future

When We Are Separated: Hope in the Waiting

My Dad sat in the white wicker chair facing east, slouched with leg hung loosely over the other, white tuft of hair rising like a wave at its crest. In his hands rested the book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, and on the mint green carpet lay his Bible. Usually I quietly tiptoed by the sunroom to not disturb his quiet with God, but when I ventured in, he welcomed me with a smile. Occasionally, I’d sit on the step leading into the room and ask what he’d read. He’d share a nugget of thought for us to mull in the dawning of the day. Nearly every morning I could find him like this—twenty-five years ago. Death has separated us for over twenty years.

This Easter weekend, we situate ourselves deeply in the remembrance of separation—the confusion of the not yet. We live in the shock of our hope disappearing, the bottom falling out of our expectations, and the darkness of being separated from the One we love. We take our place alongside the disciples standing at a distance, powerless to stop the horror of Him who we love being crucified and gone.

This year, we may be feeling this with more emotion because we find ourselves separated from each other as well. For some of us, we are facing an abyss of isolation and loneliness. Perhaps we are longing to be with a friend who, like you, is home alone. Or you are longing for someone who has died. Or you are longing for God. These absences reveal our longings and they are invitations—to remember and find what we need in our memories and allow them to inform our present and future.

During the stay-at-home orders of this pandemic, I know many who are separated from their grown children, some who have ailing parents who cannot be visited, multitudes who cannot be with co-workers, others who lead and care for unreachable populations. This is deeply painful. We are in some degree of grief. Like the devastated disciples who hid after Jesus’ execution (John 20:19-20), cut to the heart and unsure of what is next, we are afraid for each other’s lives in the turmoil. Perhaps it would be helpful to stop a moment and drop into how this is true for you.

Who are you longing for?

How are you experiencing separation and grief?

Where is it in your body?

What love or care is it revealing in you?

Talk to God about this person—your memories, what you are thankful for, what you miss, and what their life means to you now?

A friend told me that one of the most poignant sadnesses he is carrying is the sudden separation from his cherished students. The state-mandated stay-at-home order descended before he could bless and encourage them. He cannot visit or call them. So he talks with God about them. My friend is genuinely caring for whomever he is with. He is a person who is wholeheartedly present.  Much like Jesus. For those who loved him, his presence was profoundly welcoming, like coming home.  When he died, I imagine the disciples were in excruciating pain.

But Jesus had said, “It is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you.” (John 16:7)

We do not know yet what good may come of our present-day separations, but we can be sure that God is “working all things together for good for those who love him.” (Romans 8:28) It may seem impossible that this severance from adult children, ailing parents, students, church members, and co-workers could result in good because we are suddenly stripped of many of our powers of helping and being helped.  Just like the disciples, we feel powerless in this tragedy, orphaned. Where is the goodness? We must wait in our abandonment, allowing this strange space to sharpen our senses, our desires for what’s really important. God is working, making a way to become better known.

When I revisit my Dad in my memory of our Florida room talks, I feel welcomed to wonder, to ask questions, to open my heart, and to encounter God. My Dad’s presence, way of being, and love encourages and steadies me even in our separation. In the waiting, we reach back for our anchors so that we can chart our course forward, under the counsel of him who has been released to us by Jesus’ great faith to step out of our lives. His stepping in and stepping out tore the curtain of separation and made the way for us to be forever adopted. That is worth remembering. That is an anchor that holds us fast for whatever the future holds.

Posted by k2mulder in Encouragement, 0 comments

Peace Be With You in 2019

On the precipice of 2019, before we delve into the thickets of the everyday for another year, we consider what faces us. We may be surveying a clear-cut trail that marches off to the horizon, but more likely we see a wilderness. For some it is covered with fog, for others with threatening storm clouds, for a few with dancing sunshine. Regardless, no one knows truly what lies ahead. We all stand looking at an unknown future, and for you, as it is for everyone, that produces anxiety. Every one of us has anxiety at some level about the future. We may not feel it exactly now, or we may be embroiled in the risen blood pressure, sleeplessness, and aching shoulders that accompany it.

As I’ve interacted with a lot of people over these final weeks of 2018, over and over again, I have found the need to pray peace and mercy into their lives—into YOUR lives! I’ve considered many different year-beginning posts, and this is what I felt Jesus wanted to speak into you and your year:

Peace be with you.

Peace be with you, now, and in all the “now’s” that follow, for each step of the journey into the year—for the trembling tiptoes, the aching shuffle, the crippled effort, the leaping plunge, the daring stride, the mundane pace, the exuberant skip, the delighted dance—peace be with you.

