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I am shut up into this one thing, to look unto Jesus and be healed; to look and be saved; to see my sins, and to see them forgiven; to know that the longing I feel to be like my God is no vain longing, but a thing within my reach; because though I cannot, yet Christ in me can glorify the Father.

John McLeod Campbell

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Reflection

a gentle fever

I’ve been working through a particularly difficult issue in therapy for the past few weeks, and on Saturday, I got a glimpse of my brokenness and my inadequacy to solve the problem. Seeing myself in that state was like a cold that shocks the lungs. I was disoriented and hurting and didn’t know how I could keep on.

When I’m especially tired or lost, I struggle with self-contempt, and I was struggling with it on Monday like I hadn’t ever before. I kept crying out to God, “Be gentle to me,” as if God were the one harming me rather than I. But he heard me.

Early Tuesday morning, around 3:30 a.m., I woke up suddenly in a sweat with my sinuses full and a sore throat. Sick. I prayed, as I often do when sick, for healing. But it wasn’t a humble prayer. I was exasperated, and I let God know it. My last cold was less than two weeks ago, and I was still getting over it, and I’ve been sick so much this winter that I’ve actually run out of sick days. I’m at the limit of my emotional strength, and now my body is weakened again. How would I make it through the work week?

I knew that God heard my complaint—I felt his kindness toward me—and I also understood then that he wasn’t going to heal me overnight. It’s not that God doesn’t hear me or doesn’t care; he has actually chosen to heal me immediately of my petty illnesses before. This has taught me that in whatever God chooses to do, I should always expect him to be there with me, somehow, in the midst of my simple hurts. I should always watch for God.

On Tuesday, despite the fever that kept me up most of the night, I was able to work, just a little slower and spacier than usual. What was more of a surprise was that all my self-contempt had gone, and I was in a good mood. God knows that I’m much more kind and patient with myself when I’m sick, and it was this sickness that was God’s way of being gentle to me, and of prodding me to be more gentle with myself in seasons of mental sickness. In this strange way, I’ve carried the warmth of God’s love in my gently sick body.

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Reflection

Gently, God Chastens the One He Loves

It started the day before our house blessing party. Eddy and I had moved to a lovely apartment in Glen Ellyn two months before, and we had been looking forward to finally breaking our home in with friendship and prayer and food. I had been scrambling all week to put some finishing touches on our walls: quotes and pictures that are meaningful to me, a shower curtain that wasn’t disgusting. And my painting of the Christ of Divine Mercy.

I’ve been working on this painting since last January. It’s been a prayerful process, and although I’ve never tried to paint on canvas before, I’ve been surprised by the beauty and power of the image. I believe that it has been a gift from God. But on this day before our house blessing, it wasn’t quite finished, and I was desperately forcing it to be. It was as if I would seize this gift for myself like the forbidden fruit of the tree—before God’s good timing—so that I could be my own god. And I heard God say, “Don’t hang the painting.” I finished a few strokes and let it dry and then hid it away in the closet. I understood why, I thought; I was too proud. But I didn’t fully understand yet. That painting was only one precious piece of a mosaic I had been crudely fashioning for my own self-glorification—a mosaic that God was about to shatter (and begin to reassemble).

The next morning, Eddy and my brother and I went to church, and I was cut to the heart by the sermon. “You can’t serve God and mammon,” Jesus said. Father Stewart explained that mammon is a worldview of acquiring for our own security, opposed to the posture of receiving life and all our needs from God. Because life is so fragile, so uncertain, we all place our faith in something for a sense of security. Father Stewart rattled off examples of the things we tend to grasp at for our own security. What took me by surprise was this: “Beauty,” he said. “I don’t simply mean being good looking or acquiring someone who is good looking. I mean it more deeply. You have a deep need for beauty. You’re trying to acquire that beauty, perhaps through a home or an apartment, through a particular way of living, through food. You’re trying to acquire beauty. You want beauty.” I saw myself precisely as in a mirror and I grew weak inside.

Father Stewart described life under the mammon faith-system—my life. “In the mammon faith-system,” he said, “your goal is to acquire, secure, on your own. You have to become good at acquiring, because—here’s the deal—everyone in the mammon faith system is trying to acquire too. . . . If you’re doing well, you’re able to develop constant and regular high praise from those around you. You have to have that in the mammon system, because when you’re living by performance and acquiring, you’re never quite sure if you’ve done enough; you never have much sense of where you are in the system. You build your life on praise received. Criticism is an utter crisis in the mammon system.”

I was headed into a crisis. We went back home and finished preparing for the house blessing party. I watched myself grasp at security through artful food and drink and a home that was beauty-full with the presence of God. I saw that I actually wanted to use the presence of God in my home as a means for my own sense of glory and transcendence. It was devastating.

And then, so few friends actually showed up. It hurt, oh it hurt, not just because I felt forgotten, but because I depended on the presence and praise of others to validate my self-glorification project. And I was so busy mentally processing everything that had happened that in the end I wasn’t present with anyone there. Although I was thankful for the prayers of our friends, my heart was not in the house blessing anymore. It was a human home, and the food turned out to be just human food; no one bowed down and worshiped me for it. I knew that God meant to show me all this about myself, but I was laid bare, and later, I was angry. Why now, God? Didn’t you want our house to be blessed?

