personal growth

A Reflection Practice for Uncovering Our Racial Narrative

On the occasion of George Floyd’s burial today.

I have wanted to write something to help uncover our racial narrative for my Christian white friends who are asking,

“How am I a part of the racial dichotomy of America (world)? Do I have a part to play and what is it?”

These are deep questions that hold great potential, and stymies many. I have found that often the way forward is illumined when we spend some time with God in our personal past. We all have unconscious structures of felt belief that guide our choices. We must uncover our racial narrative for it is a prime place for such hidden drivers.

We are, as a nation, at a point of magnified recollection and reflection. God is shining light in dark places to do a deep work of transformation. Every one of us is a part of it, no matter how distanced we feel or think we are from the racial issues in our society. It is imperative that we non-racist whites, specifically, do some deep reflecting, allowing God’s spirit to move us into better awareness and action. It is brave and difficult work, largely unseen by the world, but its ramifications will certainly change the shape of our lives and those of our society as we remain faithful to it. Ours is to walk with God into our memories, our unconscious structures, and have our eyes opened by his healing Spirit.

Many, including maybe you, agree racism is wrong and don’t want to be a part of it, yet are unaware of how it’s been present in our lives. We are grappling with saying “This is mine.” We have not made slurs, avoided blacks or browns, preferred whites, done violence, or withheld care. Have we? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Often we aren’t aware of times we’ve participated in a racial slant toward white and away from anyone else.

I deeply believe that God is working in us always to make us whole, and to bring wholeness in our divided culture. This is necessary work. We have a special invitation at this time in our collective history to dive into our personal histories with him and partner with the Holy Spirit in bringing wholeness into fruition. Let us not give up in doing good, deep work with him, spurring one another on towards good deeds to love kindness, act justly and walk humbly with our God. I hope and pray that you will join me and the Holy Spirit in this reflection activity to uncover your racial narrative. I pray for the Spirit to bring his liberation to your being, revealing the beautiful truth he has placed in you with the eyes to see the beautiful truths of others.

 

A Reflection Practice for Uncovering Our Racial Narrative

Begin by reading Psalm 139 meditatively. Allow the words that stand out to you to linger between you and God. Consider why they resonate. Ask God for his light, recognize his steady “for you” presence, thank him for desiring your wholeness and the wholeness of the world, and ask to see your life with his eyes. Then ask yourself these questions about your relationship with the black experience in America:

Where do I hurt?

We might feel more pain and defensiveness at being accused of being racist simply because of our whiteness. We may feel more moved by the stories of suffering and injustice coming from blacks and browns. Perhaps the pain of guilt rises to the forefront. Acknowledge the hurt and talk to God about it. He wants to move from where you are towards healing.

Ask “Lord, why? Why do I feel this way?”

Then pursue deeper and ask again, regarding those answers, Why? Why do I feel this way? Show me, Lord, my hidden agendas, my sympathies, my protections and my hopes. See if there is any offensive way in me.

 

Have I witnessed a preference for white over black or brown, and remained silent?

It could have been a silent snub on the playground (read my friend Jen’s poignant recollection here of just such an instance), a white co-worker always given the better tasks, a joke using the n- word, the possibilities are multitude. Allow the Spirit to lead your body into the recollection, how did you physically feel then? What emotions were stirring? How do you feel physically and emotionally in this moment? Allow it to pour out to God.

 

How do I respond to others’ experiences that are different from my own?

Jesus came into our experience, to suffer alongside and know intimately the struggles we have with sin. Allow him to come into your experience of others’ experiences. When someone is telling you about theirs, what do you do internally? There is a spectrum of possible response. Consider with Jesus whether you tend towards rendering blacks and browns accounts unbelievable because it’s not your own, or if you counter and minimize theirs with your own, or if you leave their experience uncontested and you untouched, or if you try to stand in their shoes feeling and seeing what they say. Do I include and expand my views to welcome them or discount and dismiss? Talk with God about it.

 

What justifications or excuses have I given for believing I need not be involved in fighting racism?

Though yours will be your own, these were my primary ones:

  1. “I am not a racist, therefore it’s not my problem.”
  2. For the first fifteen years living in America my excuse was that I am Canadian, it’s not my story. It’s not my history, I have nothing to do with it. I conveniently disregarded my American citizenship and my residence.

