I Failed to Live the Ideal of Abiding and Formation


Abide.

It is a word we don’t use much anymore in our day and time. It is antiquated I suppose. “Wait” is the word that is probably more common or “be patient” comes to mind too. I’ve heard those before but I admit I’m not good at them. In fact, I confess I am so much more apt to be a “doer” that I have jumped the gun far too often. This is not helpful when one is a widow/widower and we tend to make poor decisions anyway.

But abide? Yeah, definitely something for me to consider more. I need time in contemplation to get I know but when I went looking for “a word” last week not only was this the one I got, it was affirmed just moments later from the other side of the world!

For me, it comes with the connotation of both “waiting” and “patience” but it also has to do with letting go of things too. It seems to me to be encouraging me to “hold back” and to watch carefully what I say or do next. And there is with an image of being in the presence of a wise mentor or better yet, to be in the presence of Jesus.

I don’t think I “abided” well yesterday in the meeting I attended. There were moments and subjects eating at me...disturbing to me...troubling my spirit, soul and sensibilities. And I confess, I don’t think I lived up much to this week’s breath prayer to speak words that reflected the heart of Jesus. But then, if (as the meme reminds us…) it is in the realm of possibilities of Jesus’ own actions to flip over tables, maybe I was right to speak?

Maybe...but I don’t think I did much “abiding” with Jesus in the moment.

Trying to get a grasp of "abide" isn't easy either.  It has an archaic meaning “to stay” or “reside” but you aren’t going to find a Greek or Hebrew term common to Scripture as much as the concept. The image of Luke Skywalker running off to Cloud City in “The Empire Strikes Back,” is what I see. Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi implore Luke to stay...to “abide” and finish his training but he won’t listen. It is like Peter at the Transfiguration of Jesus who suggests building tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses because he can’t just “abide” and watch and listen.

I struggled to listen. But then, it seems to me, we in the churches of Jesus Christ are not listening to the Spirit of God in our midst. We will listen to research and experts in psychology and business models but won’t sit down and abide with Paul’s letters and his teaching and antidotes to the churches being birthed after the resurrection. We aren’t abiding with the doctors of the faith like Theresa of Avila or John of the Cross whose lessons have stood far longer and are inspired by Scripture and Spirit. The people called “Methodists” began with a heart “strangely warmed,” in John Wesley and we won’t listen to our own theological process which we clergy were taught and exhorted to do. So where are the 52 Standard Sermons and the Explanatory notes? Where do we engage Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience? And when do we all listen to the Holy Spirit, the One truly at work changing us, the counselor of truth Jesus promised?

I admit I struggled to abide and confess, my emotions got the better of me. Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. I am going back to my knees to abide and listen. I have much to learn.  No running off to Cloud City this time.



Faith Needs to Name the Truth: Life Sucks...It Can Be Hard


You know, it has been a bit rough lately. That is something we each seem to have a difficult time coming to grips with. Even after I wrote my book, the idea that naming the reality that life can be hard, and even sucks, is something many people seem to shy away from.  Like "good parents," we tried to shield our kids from it.  But life does suck often times and can be hard.  We are mortal and we cannot make a shield to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the reality.

But that doesn't mean I don't keep seeking joy and faith. 
Each week, I spend time trying to listen to God intently regarding breath prayers. I’ve been doing it for over two years now which is kinda hard to believe really. Some weeks, those prayers drill down deeper and strike at the roots of my soul more than others. This week has been one of those for sure. Besides the fact that many of plans got thrown to the side when I got the stomach bug going around, I have been drawn, ever deeper, to consider and listen to God’s Spirit.

I know I have written mostly over the past few years from the view of a widow/widower because it has been most real. In some ways, I have claimed that as an identity. Many of us have. I think it is natural and good, even. Thanks to OneFitWidow and Grief Annonymous, and other such groups, it is being brought more and more to light, the realities of being in the widow club.

But we need to do more. Those who suffer and struggle most don’t have time to write, publish and speak. They can’t afford conference or books or even the time to read because they have joined the class of the working poor many times and are suddenly trying to provide for 1,2,3,4 or more dependents. Or they are dealing with something I learned about more recently, “Complicated Grief,” a grief that does not let go so easily and requires a gentler hand and in many cases, therapy, something our societies STILL stigmatize even as the impact and effects of social media are proving to alter how are young people function in society.


And so, we don’t hear God when God speaks. And why would we? We don’t know how. We are not taught in our churches anymore, not as a pattern of wholeness or way of life. We are taught spiritual practices as something to put on our daily task list alongside the laundry and changing the litter box. We get messages of going to war rooms for prayer rather than becoming peacemakers and servants.

As I have been inviting God to come near me and quiet my soul, I hear the call more and more to come away...the calling to return to the message Jesus gave to fishermen…”Come, follow me…” The road through the valley of suck does not lead to one destination. It leads wherever we choose to go and the voice or voices we choose to follow.

There Are More Than Chapter 2s in the Valley of Suck

The silence is deafening at times.

It is an empty nest...no newborns any longer and no mother bird to keep things fresh.  

It is a life that comes to many and in different forms.  Sifting through memories and items kept but for reasons unknown, leaves this widower and only-parent wondering and contemplating the next steps.  I know many who feel similar. Some take it better than others it seems. Some of us, caregivers, widows, and/or widowers do it in fits and starts.

