It’s an all-too-familiar scenario. I feel bored with my life, or my house, or my clothes, and so I check Instagram or Facebook. Perhaps I think I’ll find affirmation or connection in how many likes or reposts I’ve received. Maybe I pop over to Pinterest to get inspired with a DIY project for my home or with my kids. I’ll then see how many Twitter followers I have, and whether my blog stats are booming (or not). The result is that I either feel temporarily elated, or in a state of deeper discontentment than before. The pull of social media is strong, not only because it is always accessible, but also because it seems to promise what we are all craving: a place to belong. … [Read the rest over at iBelieve.com, where it’s featured today]
It sits just on the other side of triumphant Palm Sunday, and days before the remembering, mourning, and celebrating of Thursday through Sunday. It can feel lost – this “Holy Monday.” (And is that an oxymoron? How can Monday ever be holy? More often “mundane” is an adjective of choice.)
I wonder if “Holy Monday” (and “Holy Tuesday” and “Holy Wednesday”) are needed so that our hearts are ready for the sobriety of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. For something shifted in the crowd who welcomed Jesus with palm branches waving, surrendering their outerwear as a pathway for their donkey-saddled King. Something shifted between this “Triumphal Entry” and the angry crowds begging for his execution on Friday. It was the overlooked days of “Holy Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday.”
The days when I overlook – or fail to look – at my king, humbled and riding on a donkey, but riding nonetheless TO ME; the days when I overlook the tears Jesus wept over this city (and symbolically, over every city in which any of us dwell); these days are the ones when my heart can go rogue. It slips out beneath my notice and goes after its old lovers. The ones promising quick satisfaction without waiting for long promises to be fulfilled. The lovers who tell me I’m beautiful (especially if I use their line of clothing and beauty products). The ones who lure my restless heart with excitement and adventure (forgetting to highlight the fine print warning of: use only at great risk to your soul). It was these false lovers who won over the hearts of the crowds in the four days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The false lovers were clothed in religious garb. They planted questions like –
“How dare he claim to be the Son of God? Who does he think he is?”
“We were promised a Messiah to rescue us. We are still under Roman oppression. Jesus cannot be the promised one.”
“This Jesus is not what we really want. He is working too slow – or not at all.”
And these same religious leaders were at work behind closed doors making deals with an insider who would betray Jesus (Judas). They were plotting his death while the crowds went about their business on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. They were stirring up the crowds, with insidious doubts at first and then with explicit commands.
Holy Monday can become “Holy” only when I first admit how similar I am to these fickle crowds. I want a king who comes on my terms, to deliver me in my way, and to make me powerful with him. A king who calls me to follow after him, deny myself, and lose my life to save it? No, thank you. I think I’ll go find someone else. Holy Monday becomes holy when I look at the God who has won me wholly. Even (especially) in the days when my heart feels prone to wander.
Last night I had a hard time sleeping. I tossed and turned until finally I did what you’re never supposed to do: I reached for my phone from my bedside table. I began browsing about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and it confirmed what I’ve suspected for several years now. I struggle with seasonally affected moods. I learned that I have many of the hallmarks of SAD:
- Begins in September-October with a noticeable dip in mood
- Worsens until March
- Disappears with an elevated mood and renewed energy almost overnight – within 1-2 weeks when spring arrives in April/May
- Characterized by carb cravings, decreased energy, increased sleeping, general sense of irritability and loss of enjoyment in previously enjoyed activities
- 70% more likely for women than men
- Less common in countries close to the equator (Might this include states, too – any of my Florida or So. Cal. friends struggle with SAD?)
The next question is what to do about it? The almost unanimous agreement is that light therapy is the #1 way to combat it. (Outdoor exercise and healthy eating are also helpful.) So next on my list is purchasing a light lamp. For you my readers, do you have any experience with a light lamp? Any particular one you would recommend or not? I have a friend here who loves hers, and says as long as it’s 10,000 lumens, I’m good to go. Worth noting from my middle-of-my-sleepless-night research is that optimal light therapy looks like 30-45 minutes of exposure to the light lamp first thing in the morning, with noticeable results within 3-5 days and for as long as you continue with light therapy.
This got me thinking about what’s the spiritual benefit of my struggle with SAD. What SAD does for me is reveal my heart, exposing aspects of my life that I wouldn’t choose to see if I stayed relatively emotionally “happy” or positive most of the time. I came up with 7 heart-revealing truths about SAD:
- SAD exposes my tendency to overly depend on my emotions instead of God
- SAD reveals how I idolize happiness
- SAD demonstrates my over-desire to escape all forms of suffering instantly (get me a light lamp STAT!)
- SAD reminds me that my natural bent is to turn inward and isolate myself instead of reach out for help to God and others
- SAD forces me to accept the reality of a world in which all is not perfect – where brokenness and literal darkness exists
- SAD shows me in living color the way that I try to blame those around me for the problems within me (exhibit A: increased irritability toward my kids and my husband)
- SAD becomes a metaphor for life without light – a built-in reminder that as much as my body and emotions need physical sunlight, even more so my soul needs the Light of the World, the Sunrise from on high, to dwell within me and illuminate my life.