Spend some time in the discomfort of examination, allowing the Spirit to reveal what needs to be revealed.

 

Where do I feel resistant regarding my racial narrative?

Resistance can often feel like boredom, avoiding, depression, minimizing, frustration, not wanting to engage with someone or something. Stay with that feeling, holding it, not judging it. Ask yourself gently, “I wonder why I’m resistant.” Listen for God’s guidance and invitation.

As you end your time of reflection, write down what you’ve learned, ask God to reveal one way to keep saying yes to his invitation toward wholeness. Commit to ongoing reflection and learning with him. I had to literally write in my rule of life, and in my monthly goals, to continue to listen to black voices mainly by reading, but also in relationships. I know it’s too easy for me to step out of the fray and back into a white bubble. 

Become better acquainted with history told from a black point of view, rather than from the dominant white narrative. Watch movies like, Harriet, Selma, Just Mercy, Remember the Titans, etc.; read the books and speeches by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Martin Luther King Jr, Howard Thurman, Maya Angelou, and many others. Upon this foundation then one can better hear the voices of today. The racism of the past is different from our experience today and we need to connect the dots for the “nice whites” who agree in our heads but have trouble connecting our hearts to know how our “niceness” is contributing to the problem. Leslie Verner has extensive resources for white people to start, or continue, their journey into oneness with the blacks of America. Take a look here.

Hopefully this reflective practice we just engaged in has helped examine our personal past for non-catalyzed moments: times we witnessed racism but didn’t do anything, a time we felt something was off but couldn’t quite name it, a time we thought “that’s just the way it is”, a time we pulled away because it stirred conflict or tension.

As you do your hard work, know that the Spirit is leading us together deeply and into unity and reconciliation. Lean in and take His invitation to whatever your next step is. Grace and peace to you my friends as you faithfully pursue wholeness, right-relatedness, and faithfulness in such a time as this.

 

Posted by k2mulder in Community, Spiritual Formation, 1 comment

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

Beloved in Grief and Disappointment

I am so glad to host Kristen Leigh Kludt on the blog this week. She wrote A Good Way Through, which I have on my resource page as a book that helps you find God in disappointment and gives guidance on practices that are helpful during that time. Be sure to check her offer for you to get a discount on her Field Guides for the Way at the end of the post!

Without further ado, here are her words about finding God’s love in the midst of facing disappointment and disillusionment in the midst of infertility.


Grief in the unknown: It is baffling. How do you grieve the loss of something that never was? I had so much need in that time, so much pain I couldn’t contain. Many days, I just didn’t want to be the sad one. People were careful around me, and I needed them to be, but their being careful didn’t help the pain. My pain was obvious, no matter how I masked it, no matter how high the walls I built around my heart. Even when I smiled, my eyes were glassy, empty. I was ragged, broken, trying to keep it together enough to be appropriate in public, then screaming silently behind closed doors. How else could I function? We have to go on at times like that. There is no choice. So I danced back and forth between grief and pretending. I let out enough pain often enough that it did not consume me completely, and I faked it the rest of the time.

Where was God in all of this? In my heart, God was distant, angry. I assumed God was disappointed with me and maybe didn’t love me much. In reality, I was the distant, angry one—distant, often, even from my own emotions. How could the God I loved let this happen to me? Was I just not worthy of having something to love?

These questions intensified in our months of infertility, but they were not new to me. I first remember questioning God’s love for me in high school.

Behind my childhood home there was a silver maple, five stories high, with branches that wrapped around the house and hugged my room on two sides. Outside my bedroom window was the roof of the downstairs porch, and I used to climb out onto the roof at night, just to sit under my tree, to watch the wind in its branches. I cried, sang, prayed, and dreamed under that tree. In the minutes before a coming storm, I heard the voice of God in that tree, singing anticipation in its branches, silver leaves shimmering in the wind, whipping through the air like my hair on a windy day.

I felt close to God as a child. I prayed a lot and read my Bible. My belief ran deep; faith in Jesus was the ground I walked on. I believed God was good and Jesus died for me to save me from my brokenness. I worked hard to live up to that gift. I was kind to kids who others disliked. I gave 10 percent of my allowance to church. In high school, I met every week with a mentor, and I took summer trips with the youth group. I discovered the power of musical worship in a new way. I loved my God and the life I lived.

