A Child Again

 

I propose that within every adult is a desire to be a child again. What is more, that desire is not something to hide or ignore, rather, it is the very desire that leads us to live fully, that gives us access to Life – our Father.

Take a look at what gives you delight (and if you aren’t sure anymore, then dig into this question and find it back!). Is it hanging out with people you care about? Is it being silly and playing games? Or perhaps it is getting wrapped up in a good story, or exploring, or discovering something new. Don’t you feel alive then, so much so that you’ve likely lost your self-consciousness? You are wrapped up in the fun and wonder of it, the clock no longer exists, and the “shoulds” and “have-to’s” have lost their hold on you.

Ironically, it was during the years of my children being very little that I lost my desire to be a child. I still had it, I just couldn’t find it. I remember hearing from other mothers how having children gave them an excuse to play and be like a child – they were fulfilled and glowing with their role. I, on the other hand, found it very difficult to play with the kids. I have since learned that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be as a child, I just take delight in other things – many of which are difficult to do with very young kids. The few that I could do with them I dove into almost with a fearful tenacity, as if my life depended on it.

I didn’t realize it then, but it did.

Those delights kept me sure of my good Father, kept me connected, kept me comforted in an otherwise dull and difficult season. A mom of young kids easily becomes overwhelmed with all the nitty gritty care of these wee ones – it is a laundry list of “shoulds” and “musts” that easily drowns the exhausted spirit not buoyed by surety that someone good and loving and greater than her is caring for her.

When we do the things that make us feel a child again, we often feel that someone good and loving and greater than us is caring for us.

Because we don’t know this, or we don’t like it, we hide or ignore our desire to be as a child. In so doing, we hide or ignore our Father, our greatest caregiver and chance of living fully.

You may have heard the oft-quoted idea that everyone was created with a God-shaped hole in them that only God can fill. Jesus was describing this idea in John 7:37-39:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice,“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit…

“From within them” is from the Greek word koilia which means belly, stomach, womb and, by extension, means feelings and emotions. It is an empty place meant to be filled. It is the spiritual place from which comes hunger and thirst, and into which is poured grace and love so that we can birth the same. Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable; in other words, by God himself. (VII(425))

When you come to Jesus as a child, he fills this craving hole. No matter how old we are, we are still God’s children. It is a fundamental part of our identity. He made us to be dependent on Him, to receive His care, and enjoy being with Him.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:12-13

The things that help you be as a child are access points to your Father.

What helped me out of my difficult season was rediscovering childlike delight. Things like cross-country skiing, reading The Lord of the Rings, exploring a new park. As I did those things I would always receive a sense that my Father was there with me, enjoying these things with me. Sometimes that sense was overwhelming and I would weep. There is a tree in the park I ski in that has witnessed many times of tears of wonder and gratitude. Slowly, but surely, through these good, delightful, childlike things, I was warmed and reassured of my Father’s care until it was no longer a rare feeling or a struggling belief.

Had I not done those things and continued determinedly on in my very great responsibilities I would have drifted further and further from the experience and knowledge of my Father’s care – not that it would have actually been gone, but I would not have known it, and I would have remained desperately hungry. And when we are desperately hungry, but do not take action to get the nourishing food, we will eat anything; we will become indiscriminate and selfish in our “hangry” state. It is here that the world lives, sadly. And so we see adults driven by selfishness, acting like tantrumming two-year-olds, trying to drown the emptiness rather than be filled. We adults have believed the lie that we must do it all, we are on our own, with no one to care for us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We see in Mark 10:13-15 Jesus’s strong response to those who withhold children from him:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

So let us not hide or refuse our desire to be a child before God. Like a mother and a father hurt by the fact that their child wouldn’t come to them for help, Jesus is angered by this! He wants us near, he wants to give us the kingdom, he wants to pour his love into our empty places.

 

 

Fasting for Lent

Are you starving for love? Maybe you are hoping to get flowers or chocolate or at least a card today, since it is Valentine’s Day. Maybe you are heartbroken, torn by death or distance. Maybe you are just wondering if you’ll ever know what it’s like to be beloved. Most of us are looking for love in some way, shape or fashion.