As a clergy, I feel the pressure of having all the answers...somehow I should know how to do this but I don’t.  
I have a new relationship too.  I have found that love can keep expanding to incorporate a new person in my life.  Some describe it as a “Chapter 2.”

I don’t like it.  It is too confining.  We are more than single chapters and the lives of those who hold our hearts deserve more.  I think we are writing whole new novels, and some, short stories. Some of our lives are novellas.  Some are creating poetry and others sculptures, hundreds of them. New paintings are being made and new sketches drawn filling canvases and notebooks.  New music with new beats and heart-felt lyrics fill the cloud!

And we still hurt and we still long for something more.  Easter Sunday reminded us of that which we were longing for...hope.  But I, a frail, weak, and broken pastor is not the source of hope. A whole, living, and risen Jesus, there is the reason for hope!  In our fallenness, there is the mercy we long for so dearly.

Walking the valley of suck, I have been disappointed again and again and I confess, I have been a disappointment to others.  Friends have gone their own way, promises unkept. But in the valley, the words of God still echo, “I will not leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).”


Death, Lent, and The Valley of Suck


Indulge me for a moment...that is part of what “Fat Tuesday” is about right?

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent, a time of 40 days of reflection and repentance in the life of the Church. Don’t waste your time looking because you won’t find the word “lent” in the Bible nor a “season of Lent.” Jesus’ followers in the Church came up with the idea and it stuck. For good reason too. Left to our own devices, we’d rather not talk about mortality and sinfulness or the messy and icky things we face in life.

For a long time, I thought the same and watched and participated in a sort of modern-day “Oz” conducted in churches. Everything was honest and theologically sound but there was (and is) a curtain covering over what is going on but it isn’t the one you think. It isn’t the one church leaders are covering...it is the one BEHIND us. It is what is behind THAT curtain we’d rather not discuss…

In one word it is this...death.

I, like countless widows and widowers, have faced the loss of their true life partner. There are the countless sons and daughters who know the pain of the loss of not having a mother or father any longer or a mother or father who knows the emptiness of not hearing the unique laughter of their son or daughter. There are other losses and deaths to lead to the valley of suck. This valley of suck that robs us of so much joy, presents to us two new travelling companions, for life, ones often behind the curtain and in shadow.

Grief comes first followed by death. Of the two, grief is easiest to name but few understand how it remains a constant companion, popping up and surprising us through the rest of our lives. Death is the more complicated because we like to couch death, in other words, hiding it, ignoring it, trying to bury it even (pun intended).

We say that someone is “gone.” We’ll declare that God “took” someone. “Passed away,” “passed on,” and “fallen asleep,” are other phrases. They ease the pain some because they don’t sound so final but the truth is, behind it all, it is still death. And in this world, death is final.

On the road of the valley of suck, there are some able to make adjustments in the midst of the tragedy. The grief and death are the same for sure and adjustments can be made to face the changes. But it is not the same for all. For some, those complications are disruptions that fracture foundations, faith, families, and futures in ways no one can possibly know.

I didn’t.

There were many “deaths” before Heather died. The finality of her death also brought an avalanche of other “deaths” to our family, ones which changed the course of our family. The darkest days weren’t at Heather’s death, it was the year later when many of my friends were gone and I discovered two new companions eager to journey in the valley of suck with me: grief and death. I grieved the house getting emptier and the struggles my kids faced learning to live on their own. Death was right there reminding me of the dreams Heather and I had talked about that wasn’t going to happen now. I grieved how my plans for my ministry vocation had changed and death joined me as I began the process of burying the old aspirations.

I stopped trying to keep a curtain up in front of me (or church) and started taking down the curtain behind me and getting to know these two companions. I said goodbye to a full-time ministry, a term the apostle Paul never knew or wrote about, and accepted what dying to my prideful aspirations meant. I hate admitting that I grieved losing my pride and ego but death, again, companioned me. I worked as both a pastor at a church and on the floor at Dollar General. Six months later, I’m now full-time but serving two churches in another community. In less than a year, I’ve lived in 3 homes. I’ve said goodbye a whole lot.

And the more that I have come to focus less on maintaining a curtain in front of me, the more I find myself observing God and listening more intently to Jesus. Grief and death have helped me too. Today I began my Lenten practice by reading Matthew’s gospel and death met me there.

How?

Well, take a look at Matthew 1:18-25. Across the cultural divide of twenty-one centuries, Joseph has to deal with the discovery that his fiancee is bearing a child that is not his...yeah, people don’t handle that well. I don’t think I’m reading anything into this story when I say that Joseph faced the death of his expected family and those family plans.

But here is the thing...look back at 1:5-6. In just two verses we see a glimpse of history and that line of Joseph includes some interesting Grandmas and Grandpas and life that didn’t go as planned…

Rahab was a prostitute who gave birth to...
Boaz who married a widow named Ruth and in their descendants is...
David, who commits adultery with the wife Uriah (murders him too) and will continue the royal line through his son, Solomon.

God is not interested in respecting my plans: not for family nor for future. Is God indifferent? No, I think that goes too far. But God’s plan isn’t for my family or your’s...God’s interest is in making a bigger family for all people and making His house a place of prayer for all people. I’m thinking that maybe I’m starting to get that thanks to grief and death.



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