limits

A Story for the Overwhelmed Leader in Today’s Crisis

A sharp snap and the water washed into my face with the force of a summer hose. Stepping back, through unfocused eyes I saw the showerhead idling in the basket underneath, broken off. Turning the water off with an unsavory word, I commenced to redress and look for an extra showerhead I’d seen somewhere in the house. I punctuated my internal self-condemnation with stomps. Ashamed, I hoped my husband wouldn’t notice, but knew I’d have to tell him anyway. Avoiding the others in the house, I found and installed the new head then turned the water on to resume my escape to the privacy of the shower. Frustratingly, this one offered a weak stream that hardly tickled. I longed for the flagellating force of the old one. It would match my mood of recrimination better. Soon my tears flowed with the rivulets of water, and I faced the anger that was roiling inside.

I’d only made it to day twelve of the lockdown due to the threat of COVID19.

I was heartily disappointed with myself, angry that I couldn’t keep my peace longer. I’d increasingly felt trapped and imprisoned, not by the walls of my house (I took lots of walks and bike rides) but by the needs and anxieties of my family.

The first week I expended an enormous amount of energy to set and maintain a rhythm that would work for all of us, while being the constant, trustworthy presence for my daughter who was in the throes of anxiety-driven fury. Yesterday, I discovered that while I was immersed in one child’s needs, I’d missed guiding my quiet one through this turbulence and now she was suffering.

Noise was increasingly becoming intolerable for me, so when my mom started putting away the dishes I had to leave the room. I went up to my bedroom and found my husband there. I glared because I assumed he was going to take a nap, and I’d have to move again.

He was only putting on his socks.

Chagrined and dismayed with myself, I flopped into my chair, too riled to work. That’s when I thought a shower might help calm me.

As I sat in the shower, feeling all the pent up anger, voicing it in colorful language and hot breath to myself and God, I finally owned it. For a while, it was just raw and ugly. I was breathing hard, fierce and tense, my voice hoarse and vehement. All the energy inside me punctuated the air like shrapnel as the shower water washed it down the drain. But as the ferocity of feeling ebbed lower, I could start to listen for God.

In tandem we looked at my desires fueling my anger. I desperately wanted to have some space, to not be responsible for anyone else, and to live as I wished. The demands on me felt like too much. I felt selfish, a wimp, and sorely limited. I hated that such a small amount (in my estimation) overwhelmed me, and disappointed in my inability to remain positive and calm.

A huge desire rose in me to push everyone away so I could have space, even though I had carefully been taking breaks, getting exercise, spending time in prayer, practicing mindfulness, doing things I enjoy—all the things that help me take care of myself. Still I was sobbing on the floor of my shower after having broken the showerhead in anger! What was wrong with me?!

What’s wrong is that I want to be God. I want to be able to do it all—in this case it meant not devolving into the anxieties I felt around me (because I’m better than that, right?) I could accommodate my limitations to others and not bump up against my frailties. I could remain calm and balanced always, a constant supply of help to everyone. Truthfully, I was proud that I was not anxious like everyone else while dealing patiently and equitably with the tempers and whines of the kids.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

I did feel humiliated, but only before my ego, not God. He warmly and readily welcomed me, as if my shame, nakedness and disappointment were not cause for separation. I experienced Romans 8:39 personally:

Absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

I very much felt like he was opening his arm with a broad smile as he said, “There you are! I’ve been waiting for you!” Not a hint of recrimination, condemnation, or vengeance—he was not like a vengeful teenager wanting to bring an arrogant classmate down a peg or two. Rather, his was the glad welcome of a dear friend from whom I’d been separated. And only a dear friend is willing to meet you where you wallow.

As I sat in my vulnerability with him, he gently reminded me of various truths. The first was regarding how he’s put me together: I am steady during a crisis for everyone else, then fall apart once they’re all okay. This was part of what was happening.

He also gave me the experience of the truth of forgiveness. It washed over me like the soft rain from the showerhead as I confessed my desire and efforts to be god. Confessing my dislike and rejection of my own limitations and needs, I ended with deep, glad breaths for who God is and who I am with him. I felt resurrected, and the rest of my day evidenced this. The Kimberley who stalked into the shower to hide came out a truer Kimberley ready to give.

I tell my story because perhaps the toll of leading and caring for others has taxed you beyond what you can bear. Maybe you are hitting, or are past, your limits, and the you who is showing up is not who you wish to be sharing. She keeps threatening to take center stage, and it’s harder to push her off to the wings. She refuses to remain the understudy. Her tenacity is flummoxing you more and more.