My friends, sometimes we have to close our eyes to the vastness before us to better sense who is with us now. There is much to distract, overwhelm, or terrify our hearts when we try to take it all in at once. So, if you are looking ahead into 2019 and it raises your heart rate with fear, close your eyes, breathe deep breaths, and consider that Jesus is looking at you with love. Whatever 2019 holds, it is a sequence of “now” moments. If we can meet Jesus in our present moments, our future will unfold with peace. Don’t look for him in the future, look for him right now.

My 2018 was full of new and challenging things, full of anxieties and new trajectories, each of which tugged at me to rocket off into an orbit in order to see it from all angles and gain control of these unseen possibilities. It was a constant struggle despite the excitement of the good things happening. If I choose this, then what are all the possible outcomes? If I choose that, then how will that affect this? If I could just see what’s next, then I could make a decision now!

It took a lot of courage to still myself in the midst of this, to exercise my will to trust God in all things by forcing a landing in my comfortable orange chair, feet flat, deep breath in and out, the words “Be still and know that I am God” hanging on each motion of my lungs (Inhale—be, exhale—still, and so on) for five minutes. (I wrote more on this in my post on “Courage Amid the Worries”)

Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

I discovered that I truly do have an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1), and even more cherished, that I am beloved. This simple practice that is now daily has done more for my sense of God’s personal love and delight in me, for assuredness that he is for me and with me, and that he is trustworthy, than any other practice. This has become foundational for my days and I pray it becomes yours.

My #oneword365 for 2018 was “courage”. I thought it would mean courage to move in new directions, to try new things, and it did, but far more so, it meant courage to be still.

Take heart, my friends, to enter 2019 with your eyes closed, your breath reaching into your toes, and your heart focused on Jesus’s love for you right now as you take your first steps.

Peace be with you.

Posted by k2mulder in Being Present, Courage, 2 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

Why should a Christian practice “being present”?

For some Christians, practicing being present sounds too other religion-y, too “out-there”, too vague. To Christians who love the “go” of the gospel, who find purpose in a mission, and joy in activity, being told to “be present” is too inactive, even a trap of the devil to stop the forward motion of the kingdom. Aren’t we supposed to be looking forward to Jesus’ coming and the full expression of his kingdom? Yes, we are. Aren’t we supposed to turn from our old selves? Yes, we are. But these are not the only aspects of following Jesus. We follow him today, too.

So, why is it important for a Christian to be present? And what does it mean?

First, although God spoke the Bible into being in the past, His word is alive and active today. He has also embedded every “today” with his presence. In Hebrews 4:7, 9-12a, it says:

God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David,…

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish… For the word of God is alive and active.

When you read a certain passage and it strikes you as especially pertaining to you in the moment, that is the Holy Spirit speaking today.

To those who are compelled to go and tell, do and act, it is important to recognize daily that Jesus does not only live in the future of heaven, but in today. Let that future inform the present, but not take its place. In our eager anticipation, let us not gloss over the realities of today.

Second, our creating, life-giving God is making today and gifting it to us who live in it. He has purposes for it and for us. God speaks in Isaiah 55:10-11:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,

so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

All time is in his hands, for he made it. In Isaiah 46:10 he says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” Yes, he has created us for eternal life and called us into His promises, but He is giving us life today to live that out now.

Third, to be present means three things for a Christian:

1) to be attentive to God in the moment,

2) that we are called to be his disciples today, not living nostalgically for a real or imagined past, or living with disdain for today because we think the future is the only place we will find happiness and fulfillment,

3) that we are able to attend and minister to others without our own thoughts and concerns taking precedent.

The biggest difference between the practice of being present within other spiritual traditions and Christianity is that a Christian is seeking and experiencing God in the moment as His beloved creation. We are listening to God in the moment.

Jesus left heaven with its lack of time, to enter our here and now at a very specific time. He did not live longing for the past, or ignoring the importance of today because of the future. He lived in Mary’s now, and Joseph’s now, and Peter’s now. Then he sent the Holy Spirit to be our present help in the todays that followed in which we now live. In John 14:26 He says, “The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you.”

I will elaborate in another post how practicing being present helps Christians minister to others. For now, may I merely point out that when we are present with God regularly, our worries and preoccupations dim because we are able to leave them in his hands, thus making more compassionate space within ourselves to minister to others.


Now, I am by no means an expert on other religions, but I wanted to make an effort to point out some important lessons we can learn from others who practice presence far more frequently, as well as some fundamental differences.

In yoga, it is an exercise, a practice, meant to waken you to yourself on the way to perfection. While Christians do not share the same belief that self-awareness will make us perfect, there are some lessons we can take from yoga. For example, “Yoga uses the simple clarity of the body as a means to bring the mind into presence. Rather than just dictating actions to the body, the deepest yoga practice teaches the mind how to listen to the body in the pure light of awareness without judgment or expectation.”

