Spiritual Formation

A Decade of Spiritual Formation

Reflection is such a valuable practice, for in doing so with God we can see things previously hidden or be reminded of things forgotten. It is profound to trace the work of God’s love in one’s life. It is a way to savor what he has been accomplishing and often to renew one’s intentions. If you liken it to looking through a photo book with your mother, or spouse, or child and together relish the memories caught within the pictures, you get a sense of the connection and benefit of such a practice. I like to reflect often for just this reason—it bonds me with my Father. So, this last month I took the opportunity to reflect on my spiritual formation over the previous decade. I wrote about it at anchoredvoices.com where I contribute regularly. It begins:

As 2010 opened, I had a 3-year-old, 2-year-old, and 3-month-old. Pouring myself into these young lives kept me so busy I scarcely noticed the new decade. I remember aching for 2020 when I’d have more independent kids. Motherhood has been the crucible within which I’ve been ground finer and made more malleable. My lessons were learned in the cloister of the bathroom, the blackness of midnight wakings, the raucousness of unfettered kid-fun, the rhythm of school years, and the pervading terrifying honor of showing these little ones how life is done well.

The first five years birthed in me a desperation to hold on to myself and God because caring for these kids felt consuming. So I clung to what I knew—go to church, study (at least read) the Bible, and praying lots of “help me” prayers—but my spirit floundered. My irritability and discouragement were evidence.

Read on for five things that did work in those first five desperate years and five more from the following five years at anchoredvoices.com. 

Posted by k2mulder in Anchored Voices Posts, Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

Faithfulness 2020

What is your faithfulness?

This is a question I’ve learned from the Quakers this year in my spiritual direction training. It’s a gentle question that orients me in confusing situations, carries with it the whisper to look to the triune God for all, and welcomes me to drop into my unique selfhood. It isn’t a mandate, another link in the chain of “should” that weaves and pulls through my life. It is a question asked in trust and respect, honoring the wisdom I’ve gained, acknowledging the weaknesses and limits I have. There is space in it.

As my social media has exploded with proclamations of goals, “#oneword” inspirations, and calls to get on board with jubilant intentions, I’ve struggled to plot my way forward and declare it with confidence. I’m just not clear on it yet. I could easily take one of my numerous ideas and force feed it into production. But I wish to live intentionally into the paths and patterns, the values of God’s kingdom as they take their shape within my particular life. That is not a haphazard endeavor. At this time a settling needs to happen before I can move forward in faith.

This late fall and early winter I’ve been attracted to the gentle laying down of leaves and snowflakes that softly cover everything. Perhaps because it was a lovely counterpoint to the scattering whirlwind of assignments, family schedules, and work responsibilities that persisted week after week, I found myself often staring at a new spill of brilliant yellow gingko leaves, or the emerging tracery of  whitened tree limbs. The soft surrender of leaf and snow released new beauty. Invariably, my shoulders lowered, my breath expanded, and I’d remember God’s presence to me. Like the surrender of leaves or snow, these January days my faithfulness is to still and wait the change of the year, allowing the blanketing leaves of the previous to settle and fertilize the coming one.

 

 

Snow Tracery

By Kimberley Mulder

One of my greatest agitations disturbing this surrender has been that I have not been consistent in writing to you on this blog, and yet I have not found a way to manage it with the other claims on my time. I’ve felt guilty, troubled, and sorrowful about it. I feel my lack of consistency with shame, yet I cannot muster more.

I brought this to the Lord and we had a talk about faithfulness and finitude. As 2019 progressed, I encountered unexpected needs in my family that required my constancy and creativity. I had to make choices between taking care of my body and soul or pushing through to write another post. I chose the former out of respect for my limits–a lesson in humility. He impressed upon me that:

In each moment, I can only be faithful with one thing.

Given all the factors, I had done that to the best of my ability. And with this realization, I released the guilt. New beauty appeared as I saw my life through the loving eyes of God. Then He asked if I had found him steadfast. There were so many, I felt like Elizabeth Barrett Browning in How Do I Love Thee?, “Let me count the ways!” 

And so, as I settle under the blanket of steadfastness from 2019, I can declare my intention to keep asking “What is my faithfulness in this moment?” When I do write, it is with God, and I trust it feeds your soul. When I don’t write, it is with God, and I trust his fidelity to draw you to him to discern your own present moments of faithfulness.

