty tomb and runs to tell Peter and John.  They run to see it and then ¨they went back to their homes.¨  But Mary stayed.  She stayed and wept.  She stayed and looked again into the tomb, saw two angels, had a conversation with them.  She turns around and speaks to a presumed gardener.  Jesus reveals himself to her.  She stayed - and has one of the most precious encounters with the Saviour of all time.

And I began to think of what ¨staying¨ harvests in us...

Desperate ¨staying¨in the Presence brings fruitfulness.  Holy living. Intimacy.  ¨Staying¨ in marriage harvests faithfulness.  Stability.  Healthy families full of integrity.  Courageous ¨staying¨ in times of stress or difficulty or even persecution harvest the very things the Kingdom of God is made of.  And ¨staying¨ in our host cultures long enough harvests language abilities, cultural skills and missional, redemptive influence.

I think this year I would have to add that ¨staying¨ in times of suffering - not just bearing them until they´re over - harvests a deeper leaning into truths about God we were previously unaware of.  It harvests a season of questions about our personal faith & theology.  It pushes us to struggle with dark places in ourselves we didn´t know were there.  It digs out compassion & love.  It moves us into the present moment because at times that´s all we have the energy for...and that allows us to be more present to the One who is there.  We still have so much more to learn about ¨staying¨ in suffering...

¨Staying¨ is not an absence of motion or passion.  While it is quiet, it is intentional.  Where it seems absent of movement, it is ripe with meaning.  It is a remarkably powerful action.

¨Mary stayed.¨


How about you?














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