This stance of listening without judging or expectation is necessary for Christians too. Jesus listened deeply, and he did not cast judgment, reserving that for the Father when He deems the time right. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” John 3:17.

While Zen Buddhism recognizes that we are limited beings, it denies God, certainly a personal, loving God. But it does recognize that the problem lies within us. Christians go further and name it sinfulness.

“It’s how our mind handles those external forces [like interruptions, conflict, pressure and chaos] that is the problem.”

This is true. We try to solve things on our own, without God. No matter how brilliant we are intellectually, how emotionally intelligent, we are still sinful, including Christians, so our natural bent is toward broken, independent-of-God solutions.

Practicing being present, which really puts us in touch with the experience of being a creation and beloved at the same time, helps us to humbly accept this again, and find God in the here and now.

In Buddhism of a more general nature, practicing being present is a way to be released from suffering, from the attachments we make with our expectations and desires. Ultimately, Buddhists deny any permanent, essential soul and self, so practicing presence is a way of losing those attachments that create the illusion of self. This is very different from why a Christian practices presence!

Christians recognize the permanent eternity of our souls, that God created each and every unique one, and when we are present we are allowing ourselves to be aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence. It is much like paying close attention, so close that we forget our own concerns and preoccupations, to a dear friend.

To those who acknowledge the inspired word of God, the historical humanity of Jesus’ divinity on earth, and base their lives on God’s past actions and the promise of His future actions, it is important to be open to His presence and action in today.

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Being Present, Spiritual Formation, 1 comment

On Being Present Today (When You’d Rather Be in Yesterday or Tomorrow)

I am currently in a temporal vortex of sorts having just returned from a fantastic, fulfilling mission trip that lingers in my happy memories and draws me back from today, yet driven forward by the hope and plans of the future that require a time investment today. So here I sit in the heart of the year, in the heat of today sandwiched between two mountains gazing at their tantalizingly cold and clear summits. In the hazy swirl of the valley lies my today, the heavy traffic of an eight-member household, a job, hobbies, and responsibilities all bustling about me, confusing me with their incessant demands to decide now, today, on this and that. Like a helium balloon that cannot but rise because of the nature of the gas inside, my spirit rises above the smog and noise of today to those summits behind and before me.

How can I tether my spirit to today? How can I keep my attention on these busy, tiring, immediate moments in this six-week long valley when I just want to escape into the summit of yesterday or run headlong into the trails of tomorrow? How can I even enjoy being present now when I find today taxing, boring, unpleasant, and tedious? I even ask why must I?

The simple reason is that Jesus is in today. He made today; he gave it to me and to you, and he weaves his love and purposes into it, especially into its unwelcome circumstances. He does not flee the difficult, the despairing, the darkest of days. He does not live like a hermit on mountaintops. He lives now in whatever rain or sun, haze or clarity, storm or serenity surrounds us. Jesus holds my ballooning spirit in the here and now.

Jesus grounds me. He keeps me present even as he calls me forward into his promises and plans, even as I remember with nostalgia his bold presence in the past.

If you find it hard to wrest yourself free of a happy past to face the trials in today, or you are looking forward in anticipation to a hopeful tomorrow, entrust those times to God, and look for Jesus today. He is “I am”. He is holding you today. He is speaking today. He is present today. And he wants you to be present, too. As you pay attention to him in the moment you will find that He has grace for you today. He has guidance for you today. He has love for you today. He has purpose for you today.

When I stopped lingering my gaze on the mountaintops, I found Jesus ready to help me navigate an intense conflict, I found him urging me to pray with someone, I found him bringing joy into simple things around me, I found grace for my fatigue, I found wonder in his word.

My present circumstances require grace, focus, lots of decision-making small and large, and they easily tire me because they require my weaker skill sets. Even in this, I can base my day on the promise that in my weakness, he is strong.

In my weakness, I want to escape, float off into the past or the future, but His strong hand holds me here as He walks me through each day, aided and anchored, until I have traversed these busy streets into the quieter mountain trails foreseeable in my future adventures.

So, if you, like me, are finding your present days arduous, are tempted to mentally stay in the pleasant past, or are eagerly anticipating a future that dulls your today, join me this month as we focus on being present in the present to God and to others. Let’s discover the gift of Jesus in our todays together.

Here on the blog each week I’ll be putting up another post on being present, so be sure to look for those. You can also follow me on Instagram for more frequent, shorter encouragements and thoughts at @writerkimberleymulder. I share my posts, thoughts, and those of others on my page on Facebook @kimberleymulderwriter.

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