Take the question with you for your new year:

What is your faithfulness?

Grace, mercy, and peace to you in 2020, friend.

Kimberley

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 1 comment

Finding God in Your Everyday

prompts for Instagram #noticeGod

Before I embarked on my second year of seminary and to debrief from the summer I recently spent three days intentionally in silence and solitude. Most of the time I spent noticing the moment I was in. It slows and focuses me to be attentive.

Initially, I notice the taut muscles in my shoulders, the breeze washing my feet, the mossy air I breathe in. From there I progress to birds laughing at jokes in the trees, squirrels cricking the walnut shells open, and the kazoo chorus of invisible insects. I try to think of words to describe the thin and sudden scents that share the air, and I drink with my eyes the mundane splendor of bouncing greenery, rumpled roots, and rippling light. The intermingled life I’m noticing holds a million doors to God, and I hold the master key, we all do—it’s wonder. Noticing brings us to the doorway, wonder walks into the party.

When we spend time entertaining our curiosity, our hearts stir. Something about that bird’s sprinkled song caught your attention—why? What effect does it have on you? A smile, a desire to see the bird, a wish it would be quiet? What does it communicate to you? Is there thankfulness stirring, or did it make you think of something else? Like a cello string thrumming to a bow, emitting its song, the things that strike our hearts bring forth life because they strike at the way we were made to sound, tuning us to the song within, and into joining the song the Lord is singing over us. It is how our story joins in his larger story.

An example from my life comes from my summer class. Our teachers released us in a small rose garden to notice something. Honestly, I was tired and dubious, doing it because it was required. I half-heartedly wandered over to a rose that looked like a sunset wrapped in taffeta. I felt a little foolish just staring at it, gently touching its cool soft petals, and slowly sniffing the light scent. Slowly my attention meandered down to the artery of its life guarded by thick thorns to the profusion of glossy deep green leaves darkening the background. I realized as I lingered, there was a metaphor for me in it.

There would be no glorious blossom without the support, patient growth, proper channeling, and pure usefulness of the overlooked stem. We notice the bright, beautiful, shocking instinctively. But without the careful commitment to linger upon it, we will miss the underlying messages that unlock understanding and life for us. It spoke to me to persevere, remain committed to the slow process of growth, and remain connected to God.

There are wonderful things embedded in every day, but so often we miss them. Something might catch our eye, our ear, and a flutter of feeling arises, but we breeze past it. In the quick clamor of our overstimulated lifestyles, the slow drift of a cloud or the light lapping of water goes unnoticed. We end up attuned to the jarring noises of screams, notifications, honking, and crowded, reverberating bars.What might happen if we paused instead? What within us would rise?

Practicing noticing develops a habit that cultivates patience, receptivity, and creativity. As we name what we notice what gives us life or what doesn’t, we become wise about ourselves, the world, and most importantly, more aware of God.

So for seven days, starting on Sunday, September 8 on Instagram I’m posting and inviting you to post on what you notice that day on the following topics:

prompts for Instagram #noticeGod

 

Join us on Instagram to practice finding God in our every day. Use #noticeGod to find each other and use it to tag your post. Join anytime!

 

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

How do I practice Sabbath?

Last week, I wrote about Sabbath, how “God created us, and he created the spaces for us to inhabit. The creation account in Genesis 1 is of God establishing boundaries and shaping spaces so that all life can flourish in each their given niche…When we acknowledge and value the space and limits he’s given us, we “make space” for God. We can no better create space than we can create the universe. But we can inhabit our space humbly and wisely, thus not abusing the precious life God has given us but welcoming and cherishing it enough to take care of it.” (Click here to read last week’s post.)

This week, I want to give you my example of Sabbath so that you can start to imagine your own.

My governing idea when deciding on what belongs in a Sabbath and what doesn’t is Eugene Peterson’s “pray and play.”1

If it is something that connects me to God or something that delights me, it’s in. If it’s something that is work: job, housework, or buying things, it’s out. Some things are not so straightforward, like volunteering at church or gardening or writing. These are things that are, in some seasons, a joy, but in others, burdensome work. I need to recognize what season I am in to make that call. One thing that makes the cut every time—naps!

If you live with others, family or friends, it is more complicated. I have a husband and three kids whose ideas of praying and playing are different from mine at times. For example, for my extroverted son, play means games with other people. Often we will play a family game, but if my introverted daughter needs time to draw by herself, we don’t force her to play the game. Start with talking about what you each find worshipful and enjoyable. Observe, and have patience as you sort it out.