My anger spilled over onto Eddy that week and I sunk into a kind of depression. What began my redemption, though I still ached, was spending Thanksgiving with friends who love us. I needed to humbly receive hospitality and to see what a humble offer of welcome looks like. On Sunday at church Matt Woodley’s sermon enabled me to imagine myself like a disciple who had run away and could now share a breakfast of fish on the beach with Jesus. I knew that though I had betrayed God, God was not finished with me yet, and it gave me hope. One day that week I shared hot cocoa and making paper snowflakes with my coworkers; it was cheering. I needed to create something simple and humble with my hands and to feel part of everyday friendships again. I knew that all of this was from God, and it started healing me again.

On Saturday, I told my story to a friend, and she asked good questions. It was a confession before God, and it was something good. I was truly grieved and ready to repent, but I was stuck on how I could learn again to desire God for God’s sake and not for some other selfish end.

The next morning, I went to church in the stupor of a cold, and I was too tired to pay attention. When it was time to receive the Eucharist, I zombied through it. My body remembered to cup my hands in a posture of receiving, and my mouth remembered to say “amen,” but I was not very conscious of what I was doing. When I returned to my seat, I noticed that something had changed inside of me. I realized that I felt Jesus there, embracing me. I have never felt anything better than being with him. I was exultant. The joyous love of God was bubbling up inside of me, and I was so happy, because Jesus is so good. Oh my Lord Jesus, he is so good. And that’s how I knew I could desire God again for God’s sake—as a gift to be received.

And, with thanks to God, this is not the end of the story of our home. Now, more than ever, I am confident that God greatly desires to fill our home and our hearts with the gift of God’s presence. Perhaps not climactically, but in small, humble, human ways, through friendship, shared meals and prayers, and when the time comes, a painting of our beloved Christ.

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Note

dear friends II

A few weeks ago, Eddy and I attended a prayer meeting at church called RezFast (though, I had not fasted), in which we prayed together in small groups for Holy Week. At one point, Father Stewart invited us to pray for healing: spiritual healing, emotional healing, physical healing. It fell upon me in my small group to pray for physical healing. As you may know, my body has been sort of a wreck in the past few years, and I’d often wished for healing of this sort. But physical healing was on the fringes of my worldview, so when I prayed, I only had the courage to pray for an increase of faith in our church to ask for and to receive physical healing.

That prayer worked in me over the next week, and while I was praying on Maundy Thursday, miracle of miracles, I felt an invitation from the Lord to ask for the healing of my food allergies. In the past few months, those allergies have been increasingly difficult to deal with. Food prices had gone up a lot and I had started reacting to things I had been able to eat before. I was walking around every day feeling hungry, and I was tired.

So on Maundy Thursday, I felt this invitation from the Lord to ask for healing, and when I asked, I felt this great freedom to ask, and I felt good about asking, as if I had done the right thing. Now, I had asked for healing for this issue before, but it was always like, “God, please heal me through this diet, or these pills.” I had believed in some way that God could heal me but I did not believe that he would, especially without any work on my part. This was different.

But since I was not experienced at listening to the Lord in prayer, that prayer left me bewildered and unsure. So I asked again on Good Friday, and then again on Holy Saturday, and in spite of my doubts, only grew in confidence that this was from the Lord.

But how would I know, other than by eating? When I ate wheat, my belly would swell up and get uncomfortable and I would lose my appetite for a few days. Cow’s milk was much more miserable. I had developed an aversion to dairy products.

So I decided that on Easter Sunday lunch, I would eat a dinner roll. I ate one with my lunch, and it tasted very good. I felt my stomach fill up, I felt my food digest, and then I felt hungry again! A wonderful feeling! But I still wasn’t certain. That night I ate two malted milk balls from our Easter egg hunt, all the while praying “Lordhavemercy, lordhavemercy, lordhavemercy,” and I woke up in the middle of the night and felt my sinus allergies and a little pain in my guts, and I was sad. Lord, I am such a fool, I thought. But when I woke in the morning, all was well, so I decided to try again. I ate two slices of whole wheat toast, and waited, and felt good, and felt hungry again. Later, I tried more Easter candy, and I wasn’t afraid.

In the morning, I resolved to end the experiment by eating something that should have truly hurt me, Greek yogurt, full of milk protein.  I felt like the Lord was telling me, “Eat! Eat! Enjoy!” So I brought out Eddy’s tub of Greek yogurt and I got myself a big ol’ scoop, and I ate. I waited, and waited, and paced the apartment, and waited, and nothing happened! So I ate half a pizza that night, and when I woke up in the morning, my stomach was my own, less bloated than on most mornings, and I gave thanks to God, and started calling my family. I have truly been healed from nearly seven years of food allergies, frustrating mishaps and a limited diet, and I am so free to enjoy the good world God has made. (Ricotta cheese! Milkshakes! French bread!) And praise God, I have not been hungry  and I have felt a new sense of well being and energy!

I have tasted a tiny, tiny, but glorious bit of resurrection life. What a beautiful, delightful gift this Easter! Give thanks to God with me!

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