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Pushing Grace

Jill1Hi. I’m Jill–writer, speaker, pastor, editor, and what my business card euphemistically refers to as a “grace pusher.” We all push something, and that’s my favorite thing.

I talk about a lot of things on my blog and in my books and articles. But usually, they focus on a few main topics. Breaking through fear (and using it). Doing faith with the next generation (and loving it!). Women as half the church. Kindness in the midst of an unkind world. Using the Bible for wisdom not warfare.  Justice. Freedom. Grace. Always grace.

I’m the kids who refused to step too far into the back yard after dark. The woman who slept with a nightlight when I was twenty. The person who would still rather face a rabid bobcat than walk up to a stranger and begin a conversation. Fear has been a close acquaintance of mine. After a few very rough years, however, I decided it wasn’t the boss of me. Fear has only the power you give it–and I wasn’t giving it anymore.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It_s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What_s next, Papa_”

Yes–there is God, telling me to live “adventurously expectant.” To look at each day and ask, “What’s next?” Even on the days when I fear what might, in fact, be next.

“Fear not” may be the most common command in the Bible, but fear is also perhaps the most common human emotion. It’s certainly been driving a lot of our national conversation, too.

I don’t want to live life as a grave-tender, so wrapped in fear of what might be that I lose the time in between. Grave tenders may live safely–there isn’t much to fear when you’re keeping up a nice, neat backdrop for dead things. They don’t demand a lot of change. But living among dead things isn’t living at all. The abundant life Jesus promised isn’t safe, but it is an adventure, if we’re willing to leave dead things behind.

I want to live an adventure for God’s kingdom, and I want to do it with you. I want to know who I am, and I want you to know who you are, because of who He is.

I want us both to know the identity God planted in us when he chose to give humans his image. That imago dei, straight outta the garden, is still there. He hasn’t rescinded the deal. He made you and me his ambassadors–shining his image in difficult, dark places. Just like my scary old back yard, only sometimes darker.

I want to see you and hear you and know you–and I want you to know He already sees and hears and knows you. If you’re tending a grave, he wants to pull you out of there into life.

So, let’s join one another. I can’t wait to see what happens here.

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PS– I’d love it if you want to hit the button to subscribe or be put on my mailing list!

*I also write occasionally for Christianity Today publications, MOPS, (in)courage, A Fine Parent, and others, as well as blog regularly for Theology Mix and The Glorious Table. If you would like to view recent articles, go to my Media page.

Where Is Your Brother?

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Siblings . . . 

Sibling rivalry was real in my house. We didn’t have arguments; we had wars. I remember frying pans to the face, doorknobs to the teeth, and golf balls to the head as things that actually happened between my siblings and me.

Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when I met a Christian family who behaved very differently, I wanted to know what this Jesus thing was all about. I didn’t know people could act that way with their brothers and sisters.

I’m very grateful to say our kids never engaged in fisticuffs. (Grateful because they didn’t and also because I got to use that wonderful word.) Jesus made quite a difference in my outlook on appropriate sibling behavior.

God’s children do not, however, always follow this pattern. Almost the second question in the Bible, after God asks the leaf-clad Adam and Eve where they are and why they’re hiding, comes the question he addresses to their oldest offspring.

It’s a pretty serious question.

Where is your brother?

When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” (Genesis 4. 2-9)

Spoiler: God knows the answer.

Cain must know God knows, so why he gives this patently flippant answer is anyone’s guess. Although, I suspect we know too well why all of us give God absurd answers to things we don’t want to look at too closely.

I don’t know. Am I supposed to be looking out for my brother?

Apparently, we were still pondering it in Jesus’ time, because someone had to ask Jesus exactly who his neighbor was, and Jesus had to tell another story that asked the same question God starts the whole human race with here—Where is your brother/neighbor?

Everywhere.

That was Jesus’ reply. Are you your brother’s guardian, Cain? Why yes. Yes, you are. I’m surprised you didn’t know that. It’s the way I made people to be.