We designate Sunday as Sabbath, but that might not work for you, especially if you work or volunteer heavily at church. I encourage you to pick a day in the week that fits with your weekly rhythms and aim to be consistent in it. Our bodies and souls respond to rhythms, so it will be easier to stick with and be a richer experience. Many choose to follow a Jewish practice of Sabbath from sundown to sundown, others stick to the calendar day.

If Sabbath is a new practice for you, keep it simple at the beginning: pick a day, then one or two things you want to keep out of the day and one or two things you want to keep in.

To show you how my Sabbaths have evolved with the different seasons in my life, I give you three outlines of mine:

  1. As a college student years ago, I lived with roommates, some of whom observed Sabbath and some who didn’t. We basically went our own ways, but the two of us who consistently observed it would sometimes eat together after church. I went to church in the morning, hung out with friends, went for walks or bike rides, and did NOT do schoolwork, paid work, or practice (I was a music major). If exams were looming, I was sorely tempted to study, but found that sticking to it really helped my brain recover from the strain. During those times, I’d allow myself to study for a few hours after dinner if I had the energy.
  2. As a stay-at-home mom with young kids, since my work was primarily in the house, I would plan and make our food the day before or get something extremely easy to make on Sunday. I would not do any cleaning or laundry (beyond diapers, of course). We would go to church, and after naps we’d often go to a park, play in the snow, or play games. I would read if at all possible.
  3. As a mom, a student, and with a job, I still don’t clean on Sundays. Sometimes I make a good meal because now I don’t spend as much time doing that daily, and I enjoy it. We don’t shop, and we still play games or go outside together. Because I am in seminary, I don’t read much on Sundays. If I do feel like reading, it is always a novel. Instead I paint a picture, listen to music, or talk with others. I don’t do my paid work.
    • A practice we’ve added at my husband’s request, is a Jewish one of ending the Sabbath with something sweet. We don’t usually have dessert, so having a dessert is a reminder that God gave us this delightful gift of Sabbath.
    • After dinner, in place of our usual family devotions, we do an extended one while we sit or lay comfortably in the living room. It is from Jared Boyd’s book Imaginative Prayer which is written to help kids (and adults) engage imaginatively with God.
    • To end the day, Don and I will have a glass of wine.

As you can see, my Sabbaths have evolved, and continue to do so. There are times when they become watered down and activities creep in. When God calls my attention to that, I apologize, and gently but firmly turn myself back to these practices. I don’t beat myself up for it.

Next to daily silence and solitude (for a minimum of ten minutes), this practice of Sabbath has been a primary and foundational way for me, and generations of others, to make space for God—or shall I say, inhabit space with God!

I encourage you to take some time to consider: In this season of your life,

  • What do you consider work?
  • What do you find helps you connect with God?
  • What rests and delights you?
  • What day of the week would work for you to take a Sabbath?
  • What’s one or two things you could do this week to start or deepen a practice of Sabbath?

As always, I love to hear from you: questions, comments, ideas and thoughts are always welcome. If you enjoy my posts, please follow me on Instagram where I share shorter reflections a few times a week—I call them sips, to help us all find God in our every day.

 

1Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, by Eugene Peterson, Eerdmans, 1989.

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 4 comments

Sabbath: A Foothold of Grace

The magnitude of our responsibilities and breadth of our busy-ness often leave us short of breath. I’ve heard recently that we make 35,000 decisions a day! (Thanks, Emily P. Freeman, for that astonishing tidbit!) I will not regale you with a list of how busy we all are, for you know your particulars. In scaling our mountains, we need footholds, niches in the immovable rock face, somewhere to pause, hot-faced and trembling for some deep oxygen before moving on. Our lives depend on it.

How better than to settle our lives on him on whom we depend? God created us, and he created the spaces for us to inhabit. The creation account in Genesis 1 is of God establishing boundaries and shaping spaces so that all life can flourish in each their given niche. First the spaces, then us to fit our niche. In our arrogance, we cling to the mandate to rule over creation in Genesis 1:26, forgetting that in order to fulfill this mandate, God and his order of the world precedes us. We are placed within that order, not over it. We easily usurp God when we think we can do it all, or have to do it all. When God first made us, he didn’t make us slaves to scurry at his bidding with no rights or place to call our own. He made us to walk with him, in his created order, ruling with blessing as we image him. He didn’t say, “Now, go impress me with what you can accomplish!” He said, paraphrasing Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:8, “Tend this space, feast, and walk with me in the garden.”