There once was a guy who had found love, and then walked into a desert alone because of it. He went without food and water for forty days. He was not protesting a spurned love, nor was his love tormenting him. Rather, he was demonstrating love, but without sonnets, flowers, or a diamond ring. Instead he almost died. And right when he was at the brink of death, he refused to eat because if he had he would have broken the heart of his beloved. His going hungry drove him deeper into love. And in that deep place of great need and great Love, where just licking a lip cost precious energy, the mouth of God whispered the life-sustaining words through parched and cracking lips:

Bread alone will not satisfy,
but true life is found in every word,
which constantly goes forth from God’s mouth.” (Matt. 4:4 TPT)

His name was Jesus. He faced the deceiver in great, emaciating hunger so that His strength and love would meet us in ours.

When we are hungry, be it physical or spiritual, we are sorely tempted to fill it with anything. This is the great temptation of hunger: end it, and end it now. We become generalists, making do with anything that promises to fill us, rather than enduring the pain and discomfort to be filled with the particular, life-giving nourishment we need.

I eat at the slightest hint of hunger. For a few months I was on a strict diet and I had to learn what it felt like to be hungry, and push myself to endure it for an hour (just an hour!). I learned how to be aware of my “hangry” mood and not let it gain control, and I learned the joy of being filled with nutrition after being empty. Sometimes I have to force myself to pass the drive thrus that line the road home, saying no to instant gratification so that I can say yes to healthy food at home and yes to my health.

Sometimes I have to say no to drive thru prayers and make myself sit in God’s presence for fifteen minutes, an hour, to feed my soul. It can be too easy to read a Bible passage for two minutes and call it good for the day. It’s not that it’s not good, it’s just that that’s like grabbing a lollipop for a sugar high when I need a solid meal.

There is a lot of deception in quick things: quick prayers, quick devotions, quick food. Soul growth is slow growth. There is no quick way of the soul. It is a quality endeavor, one that requires deep nourishment, and deep hunger.

We need to do without, like Jesus did; to hold out for the good stuff, like Jesus did; to bank our very lives on the very best, like Jesus did; then we will taste and see that the Lord is good, that His feast awaits us and it is the very best. It takes a monumental amount of trust to lay back down into emaciation and deep hunger when one has the power to fill the terrible emptiness. So, rather than grabbing my Bible to scan through a Psalm, I wade back in to the wrestling prayer, the waiting prayer, into the places where He is challenging my understandings. I take the hours to reflect, listen, question and worship.

When we refuse to stuff our souls with the equivalent of cotton candy – feel good quips and quick answers – we are exercising our trust that God will fill us with something more satisfying — Himself. And that He will, for He, the bread of life, withstood temptation in near starvation so that you and I could be nourished.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and traditionally a time of fasting. Lent is representative of Jesus’ forty-day temptation in the wilderness and begins with the account I wrote of above. Only God can fill our spirits with hearty nourishment, and if our bodies need to go without in order to grasp that, then follow into the fast.

Christians around the world for centuries have practiced fasting in order to stimulate the spiritual appetite. It is to make us aware of our actual poverty, which so often goes unnoticed in our lives of bloat.

If the Lord is leading you to fast, whether from a particular food or a meal a day or some other way, meet Jesus in this simple act of faith, trusting his nourishment of your soul and your body as you do so. As you experience physical hunger, may its sharp pains trigger your remembrance of Him who endured forty days out of love for you. He went through it to protect you, to rescue you, to show you his love. He let his own hunger for restored relationship drive him to demonstrate his love in self-sacrifice.

Some cautions regarding a fast:

  1. For some a fast can be dangerous – for example, if you suffer an eating disorder. Or if you are tempted to prove your faith with a fast. Be honest and do not undertake a fast if these apply to you. Do not be ashamed if this is you! The Lord wants your heart and your healing, and he will lead you in grace. For some a fast would be chains and slavery, not the way to freedom. So listen to the Lord in this, and follow accordingly.
  2. Being hungry is not a sign that God has forgotten you, left you to your own devices, or no longer cares for you. Quite the opposite, being hungry is a sign that He wants to meet you in weakness, that he wants to fill you with truth, and that you can rely on him.
  3. Just because you are led to fast does not automatically mean you will have mountaintop experiences with the Father. You might, but you might not. Jesus had thirty-nine days of increasing agony, and three great temptations before the angels were sent to minister to him. But when we fast, when we are led into our hungry wildernesses, we do go with him who is with us all the time, and we go with our hunger guaranteed to be met.