In his new book Everybody, Always, Bob Goff suggests that God created us as one big neighborhood on this earth–all made for one another no matter where or how.

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God decided it wasn’t good for people to be alone, so he made us for one another. Then he made it clear right after the first sin that we were going to have to take that very seriously, because the world was going to get a lot harder. We would need to be one another’s guardians, or no one would make it out alive.

That’s one of the scariest parts of our current obsession with tribalism. When we start to form our groups, deciding who’s in and who’s not, denying brotherhood to those who are outside our boundaries, we become cadres of Cains, denying to God that we have any responsibility in the welfare of anyone beyond what we’ve declared are our lines.

Even when our brothers’ blood cries out from the ground.

To make this easier, we find reasons they don’t deserve our attention. That’s why Cains find it easy to believe sensational news stories with questionable data. If we can make it Abel’s fault, our hands are clean. Humans, and by humans I mean me, will do just about anything to avoid guilt.

“I don’t know. Am I my brother’s guardian?”

I think we’re helped in our answer by the words just before this story. Eve gives birth, and she also gives thanks to God. Remember, the birth process was going to be rough, and Eve not only accepts this part of the curse but gives gratitude to God for bringing her through it and giving her a child.

Gratitude

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Eve’s approach too life oozes gratitude. She chooses to live, after her first unfortunate choice, with constant thanks to God for his provision of everything she needs.

Cain, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have inherited this attitude. We don’t know why God chose to accept his brother’s offering and not his, but he responds with anger. He feels cheated. He wants what he thinks he deserves. He chooses resentment rather than gratitude.

Interesting studies into the attitudes that have created our tribalism in the US point to the same conclusion. Those who choose resentment also choose to close themselves off to their brothers. One study reported by the Washington Post reveals that, 

 Economic anxiety isn’t driving racial resentment; rather, racial resentment is driving economic anxiety. Racial resentment is the biggest predictor of white vulnerability among white millennials. Economic variables like education, income  and employment made a negligible difference. When white millennials scored high on racial resentment they were 42 percentage points more likely to indicate feelings of vulnerability than those who scored low.

People who would prefer to blame and resent rather than open their arms and hearts in gratitude for their lives are the people who refuse to see “brother” in the refugee, immigrant, person of color, or sister.

Interestingly, this is true regardless of the person’s actual economic or physical circumstances. The well off are just as likely to shut out their nonwhite, non-American-born brothers as the poor if they are already inclined to resent others for what they think they don’t have.

It’s as old as Cain. And as devastating.

The answer isn’t anything complicated. It’s gratitude. Choosing to be thankful for everything God provides to children of Adam and Eve who don’t really deserve anything at all but who are granted so much.

It’s utterly impossible to take the attitude of Eve and have the heart of Cain. We can’t revel in the undeserved graciousness of the Lord and refuse to invite your brother into the circle.

If we live consistently grateful, humble lives, we will always know exactly where our brother is. He’s all around us. He’s everyone. And we are his keeper.

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*I’ve signed up for the Human Race again, raising money for World Relief and refugee resettlement. These wonderful people I have come to know and love as I work with them more and more are certainly those God calls our brothers and sisters. With God’s help, I’m going to walk it and meet my fundraising goal! If you’d like to donate to my walk, please follow the link. I and the amazing refugee population I know and love would appreciate it greatly!

Lies We Tell Our Girls

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May is a crazy month for us. We pile on Mother’s Day, a birthday, and two anniversaries. As we’ve all just celebrated Mother’s Day yesterday, and we’re celebrating so many occasions this month, I thought it might be tine to revisit a post from a while back on moms, marriage, and all those things we tell our girls are part of who they are. If it is part of our lives, fantastic. I salute you, moms everywhere.

I am one of you. We are blessed beyond measure.

But what if it isn’t? What if we tell our girls a lie when we talk about marriage and family as if they are the essence of God’s intent for them and their biggest goal?