God foreknew what we specifically would need to flourish, and intentionally created that for us. This extends beyond our spatial domain, the earth and geography, and includes the temporal domain. There are limits on the length of our lives, the length of our days, and he established in the created order the rhythm of six days of work, one day of rest. You could say that it is even part of his essence, certainly important enough for him to model for us. “The Sabbath was created for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, NIV) The Sabbath is gift, made to bless us, but not be controlled by us. We are not God’s gift to rule over the Sabbath. When Jesus spoke these words, he was teaching the legalistic leaders that they were not honoring God with their strident Sabbath. As they controlled every possible outcome with their regulations, they made the Sabbath a jail rather than a spacious, life-giving space. There are people and churches today that do the same. If this is your experience, hear the invitation of Jesus to enter a restful Sabbath, one that delights you as you rest in his goodness. (I would love to hear from you if this is your experience and help you enter the gift of Sabbath.)

But most of us (in Western Christianity today), have the opposite problem of not knowing and valuing God’s established rhythm of life. In that Mark 2 passage, the Pharisees are upset that Jesus’ disciples gleaned a bit of grain as they passed through some fields, hungry from their travels. We are not gleaning out of hunger, but getting up at 5 a.m. to mount our combines and thresh every inch of wheat before the sun goes down again. This goes for our ministry, even. In Matthew 9:35-38, Jesus is busy teaching, preaching, and healing. He talks to his disciples about the busy-ness of ministry. He doesn’t tell them to get moving and help him out, but to “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” His message honors their limits, establishes a deeper dependence on God, and invites others into the collaboration of working with God and each other. Many hands make light work! The creation of his kingdom mirrors the creation of the universe: God is the originator, we have space and a job to do within it that is limited, and those very limits engender a proper dependence and collaboration which results in multiplication!

When we acknowledge and value the space and limits he’s given us, we “make space” for God. We can no better create space than we can create the universe. But we can inhabit our space humbly and wisely, thus not abusing the precious life God has given us but welcoming and cherishing it enough to take care of it.

Take comfort that in the exertion of your life, there are God-given footholds. The Sabbath is a temporal foothold where we rest our weight on God’s provision in deep trust. If you are not in the habit of taking Sabbaths, it can feel very scary indeed to push all the work to the other six days! But this is the first step in clearing our paths of gravel to find the solid rock underneath. The natural formations undergirding our lives are firm, we just aren’t used to walking on them. As we become more familiar with them, we find we are no longer trying to shape the rock, but we are able to work with it, trusting its support, and moving with greater ease.

This is just the beginning of a conversation, and I’d love to hear about your experiences with Sabbath, your questions, and to encourage each other not to make space for God, but honor the space he’s given us. What does that look like in your life? Leave your comments below!

If you’d like to go more in-depth, find examples of Sabbath, wrangle with the many questions that arise around it, I recommend these books:

Sabbath Keeping, by Lynne M. Baab

Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton (especially chapter 8 on Sabbath)

 

 

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Humility, Spiritual Formation, 2 comments

How Do I Know God Loves Me, Personally? My Journey to Knowing I Am Loved

I bided my time as she squeezed me tightly to her, warmth rising at the closeness, and stared listlessly at the jumble of envelopes, scratched notes, and flyers askew on the counter, a lone pen lolling against the backsplash. Punctuating a smile on my face to meet her shining welcome as she released me back to my own presence, I felt relieved with the return of the little gulf that buoyed me to safety.

I keep to myself. It’s less awkward, less dramatic, and less demanding. I don’t feel immobilized like I do tight up in someone else’s power, even when it’s a loving power. Smothered is the word I used when I talked to myself or God. Intimacy seemed more like an oil slick spreading its sticky poison to blanket the sea’s life into suffocated death. And so I evaded, hid, sometimes flew but never far because, well, that’s just not the right way to respond to love, is it? The ebb and flow of what I was comfortable with licked at my heels, threatening to mire my feet. I could not give myself totally to the warmth, to the power, to the discomfort. It was just too much, and I was just too little.

feet running at waters edge for www.kimberleymulder.com

Photo by Genevieve Dallaire on Unsplash

The safest place that was not too far nor too close, was near. I could share a room toiling on a project or reading a book, ensconced where I had only to look up to control my participation. I loved stories because I could feel it all, yet remain outside it. When my tears rose at the suffering of a favorite character or the sacrificial love of a good father, I could close the book. There they remained, at arms’ length where I could flip the page on tenderness, sliding it into place, staid on the page.

