Self-care (A review for the stubborn one)

I am learning how badly I am following my own teaching on “self care.” I wrote recently about a bad fall that I had on our patio, which left me bruised and with a swollen and painful knee. While I did follow basic first aid practices (ice, rest, elevation, anti-inflammatories), I did not take any time off from work. I soldiered through the week. I limped around. I dealt with joint pain and referred pain from limping.

I am stubborn.

In addition, there have been some intense situations (unrelated to family and friends) which have also taken a lot of my emotional and spiritual energy. It’s not just the news and following a hurricane, it’s the little nasty micro-aggressions. The insulting emails. All of my usual self care strategies weren’t working and I couldn’t turn “off” my reactions. My coping mechanism of choice was to veg on the couch. Not very productive nor self-restoring.

Fortunately, this week I had a long chat with my spiritual director who reminded me of the song by Rabbi Sofer and Rev. Carolyn McDade: (words found here)

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

At first, it didn’t set well with me. Isn’t that contrary to the expectations of a pastor to serve others? What about Philippians 2 where we are reminded to  “…look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others”? What about Luke 9 where we are exhorted by Jesus, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me”?

Balance. It’s about balance!

YES.  I am called to serve sacrificially. Every penny I make is not to be spent on myself. All of my time and talents are not for my own pleasure. But neither are they all to be given away and not meet the needs of those who depend on me. If I deplete myself on other tasks and obligations, and am not aware of my own emotional and physical exhaustion, how can I then look out for others’ interests?

Short answer: I can’t!

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

Time after time, I have encouraged parents of young children to take time to refresh themselves emotionally, spiritually and physically. I have exhorted them to trade off on childcare and household chores, and if one parent is at home, have made the point that the stay-at-home parent is not the other’s personal servant. [Translation: pick up your own dirty clothes, do loads of laundry, wash dishes, take the kids and care for them. Because you both have “evening shift” responsibilities when the “day shift” is done!]

Yet I find myself, an empty nester, worn out and hard-pressed to respond to the things I need to do for my own health. Simple things like creating things with my hands, reading, baking, or enjoying nature. It didn’t help that we’ve had heavy rains all week so I couldn’t really get outside. But I wasn’t cultivating anything on the inside.

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

Why was I stuck in some self-destructive patterns? I asked myself some hard questions, and maybe they will be helpful for you:

  • what am I doing that is not really my responsibility to do?
  • who am I trying to please (besides God?)
  • who is draining my spirits rather than building them back up?
  • where am I spending my time that is not the best use of my God-given gifts?
  • what activities would help renew my love and compassion for others?
  • what excuses am I giving to avoid tasks I need to do?

It’s a process. It’s an ongoing challenge to balance my desire to be God’s person vs pleasing all people. It’s allowing God to work within my brokenness, rather than going to pieces trying to fix it all myself. And it’s recognizing when I am beyond my threshold and need to simply… rest.

Serve God? Serve others?

Absolutely!! But only within the limits of my own brokenness. Let’s repeat that phrase one more time:

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

image: Serve within the limits of your brokenness
image (c) Rev. Deb Vaughn; may use with permission

Impeded but still singing

My daily Bible reading plan took me to Acts 4-5 today, where the early Church began to face opposition from the established keepers of Tradition. I resonated with these words from Gamaliel:

“If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!” (Acts 5:38-39 CEB)

 

I have felt a bit thwarted as I’ve papered the area with resumes and cover letters. This does not seem to be an ideal time to find a new Call. While I could have found a job, it would have required driving more than an hour each way (more on a bad traffic day), or would have been more of the life-bending overnight/weekend hours I have now. It’s been a bit discouraging. I know I’m Called to be a chaplain and pastor; I also know that I do not have to jump at the first offer, but am waiting and being thoughtful and discerning.

So for the time being, I’m putting an aggressive job search on hold. I am going to work more hours at my night/weekend job since the family needs are more flexible. And I’m also making various trips (with Bearded Brewer, with Reedy Girl on a college tour, to the beach) so it’s not all bad. It’s all about perspective.

I was reminded of this Wendell Berry quote by one of my sibs this morning. It surely fits in some of the career impediments I’ve had in the last few years. I have no doubts that I am working and doing what I’m Called to do, and the place and time for a full time assignment will come in God’s time.

The photography is from a trip we made as a family a few years ago.

Impeded but still singing

The Real Work

It may be that when
we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know
which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

— Wendell Berry

 

Resting in the grace of the world

 

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
 rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought 
of grief.

I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars 
waiting with their light.

For a time 
I rest in the grace of the world,
and am free.

—   Wendell Berry

What are you waiting for?

For better or worse… here it is… still needs some tweaking.

What are you waiting for?