Lies we tell

One of the most pervasive lies we tell girls in the church is this—Your purpose in life is to be a wife and mother. Period. Other things added on might be fine, if they don’t distract you, but they are not the main event.

Don’t mistake me—being a wife and mom are fantastic aspirations. They are even better realities. I like the gig, especially now that those kids can cook dinner and run errands.

But—wife and motherhood are roles; they are not identities. Deeply ingrained, heartbeats of our lives, yes, but not indicators of our worth and fulfillment.

Because, see, if we transfer our identity to anything other than who we are in Christ, even a very good thing, we hang all of our self-worth on our job performance at that thing. (And let’s be honest here. My own job performance at the wife/mom things has hovered between abysmal and “You’re fired!” at times. The struggle is real.)

We give up the only identity that lets us know why we’re alive. And we make ourselves redundant when that “job” is over.

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I know—you‘re staring at me through your screen with bleary sleep-deprived eyes and assuring me that this job will never be over. You will be changing diapers and overseeing homework and negotiating completely illogical arguments until the end of your natural life.

Except you know this isn’t exactly true because look at you. You were once that breastmilk-spewing tornado in your mother’s arms. You grew up. And too often, when our children grow up, if we’ve wrapped our sense of self around them, we stand there staring at the door wondering who we are and what we’re going to do now. What we’re going to be now.

All because of that one lie.

Why take this very good thing on as a lie we tell girls? Because it denies so many women a chance to see their value apart from their relationship to husband and child. If you have daughters, it tells them they cannot be complete or capable for God’s work in their own selves. If you have sons, it tells them they are a girl’s savior.

Men and women are partners in God’s kingdom. They make lousy saviors for one another.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” Genesis 2.18

Bear with a little Bible school here. The word “helper” (ezer) is used in the Old Testament almost exclusively as a description of God helping us. Hardly a needy role. The SAME WORD used here for Eve is used for God, repeatedly, to imply strong helper—an arm of power when another is weak and needs assistance. Eve was created to be what Adam needed when he could not handle life on his own—and even when he could.

And “just right”? It means a perfectly matched partner. Someone willing and able to join Adam equally in that whole “Fill the earth and govern it” shindig. Nothing secondary about it.

Men and women are partners in God’s kingdom. They make lousy saviors for one another. 

So isn’t this a mandate for the role of wife? Not if we look at all the independent, capable single women of the scriptures. (Seriously. Look some time.) It’s really a mandate for women to be strong partners with men in God’s design for creation. Those could be single women, young women, older women, widows, married women with small children, divorced women, black, white, or hispanic women—any woman. All women. Created to be instruments of God’s kingdom on earth, first and foremost. We were not created for Adam so much as for the job he had to do and could not do alone.

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It’s quite a wonderful thing that many of us enjoy that partnership as a spouse to someone we love like crazy. Modeling a joyful marriage partnership to our children is one of the best things we can do for them. One of the other best things? Model to them that our purpose and identity  come from Jesus alone—not one another.

Instead of a lie, how about we tell them some of these things?

–Tell our little girls that they are waiting for no one but God to give them a purpose in life.

–Tell our little boys that girls who know their purpose are the most fun to come alongside.

–Tell our little girls that needing someone else to define them will always leave them empty.

–Tell our little boys that it’s far better for a girl to want to be with them than to need to.

–Tell our little girls that if they don’t know they’re beloved, beautiful, strong, powerful, and accepted through Jesus they will never truly know it from someone else.

–Tell our little boys the same thing.

Tell them both that marriage and parenthood are beautiful and worthy of all kinds of sacrifice and effort.

But tell them that walking with the will of God is even better.

Surprised by Peace

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May is my favorite month. I gaze out the kitchen window at the brilliant pink crabapple trees standing over blushing tulips. Lilacs come into the house in bunches. Bikes come out for long rides, during which we smell morning rain over the forest preserve prairie. Sound carefree? Don’t let it fool you. This kind of peace doesn’t come easy in May. It’s also my craziest month.