The same was true at church. I found God in a book. His character was intriguing, complex, and so right all the time! Every page I flipped gave me something new to consider, to follow, to do. I loved how I could select a passage and tie it to another and follow God’s thoughts. How loving of God to share his thoughts with me, in a book, no less! A book I could open at will—and close. God was delivered to me in such a manageable package.

Included in this package were lessons on how to view myself. I’d use these passages as a mirror, turning it to catch the right angle to see my reflection, but instead I saw a distortion. I knew I was good—I did good things all the time, in fact, I rather thought I was pretty good at being good. Yet the mirror consistently made me look like a freak with narrow, tiny eyes and a ballooned jaw. That didn’t seem like a caring gift from this know-it-all God! I figured I couldn’t find the right angle, and carried on assuredly. Of course God loved me, how could he not? I didn’t look like that weird reflection!

The package came with a brochure, provided by my church. Each page highlighted a people group: the remote hill tribe in a jungled Asian country, the veil of hijabs across the Middle East, the bundles of poor overflowing slums, the angry youth caught in the webbed blocks of large cities. The title of the brochure was—This is Who God Loves. None of them went to church with me. And if I loved God then I would go to whom he loves! Isn’t that why he tucked the brochure in and gave me a love of travel?

It wasn’t until many years later that I could identify the empty middle in this belief. I believed God’s love was always directed away from me, to those who need it more. My church knew little of God’s love, always passing the plate on piously, in false deference to those more needy, in essence saying, “We’re good, we don’t need it, here you take it, you need it.” It fit well with my evasive shyness and my gloried goodness. Like a boulder in a stream, I diverted love to either side, believing I did not need the water myself, that it would even be selfish to take what was meant for others. 

I took this package of God’s love in the suitcase of my heart to unpack and give away. Only, when I got there I discovered they were already fed. I was merely bringing more of the same. Even worse, my prepackaged meal of goodies did not satisfy even my own hunger. For too long I had snacked on candy, getting by. I needed a meal. So God starved me.

I think it is at the brink of realizing our great and real hunger for God that we often turn away because it is terrifying to see this massive canyon in our hearts and hear echoes of our inadequacy bounce from rock to rock. For a year and a half, I stood and paced that canyon, calling and calling. I tried my books, but they did not satisfy. I tried all the good things, prayer and song, but they tumbled like pebbles into the canyon. My spirit was a starving mountain goat while my body was a rebelling animal, unable to digest food and dropping weight as if it were water in a fall. Hunger was my constant companion and my greatest enemy. I did all the right things and they did nothing.

goat looking over canyon for www.kimberleymulder.com

Photo by Harry Burk on Unsplash

My salvation came slowly through the ministration of she who had always held me close. I could not push her away, for I needed her to hold me together. She literally bound my red, pulsing side every day, touching my pain with her tenderness. A mother now myself, I know her suffering was greater than my own. My fears of being stifled by love were unfounded. Her smile was authentically warm, she did not want to stifle me, she merely wanted to love me. In my weakness, I let myself be loved.

My uncle came and prayed with me, but not the endearing supplicant, hands folded, eyes cast down to the linoleum floor as he sat in the green sterilized faux-leather chair across the room. No, he stood, two feet planted as he leaned on my bed, his warm, broad hand on my chilled shoulder, and he told God how his heart broke to see me suffering, his tears manifesting the words in real drip time, and he asked God to break in and heal me.

Though nothing changed dramatically in my body that moment, my spirit calmed and realized that it had the power to enter that canyon and go find food. It was equipped with hooves and a nose that could snuffle out nourishment even in hard places. I began the descent, at last unlocked from the paralysis at the top of the impossible. I, that is my spiritual self, started to do that which I was made for, to go find that which I hungered for. No suitcase this time, no package in my hands, just the gnawing desire in the belly of my soul.

