make space

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

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

Being Hospitable is Central to Following Jesus

Being hospitable is all about making space, a push to the jumble of our commitments, a pull of invitation for someone to enter despite the topsy-turvy evidence of messy, beautiful lives.

Whether having someone come to my place or meeting someone elsewhere, if you are like me, you have a mental, maybe physical, closet stash of hustled miscellany out of sight. These thoughts tumble into my mental space frequently, like ubiquitous dust bunnies floating about the space. Mental dustpan in hand, I sweep these distractions up again so that I can direct my attention to my friend.

This making space – temporal, mental and physical — is hard. I confess, as an introvert, it is all too easy to not rise to the challenge, choosing instead to let TV and books entertain me. It is easier to anesthetize the bunny thoughts, ignore the mess about me, and not interact.

Sometimes I have approached hospitality as an encroachment on my turf, something to be tolerated out of necessity, or a cost of following Jesus. It’s as if I see myself as a can of soda in God’s vending machine, out of which I am dispensed to be drunk dry in service to others. Can you see how fear-based this is? These are the times my decisions to be hospitable are not led by love, but are pushed by fear.

Usually, I am a decisive person. I get things done. I soldier file my thoughts and march them through my project-filled day like a general issuing complicated drills, so why do they trip over hospitality?

Because I haven’t been committed to it, not like I am other noble things, such as prayer, or making healthy meals, or completing jobs for work, or preparing to lead a meeting. Remember those dust bunny thoughts I have to corral to pay attention to someone else? They are the natural result of a life lived to produce, to find its satisfaction in getting things done. These are the thoughts I am committed to, and, because they rule, they demand to be given precedent. I am afraid to give up time to “shooting the breeze” because there is an internal general barking orders to “get things done. You can be hospitable when the work is done, when you are off duty.” Inherent in this attitude is that hospitality is “just play”, a luxurious activity undertaken only after the work is done.

I only truly notice my lack of commitment to hospitality when I find I am in need of someone else’s. Then, I wonder who to turn to. I consider who has turned to me for a bit of welcome, and the past stretches behind like a savannah with sudden mounds of shrubbery sparsely greening a patch, for my hospitality is, at best, unsteady. It has lacked commitment. Strange for one who takes commitments seriously! But the reason follows.

Tucked succinctly in a litany of best practices, Paul wrote to the Romans to “practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13b NIV) The Greek word for “practice” actually better translates as “pursue”, meaning to press on, strive, or make every effort. Most notable is that hospitality is to be pursued just like righteousness, godliness, faith, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11), the good (1 Thess. 5:15), love (1 Cor. 14:1 NIV), and peace (1 Peter 3:11 NIV).

Even though I have followed Jesus for thirty years, I did not know this! Until Natasha Red pointed this out in her five-day devotional on hospitality, I had not known the absolute importance practicing hospitality is to following Jesus. I have been wrestling with this conviction ever since! I am going through a mindset reset about being hospitable. 

This is what I’ve understood so far.

Hospitality is not a luxurious activity. It is not a superfluous activity. It is not peripheral or optional. It is essential. It is central. It needs to be woven into the fiber of our characters and exuded in all interactions as we go about our duties and activities. It is an attitude our hearts inhabit. That’s why we are hospitable.

Jesus made space to be with his Father regularly (Luke 5:16 NIV). He made space for everyone, even for the woman with the bleeding problem who was considered untouchable (Mark 5:25-34). He makes space for us, awaiting our approach, our turning, with delight. If ever there was an icon for being hospitable, Jesus was it! Notice it’s his character that is hospitable, his hospitality didn’t depend on a place to carry out his welcome. He did it without home to call his own! Everywhere he went, he ministered as he welcomed.

Ministry of any kind is really practicing hospitality. In ministry we intentionally make space for someone. So, conversely, hospitality is really practicing ministry. And through it, I grow and the kingdom of God grows. My capacity increases. Jesus knew this, he knew the vitality that hospitality gives us.

And that’s just it, as I make space for someone, intentionally sharing a piece of life with her, what I thought would overwhelm instead enlarges me. My experience, my heart, my understanding is enlarged as I make space for another. What is mine is not being chipped away and eroded, leaving an emptiness, rather, that space grows as we receive one another. This is what CAN happen when I stop thinking of MY time, MY quiet, MY space, remembering and actively believing it is Jesus’s. He provides it, He is the author of all best practices, and He teaches me to share it.

Practicing hospitality is no longer about what I have to offer, or how much I can give, or how much it will “cost” me.  Rather, it’s about the grace of God inviting and calling me into something bigger, something eternal, something essential.

As I commit to pursuing hospitality by allowing this attitude into my activities, infusing everything them, and shaping my character in the process, I expect I will find a rich and spacious world of blessing. I will be living in the kingdom of God on earth. It is described as a living, EXPANDING thing (Luke 13:19-21 NIV), not as God purchasing and dispensing with me to whomever needs me. I need not be concerned with running dry, because at the table of hospitality He is providing for me and my guest. Not only the guest eats at the table, but the host as well. We are both nourished. These are the transactions of God. We give, thinking we will be depleted, only to find that there is a filling in the giving, and we come away satiated. At least, that is how it is meant to be, how it can be when we pursue the things of God: righteousness, godliness, faith, gentleness, the good, love, peace and hospitality.

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Hospitality, Spiritual Formation, 0 comments