Jesus Encounters the Woman at the Well – or should I say, Target …

As our community group studies the book of John together, using the fabulous “good book series” by Tim Chester, we come to this week’s encounter about Jesus meeting “A Desperate Woman” (the Samaritan woman at the well, story found in John 4). Raise your hand if you qualify. Yes, I see those hands. One of the questions prompted me to reflect on how Jesus would address me. If Jesus encountered me, probably in the aisles of Target, and talked of living water, what would he point to as patterns where I seek satisfaction elsewhere? What’s my “if only” that I’m living out of? I share this hoping you will relate to this desperate woman and the Jesus who offers her true Life.

“Heather, look at what’s in your cart. You think that once you and your daughters are dressed well and once your home looks like the pages of Pottery Barn, you will be satisfied. You also think once your life is so-called ‘balanced’ (meaning you feel in control most of the time and have enough time to yourself), you’ll feel satisfied. You’ll be able to exhale when your relationships are conflict-free. Not so, my daughter. I watch you run yourself ragged and overspend trying to be satisfied and feel secure. Stop running. Rest in me, in the midst of the chaos of your days. Let me direct you. Live out of the inner satisfaction you’ve tasted before through my Spirit who dwells within you. Live out of the identity you have in me – you are mine; you’re beautiful; you’re more than ‘good enough.’ You’re righteous. Perfect. Complete. The Spirit is there to help you experience these realities, to believe I am true and deeply satisfying, to free you from places you run for temporary, fleeting satisfaction. Drink deeply of my living water. That’s right. You can start putting back most of what you’ve filled your cart with today. And I promise you’re not trading in joy – you will know it more deeply in me, as you always have.”

awed by the moment and calmed by Jesus’ love

These are the two themes that I feel like God’s been teaching me about – much of it through observing our quickly growing almost-11-month-olds. They are crawling everywhere and into everything. Very curious about life! We love that although it makes our days much busier as well. The hardest part of the evening for them (and all of us) is that 4-7pm timeframe when it’s not yet bedtime and both naps are over for the day. And they begin fussing, which can quickly turn into crying and screaming inconsolably. Almost inconsolably. Some days they can be quieted by something quite simple, childish really (and they are babies, after all). We stumbled upon it accidentally when we started singing to them the first song that came to mind, “Jesus Loves Me.” Most of the time, this will calm Lucia and Alethia. Or at least give a few minutes’ reprieve from the screaming. The words and the melody familiar to them because it has been sung over them by parents, grandparents, friends, has a quieting effect on them. As I noticed this “magic song,” it made me pray for them that they would always be quieted by Jesus’ love. Long after they would outgrow this song, would that the truth conveyed by this little childhood tune sink deep into their hearts! And as I prayed for them, I started by praying for my heart, too, that can be so easily tossed  to and fro by the ups and downs of a day or a month or a year or a season. In case it’s been awhile since you’ve sung that tune, here’s the main verse of that little ditty:

Jesus loves me

This I know

For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to Him belong [and aren’t we all “little ones” compared to God’s greatness?]

They are weak [oh, so aware of this for me!]

But He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me [repeat 3 x’s]

For the Bible tells me so.

My best friend’s daughter “sings” this tune by saying “Bible” when you say, “Jesus loves me.” Isn’t that adorable? And how much I have to learn! Truly we are to become like little children in order to know the great truths about our God and King.

As Seth and I move into this new phase of parenting children, training and discipline and instruction are topics we are earnestly seeking to learn about because we are aware of how much they are soaking up each day and how much they begin to be in need of parental guidance. We have begun watching an excellent parenting series by Paul Tripp (one of our counseling professors when we were in seminary), and he begins his series by discussing our need to provide our children with a God-saturated environment. By this he means that we are not only to teach our kids truths about God, but to give our children a sense of awe about God. Which, he points out, cannot happen if we ourselves are not in awe of God.

A book I’m currently reading is helping me to open my eyes to the awe of the moment, the richness of our great God who is present in each moment. And so many moments I skip by or pass over or endure with gritted teeth because I’m missing God. For all of you who can relate, I cannot recommend highly enough Ann Voskamp‘s book, “One Thousand Gifts.” The book itself is a gift to me who has trouble seeing what really matters. She echoes Tripp’s teaching as she writes:

“Every moment I live, I live bowed to something. And if I don’t see God, I’ll bow down before everything else. … How I want to see the weight of glory break my thick scales, the weight of glory smash the chains of desperate materialism, split the numbing shell of deadening entertainment, bust up the ice of catatonic hearts. I want to see God …”

Voskamp writes about how hurry is the enemy of awe, that “Hurry always empties a soul. … I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment. … The fast have spiritually slow hearts.” How this convicts me, who prides myself on efficiency and races against the naptime clock to see how much I can possibly fit into those brief “free” hours of a day! Who, in trying to recruit my babies into my hurried lifestyle, causes exhaustion and stress for us both.

I have much to learn. I am thankful for this moment, this time when babies are sleeping to soak in these truths and ask for grace to keep doing so. If God is present everywhere and in every moment, I only must have eyes to see Him. Which I feel like I am only beginning to do.

comfort and utility

A few weeks ago, I was watching Lucia as she played on a blanket on the floor. Bedtime was quickly approaching, and she decided that it was time to try to put herself to sleep. She has developed quite a “lovey” obsession in the past few months and uses her soft pink-striped zebra to cozy up to as she drifts off to sleep. Sometimes I have found her with this snuggly blanket animal almost entirely covering her face. (Yes, it did scare me a bit because of SIDS paranoia … but it seems lightweight and small enough that it won’t do harm.) So, naturally, she reached out for the closest object (hoping it would be her zebra) and began snuggling up to it, rubbing it against her face. The funny thing about it was that it was her hard plastic alien teething toy. So it must have been far from soothing – in fact, quite the opposite.

