I woke to a long day with no plans. A rare and precious gift. One I am very blessed to have in a world of activity and toil.

As I continue to focus my life on soaking in the presence of God I decided to simply let the flow of the day carry me where it would, which I assumed would be to my backyard with my Bible and laptop, my phone turned to silent so I can more easily ignore it. That seemed like a good plan for settling into a nice contemplative mood.

After my ritual morning coffee with Matt and Meredith I tried to sit longer and just enjoy the nothing-to-do-ness. After about 2 minutes I found myself stressing over not wanting to sit there. That seemed counterproductive, so I picked up some of the clutter around the house and tried to sit again. No dice.

By 8:30 I had donned by running shoes and headed out for an easy workout thinking maybe that would burn off some of the extra energy inhibiting my plans for soaking today. But at 10:30AM I have yet to make it to my backyard. Instead I am sitting on my front porch where I can enjoy neighbors walking by (or at least wave at the trash collectors as they pass). The only thing I’m contemplating is a trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond for some storage for my sweaters I replaced with summer-wear in my closet yesterday.

All of this reminded me of something I wrote 2 years ago. So, in recognition of the multiple ways I have learned for soaking in God’s presence, I present a portion of that post below. Meanwhile, I’m off to be among people!

 

I am not a mystic. I have no monkish leanings.

I am all for the silent, isolated, cloistered experiences that we all need at times in order to revel in the presence of God. What I am dissatisfied with is that, according to much of what I am reading, a monastic lifestyle is THE way to spiritual formation. I simply cannot imagine spending significant time cut off from the world around me as I try to forget everything but the existence of God.

I know, love, and respect a significant number of people who are more mystically gifted, so to speak. I admire their ability to sit in silence for a long time and simply be. Consequently, for a long time I thought the problem was me. I must be too socially focused and need to break myself of this. My desire for external stimulation in the learning process was a weakness I should overcome. And so on.

Certainly there are times when it is necessary for me to move towards God in ways not a part of my natural mode of relating to the world around me. But I am beginning to believe that maybe there is more than one path to the kind of closeness to God that I see contemplation bringing for many of my friends.So I lay myself open to God hoping He will show me how to revel more and more in Him without having to deny the way He created me to be.

 

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Suffering. Gotta hate it. No one wants to go through it. No one wants to watch others do it. And certainly none of us wants to cause it.

But we do want to explain it, yet rarely do our attempts to understand or explain suffering assist those who actually are suffering.

Most of us can easily see the theological errors committed by those who would claim natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes are God’s wrathful punishment of sin. We can see why Job’s suffering was neither his fault nor God’s plan for making him a better person in the future. Sadly, though, our means of understanding and explaining suffering are often no better. They are only more subtle.

For the past couple of decades I have been deeply honored by individuals and families who have allowed me to enter the sacred space of their suffering. Indeed, many times I have been called to bring the love of God to bear in the most painful of situations. The death of a child, the death of a mother, the sins of a husband.

Inside the sacred space of suffering I have heard many lovingly whispered explanations for and answers to suffering.

  • You child is in a better place, you should be happy for that.
  • God is making you a better person with all of this.
  • God will punish [insert name of the errant spouse].
  • Things could always be worse.

On the surface there is truth in all of these statements; it is when we peer below the surface that we can see the difficulties in them. Yes, heaven is a better place. But the grief of a parent screams, “I want my daughter here now! This world is not a better place without her!” Indeed, God will make us better people as he redeems our suffering through our growth in him. Does that mean I must welcome suffering with open arms? Of course vengeance is the Lord’s, but for a man or woman who loves the betraying spouse that is little comfort.

Things could always be worse. But that does not ease the real suffering of the present (though it is quite effective at inducing guilt for the sufferer).

In the sacred space of suffering God calls me to bear witness to pain. To acknowledge the unfairness and injustice of suffering. To be a quiet whisper of his love in the midst of it all, reminding that he is present and loving and always will be. He calls me to walk through it with his children, not to understand it or explain it away.

Into the sacred space of suffering God calls us all to enter softly.

About 8 years ago, on the 3rd Sunday my husband and I spent with a congregation that had invited him to come preach for them, we decided to attend the young professionals’ class and get to know some of the younger folk. That day the discussion centered around loving our neighbors. For 30 minutes or so the group spoke of the nature of love and who constitutes a neighbor.

As I looked around the room I noticed that most of the members were graduate students at the top-notch college in town. They were highly intelligent, optimistic, eager to impact their world, and, with one exception, all raised in Christian homes.

I couldn’t help but wonder what these kids were doing still talking about what love is. Hadn’t they learned that their whole lives? Wasn’t it time for them to delve deeper in their spiritual journeys. Two words came to mind over and over: So what? So what if we know who our neighbors are? So what if we can define God’s love? So what? So what does it mean for my life? So what am I supposed to do about it? So what should that look like?

And so I asked them. So what? After a moment of intrigued silence the conversation resumed.

Hoping to smooth over any feathers I may have ruffled, I went back for another visit to the class the next week. Upon entering, a bulletin was thrust into my hand and a finger eagerly pointed at the announcements for their class. I looked around at the expectant faces in the room wondering was going on. When I read the text at which the finger pointed I understood:  They had retitled their class So What?

The class spent the rest of that quarter and the next asking So What? about all they had learned about and from God over the course of their lives thus far.

May we all be as challenged by the question So What?