I almost settled for fodder in a barn on the way. For a time I ate at a church like the one I grew up in. It gave me the comfortable satisfaction of feeling full, but the longer I spent there, the more I realized the food was the same and sat in my stomach like a brick. I foraged further up the valley. Right on the river’s edge, I found a wild pasture of a church. There were some familiar plants but also new ones I had never tested. I was afraid I’d eat something that would make me sick, but I also felt satisfied and alive when I ate in that spacious place. The attraction of the semi-wild place eventually corralled me. My emaciated soul nibbled, then chewed, then feasted on abundant life.

Jesus was no longer good to follow, to strive after, instead he sat with me and became real to me, even in my errors, even in my pain, even in physical ways. He wrapped his arms around me and gave me an absolutely real experience of how much he loves me, personally. We are friends, and I can honestly say, no longer embarrassed or unsure, I love him and he loves me. 

My way in to intimacy with God was through hunger, a hunger greater than fear, just like my need for loving care had to be greater than my fear of being smothered. It was only upon entering in that I could see that I was loved, not trapped.

This was a trip that goodness could not make, for goodness relies on knowing what to do and how; it’s controlled and measured like a tour guide following an itinerary. As long as I followed the guide, I couldn’t make a wrong turn, I could always turn the page and find out what’s next. I didn’t realize that I was holding the wrong guide until I stood on the rim, dizzy with my deprivation. Not good enough to figure this out, to solve my hunger, I had to off-road my spirit. I had to embrace the unknown, the frightening, the hope that there was something for me at the bottom and enough to sustain me along the way. I didn’t know how to scale a canyon wall, but I would languish and die on the edge if I didn’t try. Hunger led the way, and love welcomed me to the feast.

Posted by k2mulder in Beloved, Hunger, Spiritual Formation, 2 comments

Still Life for Christmas

As I sit, still, in the curated Christmas décor of my living room, I see in the imperceptibly shifting sunbeam, the motionless candle-powered nativity carousel. Like me, it is locked in still life. In a week, it will be spinning above the flicker of flame, Mary always flowing backward round the center pillar, with Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men chasing her forward, Jesus sleeping blissfully in the middle. Likewise, I will be flitting around the kitchen trying to turn back time to get all the baking done, while my kids chase each other from activity to activity, my husband blissfully enamored with his game on his first day off of work. 

Christmas Carousel for "Still Life at Christmas" for kimberleymulder.com

Christmas Carousel by Kimberley Mulder

In my still life today I consider the stillness. I revel in it and welcome it, especially after the full weeks preceding.

Still life paintings have always repelled and attracted me. In one sense they seem futile—why capture a bowl of fruit on canvas for ages to come? Was the fruit so special it deserved a legacy beyond its ripe lifetime? What message is there in such common things?

What an oxymoron—“still” “life”! Life is, by definition, not still. It is characterized by growth, activity, and change.

In another sense still life artwork captures, and creates, a beauty otherwise missed. We can enter, at any time, a glad contemplation of these exquisite momentary gifts. Their legacy, born of stillness, is the growth of wonder and gratitude, of seeing the world a different way.

On the wall to my left is another nativity scene, inanimate in its painted composition, but it elicits in me wonder and gratitude, focusing me when I am still enough to look at it—to enter it. Frequently it is in stillness that we can find life.

 “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Cody F. Miller's "Birth of Jesus" for "Still Life at Christmas" blog at kimberleymulder.com

Picture of Cody F. Miller’s “Birth of Jesus”

The flurry of our efforts can bring us closer to death, to stillness. When we carelessly rush about, trying to make things happen without considering their purpose, their toll, their role in our lives, we will fray. Our physical bodies will tell us in its relentless mental fog, high blood pressure, aching muscles, headaches, anxious sleeplessness, and more. This psalm was written most likely in the midst of war, in the midst of trying to save themselves from attack, and in the middle of that, he says: “Be still.”

Is your December feeling more like a preparation for a battalion to go to war with all the logistics of schedules, provisions, and preparedness? Is your body trying to get your attention? Is God?

“Be still.”

Your life, body and soul, depend on it.

Be still in God. He’s got this. Like in the psalm, it’s his actions that protect us, provide for us. He wants to be with us. And isn’t that what Christmas is about? Emmanuel—God with us, infusing our lives with the rejuvenating stillness of being together, of faith. The legacy of the still life of our fruit bowl of the soul is a rioting, wild world around us slowly taking notice, as the exquisite characteristics of our still lives in the spirit catch their eyes. And then the rest of verse 10 erupts: “I will be exalted in the earth,” as wonder at our solid faith draws people into their own still and solid lives with Emmanuel.

