Lent image–Waiting, Weeping, and Learning

When Jesus went off to pray in the desert, it was time of growth, prayer, waiting, and, yes, temptation. We, too, have desert times in life.

03 Lent--Ash Wed week--Desert wait weep learn--Jones

To be truly human, is to experience the highs and lows of feelings, to have times of joy and times of sorrow. Although Jesus was divine, he freely entered into these seasons and challenges of being human. If Jesus experienced these oh-so-human dimensions of life, it is only natural that his followers also have their desert times of waiting, weeping, and learning.

Will you pray with me?

Lord Jesus, when life feels overwhelming, help me to remember that you, too, had times of stress, confusion, agony, and grief. Grant me patience with the challenges of life, and when faced with difficult decisions, give me the wisdom I need to make the best choice. 

Until next time, Amen! 

Psalm 16–Path of Life

You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 16:11

When we visit family in Arizona, my husband and I enjoy taking hikes in wide open, preserved desert spaces. Living in Minnesota, it is easy to forget just how tall the saguaro cactus can be, so here is a picture of my husband standing beside one for a little perspective (click on picture to enlarge):

Sometimes our journey in life can feel like a walk through a vast desert, filled with prickly plants and sharp stones. We can feel lost in the wilderness, a place that on the surface seems dead and lonely. The hot sun may drive us to the ground with lack of energy–or dust storms may cloud our view and choke our lungs.

Although it may look lifeless, the desert is indeed filled with living things–it’s just that it takes some learning and experience to find these things when you are new to arid environments. Besides the first things that come to many minds (poisonous snakes and insects!), there are also the lovely song of the cactus wren, gorgeous sunsets, and the sweet smell of sagebrush after the rain. Desert brush and cactus can even provide edible food and drink if you have a sharp knife and know where to look. There are also the raw materials for making soap, baskets, pottery, and soothing balm (aloe).

In the spiritual life, sometimes we suddenly discover God has transplanted us to a “desert”–that is, an unfamiliar territory that seems boring, dull, and lifeless, or maybe even scary and dangerous. We may feel upside-down, inside-out, or just plain lost. Nothing feels normal.

Yet, like the desert, there is often hidden life found where we least expect it. In the spiritual desert, discovering this new life may take longer than we would like. But no matter how bleak or desperate it may seem, God promises to show us the “path of life,” to bring us joy once again–the joy that is found not in worldly things, but in being in God’s presence. Whether we feel this presence or not, we can trust that God will never leave us, no matter what happens.

We may feel “lost,” but deep down inside, God is ever showing us the path that leads to spiritual life, eternal joy in God’s presence. We can trust that this joy will  resurface again one day.

You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 16:11

Until next time, Amen!

Spiritual Aerobics

For reflection or discussion:

Have you ever experienced a period in your life when things seemed overly difficult, frightening, or confusing? What helped you through that time? Looking back, can you find anything good that God brought about as a result?

(Re) Discovering Your Sacred Rhythms in Lent

The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.  –Mark 6:30-32.

In the beginning of the book Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton describes a time she felt Christian fatigue syndrome. Although heavily involved in doing church activities and service for Christ, she no longer felt the joy and peace she expected to feel in giving her life so fully to God.

I believe that people who are alive with love for God sometimes can become so busy doing for God or for others, or learning about God, that they can forget to just spend quality time with God.

This situation is compounded by the fact that we live in a culture that heavily promotes busyness, high productivity, multitasking and, in general, doing over be-ing (the poor economy doesn’t help). People I know who visit other parts of the world often comment that people in other countries are not such workaholics. Some cultures have shorter work days, more vacation time, and longer lunch hours–and they actually think Americans are crazy to want to focus so much on their jobs over relaxation with family and friends.

For those of us who follow Christ, this raises an interesting question: How do we spend time with God? Certainly, God is always with us, everywhere we go, but how are we “with God”? That is, how do we find time to make our hearts and minds attentive to God’s presence in the midst of our everyday lives? How do we experience God?

One way is to examine how Jesus approached work and ministry. In the biblical passage above, the apostles are getting back together after having been sent out in pairs to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons. They have also just been given the news of the death of John the Baptist.

What Jesus does at this point in the story is rather remarkable. Jesus does not ask the disciples to use their success to build media hype. He doesn’t require new multitask methods to increase the profit margin (baptizing with one hand while healing the sick with the other?). Jesus doesn’t send them into battle to revenge the death of John the Baptist.

Instead, at the height of all their ministerial productivity and popularity, Jesus says:

Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.

I wonder if the disciples were surprised at this sudden shift of gears. Maybe they thought to themselves, Are you kidding? Didn’t you just commission us to spread the good news and heal the sick? Now you want us to ignore the needs of these people, escaping out into the wilderness? Could you make up your mind?

Jesus isn’t interested in milking the media, maximizing profit, or getting more done in less time. Jesus doesn’t view people as electronic gadgets that never need sleep (well, even those need recharging!). Jesus treats every disciple (and all people) the way best friends or intimate lovers treat each other, saying, in effect:

Let’s get out of here. Let’s go someplace where we can be alone.

In the story, Jesus and the disciples escape the crowd in the boat, going off to rest, to talk, to pray. The mob, with their many legitimate needs, would find them tomorrow, at which time they would be lovingly served.

People reading this blog do a great many things to serve and love God’s people–and what a great thing indeed that is! But among the many things you “do” this Lent, may God bless you with the rediscovery of quiet moments tucked here and there, an awareness of God’s presence during your work, or perhaps even a whole day or two to run away for a tryst with the One you love above all others.

Until next time, Amen!