For thousands of years, the people of Israel were waiting for the Messiah, the King – who would re-establish their nation. They were constantly watching for their Savior. Where was he? When would he come? When, Lord, when?

They were waiting. Impatient. Hungry for God’s promises. And perhaps, feeling a little unloved and uncared for. But were they really being ignored by God? Was God unaware of their cries for help?

Let’s trace their history a little.

If we go back as far as Noah, we remember that humanity’s deliberate disobedience had such a stench to God, that all but one faithful family were obliterated by a flood. Then later the line of Abraham was established – only to be filled with tricksters and rascals. Remember Jacob, stealing his twin’s birthright? And Joseph’s jealous brothers?

A few generations later, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. God rescued them from Pharaoh under Moses’ leadership. They wandered in the wilderness for a generation because of their thick-headed disobedience. Then, when finally it was time to take their land, they hedged their bets and intermarried rather than following God’s mandate to claim and cleanse the land of pagan deities.

Let’s remember how the twelve tribes bickered as they divided the land. Hmmm. Just like siblings. Then they asked for and were given judges to help them follow God’s  commandments. They begged for and were given a king like all the other nations. King David, who committed adultery and killed his paramour’s husband. Solomon who showed great wisdom, yet great weakness. God’s people were first divided as a country, then occupied, then sent into exile. Their temple was destroyed.

As we trace the history of God’s people, we will see this theme of stubbornness, of a tenacity to do what THEY want, rather than what God commands. And despite their less than perfect record, God responded. Every single time. They were God’s covenant people. Though they might lie, cheat, steal, or be unfaithful, God intervened. Rescued them. Redeemed them. Restored them.

When we read the verses in Isaiah this morning, we can hear the words of hope and expectation. God heard their longing for liberation, for release from captivity in Babylon. God promises to favor them, to vindicate them, and to rescue them. Isaiah says that God himself will comfort all who mourn. They anticipate that God will answer.

They believed they would experience restoration, renewal, and rebuilding. They returned to their land. And from the fulfillment of these promises, there is a deep joy. Even in the waiting, there is joy. Isaiah proclaims good news for them, and for us.

Perhaps some of you have read “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” by CS Lewis. In this tale, the people of Narnia are living where it is “winter, and never Christmas.” Yet Lewis spins a tale which tells of a dynamic, joyful, loving God who wants his creatures to experience deep joy and delight. Aslan, the lion of God, returns to a land held captive by darkness and cruelty under the White Witch. The rumors being to fly: “Aslan is on the move!” And when he returned, the long, cold winter began to melt, and human hearts which had long been cold, were changed, bit by bit, into a warmer, living heart for God.

Edmund, one of Lewis’ characters, was at first captivated by the hollow promises of the White Witch. He struggles with experiencing the loving presence of Aslan. As the winter begins to thaw, Edmund starts to experience a strange emotion…

All around them, though out of sight, there were streams chattering, bubbling, splashing and even (in the distance) roaring. And his heart gave a great leap (though he hardly knew why) when he realized that the frost was over.

We feel the power of this metaphor: the cold of winter is blown away; evil no longer has a death grip on Narnia’s citizens. Springtime comes; like Edmund, we look forward to the promised coming of spring. Like the Israelites, we long for personal transformation and the redemption of the whole human race.

In Lewis’ tale, the liberation does not come easily. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy have to fight for their freedom. They experience loss. They slip up and fall back into old habits. They learn how to forgive each other, to cling to the good. Their actions are echoes of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians –

Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation. Yield to God’s Spirit. Hang on to what is good. Avoid evil. Count on God being faithful.

This theme of joyous anticipation and preparation is also found in our Gospel story this morning. The voice crying in the wilderness, John the Baptist, spoke of the Light, the promised one who had come to redeem and rescue God’s people. So yes. Thousands of years later, Jesus, the Messiah, the Light of the world, was among them.

John is basically saying, “What are you waiting for? The One you waited for is here! Straighten up! Fly right! Get your acts together!” OK. That’s a bit of a paraphrase! But can you feel his excitement! Can you experience with John the great joy of the final thawing, the coming of the promised One?

John knew that the One was coming. He saw the signs. The slow thaw was coming. A country and a people who longed for their God, who missed God’s presence among them was about to have their prayers answered. He had that sense of anticipation, of knowing God was acting.

The priests and Levites were sent to cross-examine the witness. “Who are you?” John answered, “Well, I’m not Elijah. And I’m not a prophet. And I’m not the one you’re waiting for. But he’s coming! Don’t miss it!”

We know from the Christmas story that many people DID miss it. They were looking for someone to overthrow Caesar. They were looking for someone to knock some sense into the lackadaisical, unreligious people around them. Maybe they even thought that they hadn’t suffered enough. That God was going to pour some more dread on them. Maybe they thought they hadn’t waited long enough!