Posted by k2mulder in Advent, Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

How to Unpack Your Burdens with Jesus

“Come to me, you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your soul. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30

It is hard to receive these life-giving words into our hearts, despite our desperate “I want it!” Why?

There may be many reasons, but mine is most often an unwillingness to unpack my dirty underwear. Let me explain.

I am currently facing too many assignments, far more than I can accomplish in a day than is realistic even if I were not tired, and I am weary from weeks of responsibilities, challenges, and new things. I have deep problems to pray about that require time and attention and energy and intentionality—four things I feel I don’t have. But God does have these. And he is the one that called me into all these labors. So, it’s not that I am to ditch my backpack of calling, job, roles, and labors. All I can do at the moment is labor under it into God’s presence.

So I come, Jesus, I come as I am—overwhelmed, frustrated, tired, and dismayed. And before I confess the various sins that are apparent here, I simply sit with you in this morass, my backpack on but in your presence, for to wrest my burdens from me now would be an act of denial and unacceptance. I don’t want to be too quick to separate myself from something I have allowed to define me. I would only succeed in pretending the pack isn’t there. I’d simply be ignoring it like the so-called elephant in the room. So I sit with the weight of it on my back, acknowledging I’m carrying it.

You see me. You see my discomfort, the exhaustion in my posture, the sweat on the sides of my face and sticking in my hair. You see my desire to do what you’ve asked of me, you see that it is love that first moved me up this mountainside with a pack too heavy. You see my self-condemnation that I am worn out, and I am only at the base of the mountain, my disbelief that I will ever climb the entire thing. You see my worry that I will not figure out how to do this. You see my judgment of my insufficiency—and that that is actually a judgment of you. Now, I’m angry. Angry that you have not equipped me better, angry that you should demand so much of me, angry that there is a cost to my family and to my time spent doing things I like. There is fear that all ahead is dogged drudgery instead of the joy that first led me to take all this on. There is fear that the joy you’ve unearthed for me the last few years is now going to suffocate under a massive pile of responsibility and trial.

I’ve come to you and I’m unpacking my bag. I am not confessing or asking forgiveness—yet. That will come after I’ve unpacked the burden of these emotions and thoughts. They tumble helter skelter about me as I audaciously toss each crumpled emotion out of the pack like dirty underwear. You wanted me to come to you and unpack my burden? Well, here you go, the unedited, unpacked me.

And still you are there, unoffended, patient, watching me without incredulity or judgment or bated breath. You knew what I had packed in my bag. You knew I’d be at this point on my journey and you met me here. You aren’t looking away, embarrassed and uncomfortable. Rather, you are relieved, glad, welcoming. You get up from where you’ve been listening, reach for my hand with a smile, and invite me to keep walking.

“But what about my stuff? Aren’t we going to deal with that? Shouldn’t I pick it up?”

“No, leave it there. Let’s walk.”

Two people walking up hill

Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas from Pexels

 

Posted by k2mulder in Being Present, Spiritual Formation, 2 comments

Step Aside A Moment

When life is coming at you full-on force, clarity and intention drain away in the torrent like watercolors bloated with water. The picture we were so carefully painting becomes nondescript, even unrecognizable.

water spray window

Photo by Kimberley Mulder


These weeks tailing our summer feel like this, and I am gasping. At a time when I have emptied my reserves, I find I must rally all strength—not to push through the onslaught necessarily, but to shelter and rest.

Automatically, I push back at force to prove you can’t get me down, and it can seem too vulnerable to go with the flow. It requires strength of spirit, mind, and will to step aside into a quiet space, remember and renew my intentions, and trust I am not losing ground as I catch my breath.
But in these lulls Jesus blots the swollen, running colors until the picture is recognizable again. He is creating my life with me and it is his brushstroke that becomes permanent on my page, not the tearing, striking stormrains motley mess.

So step aside a moment today, take a breath, clear your vision, and let Jesus paint your picture.