 

When our oldest daughter got married two years ago, I informed my other two daughters they had to follow suit and keep all the family weddings in May. We could all go away for one big weekend to celebrate four anniversaries, one birthday, and Mother’s Day.

What’s the answer to craziness that threatens to steal our peace? Click on to the rest of this post at The Glorious Table to find out.

Things God Wants To Know

But why?

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How do you respond to motivation? Are you more inclined to do something if someone else wants you to? If the rules say you should? Or, like some of us, not at all no matter what?

Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Four Tendencies, divides people into categories depending on how they respond to motivation. Those who, like me, respond to inner motivation far more than anything from the outside, are called questioners. (You can even take the quiz here if you want.)

We ask “why” a lot. That’s the gist of the personality. If you can give us a good reason for doing something, we’re in. If not, we’re not terribly motivated. A good reason, mind you, is in the eye of the questioner.

So it’s not a surprise, I suppose, that I would be drawn to the questions in the Bible. A couple weeks ago, we talked about God’s first question. (Where are you?) It’s important, I believe, to look at the things God wants to know and ponder why. (I did say I asked “why” a lot.)

Questions God asks

God, presumably, does not ask rhetorical questions. He doesn’t need to ask questions at all. What doesn’t he already know? Can he ask a question he doesn’t know the answer to?

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“Omniscient” is one of those fifty-dollar theological words that means the ability, or even character trait, of knowing absolutely everything. (So go use that word now to impress people.) God has no need to ask us anything at all.

That’s why I find the fact that he does so intriguing.

Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord? Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him? Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice? Does he need instruction about what is good? Did someone teach him what is right or show him the path of justice? (Isaiah 40.13-14)

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone? Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east?

Do you know where the gates of death are located?  Where does light come from, and where does darkness go? Can you take each to its home? Can you direct the movement of the stars? Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth? Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? (Job 38)

So why would he ask us questions?

Well, why did I ask my students questions when I taught high school? Did I need to know the author of Pride and Prejudice? Was I ignorant of the psychology behind Javert’s issues? Could I not google the date of publication of War and Peace if I didn’t know? (No, in fact, I couldn’t. We didn’t have google. Or the interwebs. It was that long ago.)

As a parent, do I really have to walk into a room and ask “Who made this mess?”

No parent in the history of parents needs to ask that. We know.

But we do ask these things. We ask them for several reasons.

We want to see if others do know the answers they need to know. We want to give people a chance to confess to things they need to know (or things they did) before they have no choice. Maybe we want them to rethink an answer they’ve given or a belief they hold. Perhaps we want to prod action. Possibly, we just want a dialog.

God works in similar ways. He doesn’t need information or answers. So what’s left?

Maybe God also wants to:

  • Help us figure out the answers
  • Make us rethink some answer we thought we knew
  • Prod us into thinking about our answers
  • Give us information
  • Move us to action
  • Have a dialog with us.

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It’s a well known axiom of adult learning experts that asking questions helps people learn better. (That’s why I’ve taken to doing it a lot when I preach.) In their research, Julie Bugg and Mark McDaniel at Washington University in St. Louis (shout out to the alma mater!) set out to discover what kind of questions worked best. They determined that conceptual questions—those where you ask yourself or someone else questions that require putting ideas together rather than just knowing details—help us learn best.

So asking about motives of Javert would give my students a much better grasp of literature than asking the publication date of War and Peace. Truth.

What does this have to do with God?

It’s important because if God asks a question, we should probably pay attention.

If he’s wanting to dialog, we should be joy-filled at the prospect.

If he respects us enough to want us to figure things out on our own, we can be grateful. He made us in his image, which includes the ability to think things through.