If you think about it, the outward picture had not really changed in Israel. The people were still desperately poor. The Romans were still in charge. The religious elite were running the temple like a trading post. Yet… John calls God’s people to prepare. “He is coming!”

The same is true for us today – it’s time! Get ready! Get your JOY on! When God makes good on his promises, there’s a celebration. Despite the prayers which are not answered. In spite of arguments, quarrels, foreclosures and bankruptcies. Even though there is illness, and pain, and sadness, and death, and suffering.

The Light has come. The promises are true! God will rebuild the things which are ruined. God will restore the places which are deserted, ignored, forgotten. And God will bring renewal.

Perhaps from where you sit, this message of joy, one of anticipation and preparation is hard to receive. It is difficult to experience joy when illness and even death looms. Families and friends may sense it as well – one’s mortality is darker, larger and more real than we want to admit. So is joy incompatible with the health struggles one faces? Where can we find God in this?

Thomas Merton suggests that our understanding sometimes will not be found in logical arguments or visible circumstances. In his book Seasons for Celebrations he writes that “we must sometimes expect our hope to come in conflict with darkness, desperation and ignorance.”

Merton says:

“The Advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, of history, …of the world and of our own being. In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed the presence of Christ in our world. We witness to His presence even in the midst of all its …problems and tragedies. Our Advent faith is not an escape from the world to a misty realm of slogans and comforts which declare our problems to be unreal, our tragedies inexistent.”

It is a mystery – this coming of the promised Messiah, and the anticipation we have for Christ’s return. We are not just optimistic – we are resting our hopes and fears on the truth of Christ’s Presence among us. Merton reminds us that “Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen.” The reality of our faith brings a new meaning to the celebration of the Communion Feast.

My prayer for you, on this third Sunday of Advent, is that you will feel that deep joy. That the promised “thawing” which shall come will be stirring within you. And as you wait, and long, and hear again the Ancient Story of the Baby in the manger, that you will know that God is here – Emmanuel. God With Us. The Child is the one we all wait for…

Thanks be to God.

Encouraged…

The quote below was posted by one of the RevGals today, and it simply encouraged me. I have always struggled with believing that I know enough because I am not as good at “theology” as I am with “faith.” The folks in my classes who could quote a behemoth of Scripture to back up every argument always intimidated me… until one of my profs pointed out that just quoting Scripture isn’t living it.

it seems to me that when we know too much, we can quickly slip into Pharisaical habits of theological one-upmanship. Just try to point that out to a fundamentalist thinker. There are LOUD voices out there which quickly shout down anyone who dares to think and process with a slightly different lens. (Like a feminist one!)

Anyway, Buechner’s quote reminded me that my FAITH pleases God more than my THEOLOGY. It encouraged me to continue with the work of faith that I’m called to.

Hope it encourages you, too.

“Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises…. Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting.”
Frederick Buechner

P.S. This is the first peony blossom this year. Nothing to do with the post, really. Just wanted to share the Creator’s beauty! 🙂

Is it REALLY that simple?


I had an excellent conversation with a woman today. (“Excellent” because it made me think. And because she has her finger on the pulse of what has bothered me, from time to time, with some contemporary teachings of Scripture.)

She was upset that someone suggested that the Bible could “easily” solve all of her problems.

“It is NOT that simple,” she said. “Why would anyone think that?”

I suggested that she consider the source. How much had the person studied the Bible themselves. Were they just mouthing off some platitude? Had they sat down and struggled through Job? Did they even know the word “theodicy”?

“I don’t think that they’ve really had to deal with pain,” she said. “But then — I don’t know that for certain. And I don’t want to wag a judgmental finger in his face when his judgmentalism bugs ME so much!”

We are going to hang out, have coffee and talk some more… I suggested reading and talking through C.S. Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain. One of his quotes is on my desk blotter, because it helps me keep perspective:




“Everyone feels benevolent if nothing
happens to be annoying them at the moment.”

I promised her I had no pat answers. God’s not a “button pusher” and just reading the Bible doesn’t make it simpler. BUT – – knowing I have the Creator of the Universe beside me and with me in any difficulty I face means that I face my struggles with a little more confidence. No immediate answers, perhaps. But confidence.

I Wish You Enough…

Reverend Mommy pointed me to this website which worth visiting.

This poem alone is worth the trip to read the rest of the article. I think I will do some kind of video or photo blog with this “some day” but today I have Greek and a paper and “life” to do instead. I’m posting the words because I like the attitude and the heart of God I read through them.

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Goodbye.”

Just feeling very blessed and grateful…
because God has given me “more than enough”…

Deb