It’s time to look her square in the eyes and take her seriously. God does. He’s already there with her in the wings, waiting for you.

This is the astonishing welcome of the good news of Jesus. Not that we welcomed him, but that he welcomes us. Every actor within—the ones we approve of and the ones we don’t—is held in his embrace as one. He brings our wholeness to us. And in our limited, but wholehearted, ways, we can then collaborate with him in welcoming wholeness in our world.

 

Posted by k2mulder in Encouragement, 4 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

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

Recovering a Hospitable Heart

The reason I chose the word “hospitable” for April’s focus, and not “hospitality,” is that I wanted to focus on being, not doing. We are hospitable; we practice or do hospitality. Hospitable is the intention and attitude, whereas hospitality is the action that springs from the intention. However, we frequently start with good intentions, but as we carry out the multitude of actions, we often end exasperated and empty. As with many things, we become good at the executions and tasks required and lose the heart and intention of it.

Are you excellent, or strive to be excellent, at all the little things to welcome someone into your space? Is it easy, even fun, to make sure all the fresh freesias are displayed beautifully in the mason jar, or every book and shoe is in its rightful place? Wonderful! These are welcoming touches.

freesias

 

But when you are done, are you so tired you have a hard time paying attention to the guests? Or do you find that, even as they tell their travel stories, you are thinking about the smudge on the window you missed? If so, your hospitable heart has swept out of the room with all your cleaning. I confess, sometimes this is so for me!

 

So, how do we recover a hospitable heart?

This is what I do:

  1. Practice hospitality to Jesus first. This is foremost because no other guest to my heart can make it bigger and more welcoming. Jesus always fills and fuels. As I let go of my ‘stuff’, He makes that heart-space in me spacious and able to welcome. I consciously spend five to fifteen minutes with open hands, focused on Jesus’ presence right in the moment – not asking questions, not thinking about what needs to be done, just welcoming Him and worshipping. Music can help, as can a short piece of Scripture beforehand if concentration is challenged! When I do this, I am remembering that Jesus is hospitable to me, and I walk into his welcome. I am so much better at welcoming others after I have been welcomed by the great Host himself!
  2. Before I get started on the actions of hospitality (cleaning, arranging, cooking, etc.), I think about my intentions in my hospitality. I want these lovely people in my home because I want to spend time with them. Do I need energy for visiting when they arrive to pay attention? Then I must set a schedule beforehand for how much I can realistically accomplish so I’m not worn out. Which is more important — making sure every smudge is off every window, or having the energy to see my guest’s needs? Is my intention in this action to make myself feel more comfortable (presentable), or make my guests feel more welcome to be themselves?
  3. I focus on listening to my guests. This is the biggest difference between being hospitable and practicing hospitality. In the hospitality industry, the best companies are the ones which have employees that really pay attention to the guests, even to the point of preemptively meeting a need. But in most hotels and restaurants, hospitality is relegated to good service, not good conversation. Need a bed? Check. Need toothpaste? Check. Need a napkin? Here it is. That’s hospitality. But hospitable goes so much deeper because it’s an investment in a relationship. When I have guests at home, I make space in my activities to listen to them, and when I am doing that, I try to do nothing else (not even in my head!) I try to invite them into sharing their lives, and not always be talking about my life. Listening is the best way to show your hospitable heart.
  4. Recognize that I have a limit to my listening abilities, and be okay with that. Generally speaking, I do not have the capacity to listen and converse for a long time. I shoot for quality over quantity because of this. Some of you are different, so find what works for you. I like to invest in a deep conversation, then retreat to do something else quietly. If I don’t I find that my attention to my guest is about as good as if I weren’t there anyway! This way, we can re-enter conversation later, after I’ve rebooted. I used to think I had to drop everything and always be present, but this only drained me, making me a grudging, zoned out host, and I’m sure my guests felt caged and forced to engage. Take breaks!
  5. Recognize that your guest has limits, too, and be okay with that. I choose not to take offense if a guest goes off by herself, or chooses to help with the dishes (believe it or not, I did take that as a criticism of my hosting abilities at one point!!), or wants to watch TV instead of talk. I want them to feel welcomed, but not feel forced to engage.