When I was a senior in high school, in the month before my first experience of depression, my beautiful silver maple started to split down the middle. It was a windy summer, and I had to sleep downstairs on a mattress in the family room for a few nights before the tree was taken down, in case it fell on the house.

Men came. First, they stripped the tree of its branches. It became a naked lopsided trunk. Piles of limp silver-leaved limbs littered the yard. My beautiful tree, provider of summer shade, creator of golden drifts to run and play and hide in during autumn, the screen through which I looked down upon the white winter world, was now bare, its majesty lost to a couple of men with a chainsaw.

The sky behind my parents’ house still doesn’t look right to me.

What do we do when the symbols of God-in-this-world are stripped away?

There were other precipitating factors, but the loss of that tree sparked my first downward spiral. I had my first panic attack.  I didn’t eat well. I wanted my body to mirror what was happening in my heart—to feel sick, lusterless. My mom cared for me well, talking me through my first panic attack and making me rice with butter when I wouldn’t eat anything else. She trusted, through what I now know was plenty of fear in her own heart, that I would come out of it, and I did. I made new friends, tried new things, and found God and myself in new ways. I grew up a little.

In adulthood it was harder, more complicated. My mom was now two thousand miles away. From the outside, I looked much the same, but inside something was different. My self-talk turned cruel. How could you do that? Why did you say that? That was so stupid. I would never speak to another human being in that judgmental, degrading way. In my deepest heart, a part of me believed this was God’s voice, and God was angry with me because I wasn’t good enough.

I had two strategies to escape the self-talk: I napped a lot, and I kept moving, filling my life with people and activity. I hid from the fear of what was happening in my own heart. I could only hide for so long.

I started therapy. It helped, though it was awkward at first. I wasn’t sure what to do, and Dr. L. didn’t ask a lot of questions, so I just talked a lot and tried not to feel weird. As she got to know me, she said a few things and asked a few questions. She would say, “Wow, your god sounds really angry and hard to please.” I would say, “No, he isn’t!” but then I started to realize my god was angry, and I was serving a god who I would never profess I believed in. The God I wanted to serve and thought I knew was infinitely more patient and gracious and loving than the one I was serving.

People asked if I was angry with God because of my infertility. I wasn’t. That would have been healthier. Instead, I was terrified of God. I was certain God was angry with me. I felt abandoned, unseen, unworthy, and unwanted. I was looking first at myself and then at people around me to figure out who God was. Now I try my best to reverse the order, and look to what I know about God to try to understand myself and other people.

After my first session I brainstormed in my journal ideas for “homework”—what could I do to live differently after realizing some new things about myself? How could I practice a new way of being? My list of ideas was hazy, mostly having to do with trying harder not to try so hard to be so composed all the time, to act and look and be so darned competent and responsible.

It took a few more months before I stumbled into a much better, more concrete practice: field trips. For four months, every Saturday afternoon I went on a field trip. The only rules were that I went by myself and invited God along.

It’s hard to describe how hard this was for me. The person I was least at ease with was myself. Perhaps it was not myself, but this projection of God that I had created based on my deepest fears and hurts. In this moment of desperation, I decided that in order to learn to like myself, I was going to have to hang out with myself. In order to be less afraid of God, I would have to be alone with God.

I began tentative and became joyful. I took myself out for tea a few times and brought books or my watercolor paint set. I tried to be kind to myself. I walked in the Huntington Gardens and remembered that I love to be outside under big trees. I started to look forward to these trips.

Time passed. I came to a place where I could sometimes be happy and I liked myself a little bit. I became less afraid of my own darkness. I didn’t exactly hear from God, but the anger I had perceived from God began to dissipate. I started to believe there was something else surrounding me instead.

Maybe it was love.

Discovering my belovedness required two disparate movements. First, there was an inward movement, a deep dive into my own darkness. I needed to be alone with God in my most tender places and discover I was OK. I needed to find a source of joy within my own heart.

Second, was an outward movement toward other people. In reaction to a broken friendship, I had retreated almost completely. I had put walls between my heart and everyone around me except for Dave. His friendship was enough for a little while, but now I needed to find a measured path toward openness and vulnerability. When I experienced my belovedness alone, I could then experience it more deeply with other people. Out of a growing assurance that I was loved, I could let other people in.