I will continue to research a good light lamp, but I want to also engage God with my heart – bringing to him my struggle, complaints, irritability and asking for grace to repent, to reach out in love to others even when it doesn’t feel as “easy” as in summer, and to humbly remember my place as dependent on Light in all its forms.
All of you who follow my blog know how much I love to read and how much I love to write about what I’m reading. I want to try something new and do an online book report of my favorite book each month. For September, I’ve chosen Made for More by Hannah Anderson (2014: Moody Publishers).
Her subtitle says it all: “an invitation to live in God’s image,” and her book delivers just that. I’ve found on every page a call to reexamine what it means personally and relationally that we as humans are made to image God. To literally be a reflection of the divine. Have you considered this lately? What dignity that gives you and me! And how far we fall from our destiny every day! But Anderson’s book invites you back, invites me back. To live out of my identity – who I truly am. She takes what’s a basic theological truth and states it in new ways. No small thing for this raised-in-the-church seminary grad whose biggest downfall is that I know it all while my life is far from the truth I profess. Passages like these have given me reason to ponder and to live differently:
“…we are by nature image bearers. So when we turn from God, when we refuse to base our identity in Him, we are compelled to find it somewhere else because we must reflect something. … And as we image this false god, our very personhood crystallizes around it. … When we center our identity on these ‘lesser glories,’ we become defined by them, and we end up defining reality by them as well.”
A natural question that follows is what am I reflecting if not God? In looking at my life, too often I see my gaze shift to materialism, success, and productivity. When I image these “gods,” relationships become transactional, time shrinks to my to-do list, and failure causes me to erupt in frustration and anger.
Anderson calls me back to who I am created to be – who Christ has recreated me to be – with the following:
“The paradox of personal identity is that once we accept that we are not what we should be, we are finally in a place to be made what we could be. … Once we admit the inadequacy of our lives, we are finally able to discover the sufficiency of His. And this is what Christ offers us. He offers us His identity; He offers us Himself. When we are joined to Him, when our lives are ‘hidden with Christ in God,’ we can finally die to our old selves because as His image bearers, we become whatever He is.”
A close corollary and outflow to identity as those reflecting Jesus more than the god-of-the-hour is that it changes how and what we love. We pursue what we love and “what you love will determine who you are and what you do.” How are we changed into our true selves? By loving truly because we know we are truly loved.
In a word, this will look like grace. Generous grace. Anderson again pierces my layers of cynicism as she writes –
“In a world where we routinely hurt each other and where little is certain, being generous is risky business. So we refrain from giving; we hold back; we protect ourselves. And in the process, we become cynical, hopeless people who cannot believe in grace for ourselves because we refuse to offer it to others. …nothing could be more damaging to a society than walking away from grace. Because when we walk away from grace, we walk away from the only thing that has the power to heal our brokenness. … we walk away from the only thing that can make us human again.”
Amen, sister! I would go on, but then you would miss out on journeying along with Anderson through this exquisite invitation to your truest identity. Made for More is by far the best book I’ve read about identity – both identity lost through our false image-bearing and identity found in the hope and grace of Jesus as he restores and transforms us to who we were created to be.
What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.
O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
We closed our worship service at my church this morning with this old hymn. It was the fitting closing to a sermon on Deuteronomy 33: a series of final blessings Moses gives to the Israelites, tribe by tribe, which ends with these verses: “There is none like God, O Jeshurun [a term for the Israelites], who rides through the heaves to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms….” Noah Huss, a seminary student, was preaching this morning and one thought in particular stood out to me. He highlighted the idea that we, like Israel, although held secure by our God’s everlasting and strong arms, continually stray after idols and other things which ARE NOT God. The irony is that we are held by God and yet we often anxiously ask Him for new idols to which we cling desperately … as if what we’re holding is better and more powerful than the ONE who holds us. We forget where we are.
And so then my prayers begin to look something like the following:
“God, please work out my schedule today so that I can do what I want to do (and am planning to do) when I want to do it. Don’t let me be interrupted.”
“Lord, would you heal this terrible cold I have? Quickly? And keep me from getting any more colds this winter?”
“Father, would you provide more money for us? So that we can dress in nicer clothes and drive shiny new cars and be able to buy a home?”
“God, please keep trouble and suffering away from me. Will you please deliver me from the current troubling situation? And give me strength so that I can think that I did this on my own?”
Can you relate? Perhaps not to how obvious those examples are … and rarely do my prayers actually sound this obviously idolatrous. But if I’m honest, this is what’s often in my heart. NOT that God doesn’t care about every detail of my life, like the fact that I’m fighting a cold or that we would like to live in an apartment with 2 bedrooms one day, but His heart desire is that I would want HIM more than I want any of these things or comforts. And that my prayers would begin with resting in Him. Realizing I have what makes me most secure already — that I have true comfort and eternal treasures.
Where do you struggle? What do you run to the most? And what helps you to remember your secure place in the arms of our Father God?
For those of you “reading” to whom this concept seems quite strange, I hope and pray that you will one day know the security of this God-embrace I’m discussing. It’s only possible as our brokenness of sin that separates us from God is restored through the saving work of Christ on the cross. And, oh, what true security and comfort is found in God’s embrace to us in Christ! It is a wonder that we who know its comfort struggle so …