Saturday, January 30, 2016

Staying In Love With God

At church we have been hearing messages that outline good principles to live by for 2016.  Last Sunday (and tomorrow too) the principle is "Stay in Love with God."  Ten years ago living this "rule" looked a whole lot different from living it now.  That was before I stepped into full-time motherhood.  There is a very real sense in which I know this is the most important work I will ever do.  At the same time, it is very unglamorous, very mundane, and often with a good measure of every kind of exhaustion imaginable.  Staying in love with God looks so much different when so much of my life belongs to the needs of others.

I am a contemplative at heart.  I think and feel deeply about things.  But I need time and space to ruminate.  Both can often be in short supply around my house.  I came away from worship last Sunday with the embers of my heart stirred, yet also wondering how a mother with her hands full would deliver that same message.  Then God seemed to tap me on the shoulder, reminding me that not only am I a mom with hands full, I also have an M. Div.  It was like Jesus was asking me to preach the sermon I most needed to hear. 

Staying in love with God begins with the Beginner.  God begins the love.  Always.  I forget it so many times.  The way I forget my husband or my boys love me.  I get so accustomed to their presence.  They are the staples in my day that get me through, that help me stay balanced and focused on the tasks before me.  Yet in pushing through the tasks I sometimes forget the treasures.  Just like I forget God has loved me before I even knew the first thing about love.  But that doesn't even touch on the truth of who God is for us:  God is crazy in love with us!  God's heart beats with love for us we cannot even articulate.  Not sure how it is for men, but I believe women most respond to lavish love.  We want to be cherished and treasured.  We want someone to notice and appreciate who we are.  We want someone to get everything about us.  This is who God is in our lives.  Can you hear the cadence of God's heart in these words:  "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you" (Jeremiah 31:3).  They are spoken in the heart of exile, when the people of God have fallen so far away that they have to be physically removed from their inheritance so that they can remember once again whose they are and who they are.  But even when they have fallen away, God remains steadfastly committed to loving them through to a new beginning.  It helps to know that God is loving me, even on my wits end kind of days, when the best of me is gone and all I have to offer the ones I love are sad leftovers.  To know that I am cherished even then helps somehow.  It makes the mundane Holy, not because I am ever enough, but because God is always enough.

When I am not situating my life around the needs of my boys, I work part-time at our church's preschool.  I teach, but I also lead chapel services for our whole school.  Each week I get to lead little ones in worship and bring a message from the Bible in a way that ignites their imaginations and helps them understand who God is.  This past week we looked at the story where Jesus feeds the five thousand.  It is lunch time and the disciples don't know what to do.  There are so many hungry people around and the resources needed to fill their hungry bodies do not exist.  But while all the grown-ups are looking at what they don't have, a little boy is offering to Jesus the little bit that he does have.  Sharing the story of the five loaves and two fish has been so powerful for me in the wake of being jolted into an awareness of my own spiritual poverty.  I've been reminded that God doesn't expect my spiritual life to look like what it did back when I was a pastor with an ability to arrange my life around regular spiritual disciplines.  God isn't asking us to give what we don't have.  God is inviting us to bring the little we do have so that it can be transformed into something substantial and filling.  The little in Jesus' hands is changed into more than enough.  Jesus just needs our willingness to bring Him the smallness that we live with, not the abundance we long for.  So I've been figuring out how to do that.  I don't usually have large segments of time to read scripture.  What I do instead is to write some key verses that speak to the season I am in onto loose leaf paper.  Then I tape it to my bathroom mirror.  While I brush my teeth I read the words that give me hope and remind me where God is.  It is a small thing that imprints His truth in my heart.  I am often surprised at the times it returns to me with a nudge of the Holy Spirit.  I am finding when I make  pockets for the Holy in my regular routine, even something so small can provide an opening where God can speak. 

About five years ago my world as I knew it came apart.  While other events in my life had leveled me in powerful ways, I had never felt so upended with unknowns.  I didn't know how things would shake out and if things would ever be okay.  Somewhere in the middle of all the turmoil I began to ask myself how far I could trust God.  Could I trust God with the next four minutes?  While trust seemed impossible in the face of so many unknowns, I found I could trust God in smaller increments.  And as time went on, I began widening my trust.  Four minutes became four hours.  Four hours turned into four days.  Slowly I began to regain a  sense of God's presence holding  and helping  where most needed.  Those hard days taught me that there is often more at play than what the eyes can see.  As I explained it to my husband, we may feel like Jonah stuck in the belly of the whale, but that whale is going places.  God is often doing an unseen work within, around, and through us.  This is why faith is so critical.  Especially when it comes to staying in love with God.  God knows where we are and is vitally interested in keeping us connected.  As I look at the year stretching ahead, I know my own weakness; I know I am "prone to wander, Lord I feel it."  But the Holy Spirit has been reminding me that God is bigger than my weakness.  He is a jealous Lover and will not let me go long without reminding me of Himself.  I can trust Him to do that.  He has a great track record in our history together of bringing me back to Him.  Why would He stop being Who He has always been?  Why would His everlasting love cease to be everlasting?   Life doesn't have to feel super holy to be Holy.  God doesn't have to feel near to be Present.  And I don't have to be great at this spiritual connection thing to be connected.  The truth is that what this year needs most is a God who is bigger than my limitations, and a me that is willing to respond to the overtures of a Love that will not leave me to my own devices.

It's kind of like a sandwich isn't it?  God's Love inspires our response of faithfulness, and then God's Faithfulness sustains our love.  We are smack dab in the middle of a Love that will not let us go.  I think the biggest thing God needs and wants from us is to lean on Him, to bring Him our failures and misgivings, to show Him our desperation when we feel we are beyond our abilities to manage the mundane.  For all the moms out there who would love to stay in love with God, but aren't quite feeling the love because they are surrounded by commotion that renders them senseless, know that you are not alone.  We are all in this together, and God is in it all.