Fasting is a soul strengthener, a road to finding true nourishment. May you walk it in the company of grace and find the nourishment of your soul. I leave you with the words of Psalm 107:1-9 (TPT):

Let everyone give all their praise and thanks to the Lord!
Here’s why—he’s better than anyone could ever imagine.
Yes, he’s always loving and kind, and his faithful love never ends.
So, go ahead—let everyone know it!
Tell the world how he broke through
and delivered you from the power of darkness and
has gathered us together from all over the world.
He has set us free to be his very own!
Some of us once wandered in the wilderness like desert nomads,
with no true direction or dwelling place.
Starving, thirsting, staggering,
we became desperate and filled with despair.

 Then we cried out, “Lord, help us! Rescue us!” And he did!

 He led us right into a place of safety and abundance,
a suitable city to dwell in.
So lift your hands and thank God for his marvelous kindness
and for all his miracles of mercy for those he loves.
How he satisfies the souls of thirsty ones
and fills the hungry with all that is good!

Three Questions to Ask When Your Spiritual Appetite Has Disappeared

Apparently over a quarter of the students at my kids’ school are absent this week due to the invasion of influenza. We, too, have succumbed. And along with it our appetites have disappeared.

Sometimes our spiritual appetite disappears too. Praying, reading the Bible, going to church feels like eating dry crackers without water. Guilt sets in, further alienating us from living water. Like when we are physically sick, we’d rather go lie on the couch watching TV.

What do you do when your appetite for God is near-gone?

First, stop trying to evade it or to increase your efforts to feign hunger. Accept it, face it, and sit with it. It will be uncomfortable, but you need to know what is causing the loss of appetite. Its remedy depends on it. Then ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you exhausted? Have you been taking care of yourself? Relationships require energy, even your relationship with God. Fatigue and exhaustion can be great spiritual appetite suppressants. If this is you, give yourself grace and ask for the Lord’s help to rest. If the exhaustion is due to your choices and commitments, admit and confess them, then listen for His guidance on what to keep and what to get rid of. If the exhaustion is not of your making, then let your exhaustion lead your appetite with the prayer: “Lord, may my desire for rest draw me to You, the true resting place for my soul. Fill me with your rest, and as you replenish me, show me who You are. Thank you for your gift of rest and care.”
  2. Are you busy? Is there something that you are allowing to take center stage in your life? Something that is demanding lots of your mental energy? Something distracting and all-consuming? It could be a good endeavor, it could be a temptation, it could be an overwhelming circumstance of life. Whichever it is, allow Jesus to walk on the stage and direct you regarding it. He may say to cleanly turn away from it (as in the case of temptation), he may say to allow him to control it (as in the case of overwhelming circumstances), he may say something else. The key is to let him enter it, let him speak to you about it. Then you can discern whether you’ve been stuffing your appetite with a substitute, or you’ve simply been ignoring your hunger.
  3. Is it that you are bored? Maybe you have been following the same Bible reading plan, going to the same church service, doing the same things, and it has become too comfortable. In this case, change things up. Change the time of day you regularly pray, or take a walk, or read a different translation of the Bible (I especially like using The Message or the The Passion Translation for their more modern language). Try a different way to serve: volunteer for kids ministry or serve in a food pantry. Try practicing meditative prayer or lectio divina. Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home is especially helpful for learning what these and other prayer forms are and then employing them in your life. I am looking forward to reading Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson which also converses on just such topics. Like reaching a plateau with your exercise routine because your muscles have gotten too used to it, your spiritual routine needs to change too. We need to stretch and challenge ourselves in new ways. When you change a workout regimen, you also change your appetite through new stimulation.