Shortly after writing this first part I stopped at the lake nearby to clear my mind. God gave me a speech in the fluid painting of sky, the rush of cloudburst, the whisper of water lapping, the silent wing of swallows, and the flow of colors mutely inscribing awe as it seeped into my heart’s depth with their molten heights. 

sunset over Alum Creek

Photo by Kimberley Mulder

My heart rested in new understanding, in something I didn’t even know I needed to know until God said it through his sunset speech. A sudden intuitive understanding rose within like the glowing gilding of the clouds in relief before me, causing my own cloudburst of relieving tears. And as the sun sank beyond my horizon, I laid some things to rest that had passed away and needed to be let go.

Now the new day can rise without the burden of the old.

I encourage you to turn aside into quiet pockets when life is blasting you with busy-ness or trial to reorient yourself and receive Jesus’s loving strength.

 

I hope and pray you are encouraged by these blog posts, and that your quiet soul is thriving. I want to provide more resources for you, and to do that I have a short questionnaire for you to give me feedback. If you would take a moment to fill it out, it will help me bless you as I build and grow this little ministry. Thank you!

Click here to access the questionnaire.

Also, I am embarking on my Master’s in Ministry at Portland Seminary starting in a week! As I become more equipped to assist you with your spirit thriving, I will need to dial back my blog posts to twice a month rather than weekly. As always, feel free to contact me, comment, share my posts on Facebook, and follow me on Instagram @writerkimberleymulder. I will often write short, in-the-moment, thoughts and observations on Instagram, so it’s a good way to stay in touch.

Posted by k2mulder, 0 comments

Jesus is Present to You

It is such a gift when someone really listens to you. You can tell by her uncrossed arms, attentive eyes, and thoughtful questions. She makes you feel welcomed, validated, and loved. Somehow this friend has succeeded in putting aside her preoccupations, her concerns, her agendas, her life, for you!

She asks a question, born of her careful listening, that stuns you with clarity, like sunlight suddenly caught and intensified through a magnifying glass, bearing down on your soul with brilliant accuracy. Maybe her question broke open a festering wound, maybe it sealed an ache with healing, maybe it removed obstacles and shone a way forward, maybe it released you from a prisoning thought, but in some way the Holy Spirit used her attentiveness to bring you closer to Him. She ministered to and served you with her willingness to truly listen.

Two people listening on a park bench

Photo by Kaboompics.com from Pexels

“For even the Son of Man did not come expecting to be served by everyone, but to serve everyone…” Mark 10:45 TPT

Jesus had a way of paying such close attention that he got under people’s walls and defenses. He was so in tune with people’s souls that he frequently asked questions they themselves didn’t realize they needed to be asked. These questions were often so accurate that people felt uncomfortable and vulnerable in his presence. Sometimes they couldn’t stand it and walked away, like the rich young man in Mark 10. Others braved the awkwardness, intrigued by Jesus, and trusted his take on them, which always resulted in a freed and rejoicing person.

The Samaritan woman (John 4) who could have bristled defensively at Jesus’ insight into her adultery is a dramatic example of this. Instead, she responded to Jesus’ insight because he knew her so well, yet didn’t avoid her, even inviting her to know him. Had Jesus been consumed by his own thirst, sore feet, and getting to Galilee rather than being available to listen and speak into this jaded lady’s problems, she would never have known the grace of God.

Very rarely did Jesus command anyone without having listened to them. The majority of his interactions were with people coming to him, coming into his presence and asking him questions, to which he listened and most often answered with another question meant to make them consider their hearts, souls, and wills.

People swarmed him, inundating him with requests for healing, and peppering him with moral tests. He so often asked the simplest of questions, like “What do you want?” or “What do you need?”

He could see that he had to demonstrate how God is present to them, listening and aware of their depths even more than they were aware of themselves, because his agenda was for people to be with him. He made Presence his agenda.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” John 15:4

He wants nothing more than to be with you, today and forever. He wants to be present to you, and you to be present to him. Being with you is Jesus’ greatest desire! His agenda is to serve you with his presence and you to serve Him with yours.

So, take five minutes to imagine Jesus sitting with arms uncrossed, eyes focused and attentive on you, really listening. Then, what thoughtful (maybe pointed!) question does he ask you? Sometimes you will feel the question before you hear the words. Welcome the feeling (even if it’s uncomfortable) and allow him to clarify into words what is going on inside of you.

As you regularly practice being present with Jesus, you will find that you are less preoccupied with your own things, able to really listen to others and to Jesus at the same time, so that He is able to speak through you and minister to others.

 

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Being Present, Spiritual Formation, 0 comments