“Excerpt from A Good Way Through by Kristen Leigh Kludt, ©2017. Used by permission.”

Field Guides for the Way, www.fieldguidesfortheway.com

Field Guides for the Way

Kristen now creates Field Guides for your own creative field trips with God. 

Journey deeper into God’s love with spiritual practice kits delivered to your home. Explore, discover, create, and remember you are Beloved. 

Field Guides for the Way offer the intentionality and practice of a contemplative retreat woven into your everyday life. Each beautifully curated kit contains invitations and supplies for a journey deeper into your relationship with God, your own heart, and your life.

As a special offer for you, Kristen is offering 10% off your entire order (enter MULDER10 at checkout)! Purchase by next Saturday, March 2. For more on what the field guides are and to order, click here: Field Guides for the Way.

http://www.kristenleighkludt.com/

Kristen Leigh Kludt

Kristen Leigh Kludt is a writer, speaker, and contemplative adventurer. Creator of Field Guides for the Way and author of A Good Way Through, Kristen is a gifted story-teller and teacher. She is growing daily toward a life of integrity and love and invites others to do the same. She is a member of The Chapter and serves on the board for ReIMAGINE, a Center for Integral Christian Practice. She lives, works, and plays in San Francisco’s East Bay with her husband and two young sons.

Posted by k2mulder in Beloved, Guest Posts, 0 comments

Michelle DeRusha on Letting Go

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Today we have the honor of a guest post from author Michelle DeRusha who just released her newest book,
True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created on January 1, 2019. I’ve read a few books about uncovering your true self with God, and this one really encompasses the journey well. The metaphor of fukinaoshi (Japanese pruning to an open center) is so perfect for structuring the book and the topic. She weaves her personal story, Biblical story, historical story, science, and gardening into such a beautiful exposition of this essential journey. She leads you into some difficult to grasp concepts and the challenging place of facing things in ourselves we’d rather not see, with wisdom, encouragement, and clear ideas. Each chapter ends with a “Going Deeper” section so you can spend some time with God reflecting and implementing practices to help you let go of your false self. And I loved that she finished the book with an exploration and example of how important it is to uncover your true self within the context of community, even though it’s an intensely personal journey. Enjoy her post, and don’t forget to enter my giveaway (which closes on Tuesday, January 29 at midnight) by sharing this post or another from my blog on Facebook or Instagram and entering your email here, “True You Giveaway!”


I never noticed that oak trees are the last to lose their leaves until I began a daily practice of sitting still.

It all began with a whim. One sunny November afternoon while I was walking my dog, I decided to stop and sit on a park bench. As I rested there for a few minutes with Josie sprawled at my feet, I decided I would make this bench-sitting part of my daily routine. I vowed I would stop at that same spot along our walking route every day, and I would sit for five minutes. I would sit in silence, I determined – without music or a podcast in my ears; without dialing my mother or texting my sister; without snapping photos with my camera phone or scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. I would simply sit in silence for five minutes. It would be good for me, I reasoned. Turns out, five minutes on a park bench seems short in principle, but is a surprisingly long time in reality.

The first afternoon I sat on the park bench, I looked at my watch after two minutes and then again after four. The next day I took a cue from Josie, who sat still, ears pricked, nose quivering. I looked at what she looked at; I sniffed, trying to smell what she smelled. When she twitched her ears, I turned my head too, trying to hear what she’d heard.

I noticed a little more of my surroundings that second day, like the fact that the leaves of the burr oak on the edge of the ravine still clung stubborn and tenacious to the branches. Unlike the maples, birches, elms, and ash trees, which had dropped their leaves like colorful confetti more than a month ago, the oaks were still fully dressed, their dry leaves scraping together in the wind like sandpaper.

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I wasn’t at all sure what I was doing there, just sitting. All I knew was that I felt compelled to do it, even though I didn’t particularly like it, and even though I knew, after only two days, that I would resist it in the coming weeks. At the same time, I knew this sitting in stillness was something I had to do. Somehow I knew that the stopping, — the interruption to my daily routine and my incessant push to get from Point A to Point B — was important, maybe even imperative.