How did you recognize that you weren’t hungry for God and what did you do about it? Do you have any resources you recommend? Please share in the comment section below this post, I’d love to hear from you!

When Fear Holds Hunger in Its Teeth

Last week I wrote about how I discern the voice of fear and the voice of Love. This week we are starting our month-long focus on “Hunger” and how it pertains to a centered life. I am sharing from my personal experience and hope that it stimulates your hunger for God!

I have written the following in truth and love, especially for my heritage. It is not glamorous, in fact, it may be painful to some. But I am trying to illumine what God has shown me as He has wrought more freedom into my life. I pray for your freedom as you read.

I grew up in a church community that valued, rightly so, giving and sacrificing for those less fortunate. Many of us were immigrants or children of immigrants with stories of making do and frugality forming our families. There were a lot of unsung, hard-working heroes in our family tree.

But somehow, in the trenches of making a living in a new land, the hunger that everyone had come with became buried under the work of our hands, the ache of the labour, and the strains of limitation. And it was buried in our spirits too.

Though hunger for freedom, for more, for a better life had driven our grandparents across the Atlantic ocean, that hunger went underground as they built their new life. It became inappropriate to want more in life: whether in the making of money or thirsting for God. As we became guardians of the status quo, God felt more distant. Like a knot of hunger in the stomach, our spirits hardened.

We were self-righteous in our mandated contentment. There were whispers of judgment regarding other churches, born of fear. We didn’t understand what they were experiencing as we heard of healings and changed lives. We were fearful of it, fearful of the powerful hunger that drove those people, not realizing that we had the same hunger held underground by our fear.

Only through resentment did we notice our hunger: other churches were growing, why weren’t we?

To desire more was evil ambition and arrogance. Desire was a fearful thing! For those who paid attention to the hunger in their spirits, there were few communal tables at which to gather. By God’s grace, there were a few, and life grew there. I ate with them, I hungered with them, and God met us.

We must allow ourselves to feel our hunger, to stand in it, not run away from it or bury it. It is the gnawing center of life in which we receive the bread of Life. God would not have given us hunger if it did not serve His purposes. That goes for bodily hunger as well as soul hunger. As we are filled, we are empowered. Motion can follow.

Sometimes we must allow our spiritual hunger to push us to immigrate to new places.

The word “desire” has forward movement inherent within it. It is the motion of attraction, like two magnets drawing together. God gave us desire to move us toward him. Desire is a gift, not a curse.

Our fears must not be allowed to control our hunger. The only fear God gave us is the fear, the awe and wonder, of Him; all others are hounds from our enemy. When we put hunger in control of fear it will eat up obstacles in its ravenous power. Let your hunger for God loose, feed it, and fear will cower!

The truly hungry do bold things that they would never do when satisfied. Dissatisfaction can be the Lord’s invitation into the bold changes of His kingdom.

Yes, we need to develop contentment in our souls, but there is a magnet in discontent that will pull us there.  The uneasy, discontented sensation of hunger is the invitation to the soul to find its true food.

In Luke 10, when Mary dropped her duties as host (much to her sister Martha’s consternation!) to go listen to Jesus, she was giving reign to her spirit’s hunger trusting it would find its satiation in the words of this visitor, Jesus.

If you suffer a squelched spirit do not settle in a false contentment saying “This is all there is, I am okay here.” This is where our hunger helps us discern between good and best. God wants our BEST which is good for us, but we often settle for what is GOOD thinking it’s the best. Fear wiggles into power ever so subtly in this situation. Fear says to the squelched spirit: “This is good enough, who am I to want more? I am denying God’s gracious gifts if I want more.” Rather, admit your hunger, and tell God. He is delighted to meet you in your hunger! It is through our hunger that Jesus works to reconcile us to himself. For it is His great desire to be reconciled with us.

On earth Jesus’ hunger fueled his every action. His hunger for reconciliation enabled him to say “No” to temptation in the desert, endure the whips, spears and nails, fit infinity into finity, feed five thousand with five loaves and two fish, and befriend and disciple many in three years. What will your hunger enable you to do as you are filled to all fullness with the bread of life?