Recovering a hospitable heart can only happen when we are first welcomed into Jesus’ presence because He takes all the things that are burdening us: tasks, problems at work, illness, deadlines looming, etc. The more we can find peace in knowing His care for all these things, the more we will have space within ourselves to pay attention to someone else. So start by entering the presence of the hospitable one, Jesus, then proceed to stick with your intentions rather than your “to do” list, recognize your limits, and recognize your guest’s limits. It takes practice and intention to keep a hospitable heart. I do not do this perfectly by any measure, but I am learning how to regain a hospitable heart when I lose it.

 

When your heart is weary and over-burdened, cluttered and overwhelmed, unable to welcome another,

May you find grace’s space, the gentle unpacking and strong uplifting, of the One who welcomes you as you are.

And in His space, may your heart regain its shape and capacity

To love and to welcome another.

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Hospitality, 0 comments

God Within Our Limitations

Becoming a mom was, and continues to be, the most challenging thing I have ever faced. Greater than the hours of musical discipline, greater than being plunged into another language and culture, greater than months of severe illness. Rather than in one or two areas, as the aforementioned challenges were, being mom challenges me in every way. It has brought me to the end of my limits over and over.

First the physical limits of carrying, birthing and caring for fragile life. But intertwined with these physical challenges are the faith challenges, the emotional challenges, the mental challenges. Every challenge highlights another limit of mine.

My over-confident, zealous, I’m-going-to-change-the-world!, twenty year old self has died on the rocks of motherhood. Yes, these limits of mine are not going away.

How did Mary manage to acquiesce to the Lord so quickly? We know so little of her background. We can assume that she lived under the cultural constraints of her time. She appears in the New Testament as a woman who was like all other women, living within her culture comfortably. There certainly seems to be no attitude of pride or ambition in her humble welcoming of the angel Gabriel’s message. Unlike Gideon, she asked not for fleeces. Unlike Moses, she did not cry a cowardly “I am inadequate!”. Unlike Zechariah, priest of God that he was, she did not question the Lord. Despite her limits of upbringing, personality, youth and unmarried status, she did not quiz the Lord on how this could be. God said it would be, and she said yes. She was able to agree with the Lord quickly because she accepted her limits and she accepted, carte blanche, the limitlessness of God. And so, the Giver of Life grew inside of her life.

Baby Jesus, limitless God, curled himself up into a fetal ball inside of Mary and grew within her limited body. He extended her, the natural growing to expand around the supernatural life inside. God deemed to take on our limitations.

How to live the call to house a limitless God in my limited life? In what ways does his grace and presence grow in my life and extend me to what I thought was not possible? And if God can accept to grow, even desire to grow, in the limited confines of the created human life, then how am I to view my limits?

We must allow God to initiate and command the extension of boundaries, not our selfish ambitions or grand dreams. We live in a culture that demands we break through our boundaries, that we not give in to the limits we have, that we must overcome everything. We war against ourselves when we ignore our God-given boundaries.

Largely because of our culture, I usually see the limitation of my energy, with which I wrestle every day, as a hindrance and a curse. But what if it is meant to embody the life of God? God does not condemn my lack of energy, rather he comes to me in compassion offering rest and care, and is willing to work within these confines under which I am born.

I fall prey to the lies that I am not enough, what I do is not enough, a never-ending drive to impress and please. God does not look at our limitations and say: “overcome it, do more!”, like a hounding coach. Rather he surrounds us with the encouragement of his word, his witnesses and his presence and urges us to stay close as we press on within our limited ways.

How might you and I say yes, I am limited AND yes, my limits do not limit God. Has God spoken a word of expansion into your life that you doubt he is able to fulfill? Do your limits discourage you? I suggest that, rather than rail against them, accept them for they are yours, and then accept God into them.

Lord, I am deeply limited, but I am so by your command and allowance. You made me, you love me and you live in me. I praise you that you, O limitless God, actually love to live within me, in my constraints and in my body and life. How valuable you make my limited life!

I pray, Lord, that when I come up hard against my limits, I also come up hard against your love. Be present to me in them. I accept your grace into them and refuse my own condemnation of them.

And when you call me to extend myself in your name, to grow and enlarge as I make room for your kingdom, I pray for faith and courage that you will provide all I need to grow – the support, the sustenance, and the guidance. When I am afraid of this new territory and am beyond my previous limits may I turn to you and see that you do not demand proof that I can do this, but instead assure me that you are with me and glad to be doing this growing together.

 

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Advent, Encouragement, 0 comments