Turns out, I learned over the weeks and months of sitting in quiet solitude that I am a lot like the oak tree that clings so fiercely to its leaves. In fact, I suspect a lot of us are. We, too, clutch our camouflage — the person we present to the world, to our own selves, and even to God.

We, too, are unwilling to shed our false selves, to let go, to live vulnerably and authentically. We are afraid of what might happen if we drop our protective cover, afraid of how we might be seen or perceived, or how we might see or perceive our own selves. We spend a great deal of our time and energy holding tight-fisted to our leaves, simply
because we are too afraid to let go, too afraid of what, or who, we will find underneath. The thing is, though, even the stubborn oaks have to let go of their leaves eventually. New growth can’t happen until the old, desiccated parts fall away. Spring only comes after winter. There is a rhythm here – relinquishing, stilling, rebirth.

The truth is, God does not wish for us to stand stubborn like the autumn oak tree, cloaked in a façade of protection, our truest, most authentic selves obscured beneath a tangled bramble of false security. Rather, he desires us to live open and free, our true essence revealed and flourishing, our true self front and center, secure and thriving. God yearns for us to live wholeheartedly and truthfully as the unique, beautiful, beloved individuals he created us to be. Most of all, God’s deepest desire is for us to know him, to root our whole selves in him like a tree rooted by a stream, and to know his deep, abiding love for us. God yearns for us to live in the spacious, light-filled freedom of Christ and to know ourselves in him, through him, and with him.

As we slowly begin to let go of our false selves, branch by branch, leaf by leaf, and layer by layer, as we finally begin to relinquish, open up, and allow God to prune us from the inside out, we will grow in ways we never imagined: in our relationships with loved ones; in connection with and love for our neighbors; in our vocation; in our heart, mind, and soul; and in intimacy with God himself.

Our true, essential self, the one beautifully and uniquely created by God, is there, deep inside, hidden beneath layer upon layer of leaves clinging fast. Within each of us is a spacious place, waiting to be revealed.

Letting go is the way in.


Michelle DeRusha for www.kimberleymulder.com

Michelle DeRusha, author of True You

BIO: A Massachusetts native, Michelle DeRusha moved to Nebraska in 2001, where she discovered the Great Plains, grasshoppers the size of chickens … and God. She’s the wife of an English professor who reads Moby Dick for fun and mom to two teenage boys and the laziest Corgi-beagle in the world. Michelle’s newest book, True You, released January 1, guides readers on a journey toward letting go in order to uncover their true God-created selves.

This post is adapted from True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created, by Michelle DeRusha, released January 1 from Baker Books.

Posted by k2mulder in Being Present, Giveaways, Guest Posts, 0 comments

Let There Be Light

Light’s radiance—there is a core from which it comes, its spreading brilliance splaying on anything or anyone.

The visible spectrum rays touch the surface of things, irrespective of what they fall on to. But the invisible ultraviolet rays penetrate into the darkness underneath, into walls and bodies, dense and hidden innards.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by the power of his word.” Hebrews 1:3

Patterns of Light from "Let There Be Light" at kimberleymulder.com

Photo by Kimberley Mulder

In this winter season of darkness, of waiting for Christmas where we don’t see fully yet, may we take notice of the light of Jesus speckling our lives with patterns of grace. And may we be aware that this is just the surface—his radiance glows deep into our hearts and souls, cauterizing wounds, warming cold hearts, and radiating the good work of sustaining his grace in your life.

Let the light catch your eye and hold your attention for a few moments. Whether the shifting glow of sunrise on bare branches, a shimmer off the shiver of ice upon wending water, a brilliant gloss carpeting indiscriminately, a mute radiance of smoky clouds—pause to take it in, let it filter into your soul.

Engage in purposeful pause—a silent staring into a flame can draw your mind into a spacious place. A space to let your shoulders shift back down, your breath draw in with grace, and your creased brow to soften, where your spirit can flicker forth at last to dance.

Advent Candle for "Let There Be Light" at kimberleymulder.com

Photo by Kimberley Mulder

In this season of muchness, find a flame to focus on, and dial down to let your spirit speak. The season, and life in general, is so much richer and enjoyable when we engage with our whole being.

There is light.

It is here.

For you.

Enjoy.

Posted by k2mulder in Advent, 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

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

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

When Fear Holds Hunger in Its Teeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Encouragement, Hunger, 0 comments