And that got me thinking. The problem wasn’t that the teething toy didn’t have a good purpose – and could even be comforting when used as such – but that Lucia was trying to use it in a way different than as intended. She had confused the toy for her lovey. Of course, it didn’t have the intended effect and she became more fussy instead of less so. Sweet Lucia later drifted off to sleep happily tucked in with her zebra … and I shared a small chuckle to myself.

How like Lucia I am! Yet without the innocence of her infant mix-ups. What God has given me for a certain purpose I use in the wrong way, trying to find soul-comfort where there is none. Like food and sleep and “me time”. An organized home, uninterrupted phone conversations, babies who never cry, clothes that flatter, a post-pregnancy body that matches my pre-pregnancy one … the list goes on and on. And God must look at me, thinking, “No – that’s not the purpose! She is trying to find soul-rest and comfort in created things, not me. Gifts I give her have replaced me, the Giver. Meant to be enjoyed in their place. But she will never find the true comfort she seeks from these things.” I am to find comfort in Him and utilize His gifts for their purpose. But I reverse that, using God to try to get what I want and seeking comfort in His gifts. And because He is my compassionate Father as well as my God, He gently replaces my items of false comfort with Himself, the true Comforter. Again He issues the invitation to my heart,

“Come … all you who are weary and heavy burdened … find rest for your souls … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

where did August go?

So, alas, August came and went and I did not blog at all. Now it is barely September, and I hope to get back into a routine which will include blogging.

I have enjoyed reading through the Bible this summer. I started out attempting “90 days in the Word” which is turning into, well, a few more than 90. It has been enlightening to get a broad sweeping overview of the Story that is also my story through the life Christ has given me.  And regardless of how many times I read the Bible, I always find something new. Here are a few of my favorites from  the past few weeks:

Isaiah 60:4 – a picture of heaven, when Christ returns again: “Look and see, for everyone is coming home!” Particularly poignant in light of our friend Beverlee Kirkland’s recent home-going

convicting commentary in Jeremiah that so easily applies to me and to our culture today: “From the least to the greatest, their lives are rules by greed.” (Jeremiah 6:1-3)

Jeremiah 31:25 – God is talking about the future restoration of Israel from their captivity – and  ultimately pointing to Jesus’ arrival as the one who invites all into His rest – “For I have given REST to the weary and JOY to the sorrowing.”

Micah 7:7-8 – “As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.”

Luke 1:78-79 – “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” Zechariah, a prophet in Jesus’ day, speaks these words when he sees baby Jesus in the Temple for the first time

And a convicting note to end on, which I’ll point you to Katherine’s blog to read a full exposition on this idea: Luke 21:34 -“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day [when Jesus returns or when we die] catch you unaware …” It’s easy to see how the heart grows dull through “carousing and drunkenness” but Jesus goes further to include “this life’s worries.” Who can not but relate to that one? It is much more subtle, this kind of dulling of the heart and numbing to the Life that is truly life. Oh, that we would NOT be caught unaware!

Rest

Rest … an elusive concept unless you’re experiencing it. I’ve been studying it a lot lately (which can, ironically, take away from the experience OF rest) in a few different places: learning about its role in the self-care of a counselor, meditating on what it means in preparation for a retreat I’m speaking at in March on “Chasing life/longing for rest,” discussing it with my best friend, Katherine, who’s blogging about it now. (see my links for her blog)

There are many different angles of rest and what is referred to as rest. There’s rest in the sense of a Sabbath rest — a deliberate ceasing of accomplishments/activities for one day out of the week. Marva Dawn writes of it in her book I’m reading now – “A Sense of the Call: a Sabbath way of life for those who serve God, the Church, and the world.”  Listen to this invitation, and feel your heart leap in hope:

“The Sabbath offers the magnificent gift of an entire day to ponder God’s truth instead of our work, to notice God’s creations of beauty, and to relish God’s goodness in our closest relationships. After a beautiful Sabbath of intellectual rest, we will know ourselves more truly and can pursue paths more closely attuned to God’s own righteousness. … this is the goal of the Sabbath: that we can cease our worrying about time and be released from its constrictions into this weekly experience of eternity.”

Of course, as much as you want this, there are likely 100 reasons that come to your mind of why you can’t possibly afford to do this. I’m challenged by the author’s own story of when she began deliberately resting for one day of the week: when she began working on her doctorate! I don’t want to become legalistic about this, but I think it’s a goal I’m aiming for in my life. I have rested more intentionally in other seasons of my life, and I think I need this reminder to do so again. Marva Dawn points out that what underlies my reluctance to rest is often an over-inflated sense of my importance:

“…our Sabbath ceasing has to begin with an honest assessment of how much we keep depending upon ourselves instead of God — so that we can give up and let everything go for a day. But we have such expectations of ourselves. Sometimes it is quite scary to imagine our disillusionment if we were thoroughly to face the genuine reality of our own lives.”

There is also the sense of rest that should be part of our daily rhythm. This requires me to live within my limits — not to rush from one activity to another — and to be content with what I can and cannot do. The old cliche rings true here that we are not human “do-ings” but human “be-ings.” What is my do-ing to be-ing ratio these days?

And of course, there is the broader sense of the term rest that applies to a way of life in Christ. We are called to come to Jesus, to take His yoke upon us, and to find rest for our weary souls (Matthew 11:28-30). This invitation speaks to souls weary because they continually strive to work for what is already given: salvation found in Christ. I can rest because Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient, and I can rest because I am already loved by my Creator God. I can rest because grace is at work, and my work is the overflow of another Life at work within me. My Redeemer’s words call out to me: “It is finished.”  And so I rest.