If he speaks in questions so often, perhaps we should rethink our tendency to speak in proclamation more often than not. I love that Jesus often spoke in questions. Maybe being like Jesus should prod us to listen more, ask more questions, trust people more to be able to come to conclusions of their own. Perhaps being so sure we have wisdom to impart should give way to his method of helping people figure out wisdom and confession in their time and way.

If questions are such a vital part of God’s toolkit, maybe we could take a look at why. Next week, we’ll continue the journey that we started with God’s first question—Where are you?—with Jesus’ first question. What is it? You’ll find out next week.

It’s Whatever

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I just walked a mile around he lake in our nearby forest preserve. That might not sound like much. It isn’t compared to a mere six months ago. Six months ago on vacation, I routinely walked 8 miles a day. Every day. For two weeks.

When you stack up today next to six months ago, today appears to fall pretty far short.

But that wouldn’t be telling the whole story.

Almost four months ago, I injured my back. In ways known only to witch doctors somewhere in deepest darkest Africa, I managed to get a herniated disc just getting into the car. Pray you never experience this. The level of pain is off the charts, and recovery has been ponderous.

I don’t like slow. I yell at slow drivers, give side eyes to dawdlers in the grocery store, and have zero patience with organizers of anything who aren’t properly organized. It’s the curse of the high-strategy person. (Fortunately, Jesus holds his hand over my mouth and puts my heart in the place it needs to be. This, in itself, is enough reason to believe he’s real.)

So extremely slow physical recovery isn’t my best game. I want to be able to get back to 6-8 miles within weeks, not a year. I dreamed of a sixteen-mile hike in the Channel Islands this summer. That dream just isn’t going to happen. It’s going to be slow, careful, one mile by one mile.

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Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. (Colossians 3.23)

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10.31)

I’ve heard these verses a lot. They’re good words. I think, though, I’ve let these well-known verses bully me, in a way neither God nor Paul ever intended. It all depends on where we put the emphasis. (It also, always, depends on context.)

I’m used to looking at these verses and seeing the words “heartily,” “”work,” and “all” first. Like, we have to do everything. A few things won’t do. And how we do that everything? With all we’ve got. All the effort. All the perfection. As all coaches’ favorite woefully unmathematical motivational platitude goes—give it 110%.

Go big or go home.

But sometimes, big is more than we have. It leaves us feeling like we should be making those 8-mile hikes every single day, signing hymns all the way, and if we’re not, we’re just not enough.

I think maybe I’ve been seeing the wrong words first.

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That’s not the way Brother Lawrence read the verse when he chose to have a joyful life working in the kitchen slicing carrots and stirring stew.

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

As long as he did it with gratitude, he considered washing dishes glorifying to God. It wasn’t everything. It wasn’t perfect. It was enough.

Why do we hear these verses and think that one lousy mile for God isn’t enough? Small things aren’t sufficient. We ought to be doing grand things, big things, amazing things, if we’re really doing our best for God.

Shouldn’t we be going 6-8 miles, or 16 miles, like others? Or even like ourselves, six months ago?

Whatever

I know all about the illls of comparing myself to others. But I hadn’t thought too much of the illls of comparing myself to . . . myself. So what if I could do more this time last year? Does that negate the mile today? Is it any less significant an accomplishment because a previous me could do better? Why is the me of today less than the me of yesterday because of some arbitrary mile marker I use to determine my worth?

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Our yesterdays don’t determine what we are today. Or tomorrow. Today, it’s enough to do whatever I can do to God’s glory. To take the focus off the “all” and the “heartily” and put it on the “whatever.” It’s the first word, after all. Whatever we are able to do. It doesn’t matter at all if that’s different than it once was or from what it will be someday. “Whatever” is the word I want to concentrate on.

It’s a mile. A good mile. One enjoyed on a warm April day, a rarity this year. To have enjoyed it, to have been grateful for it, to have raised a fist in victory after it—those are the things that bring God joy and glory. They do so no less than to have run a marathon and bested the field.

Whatever you do.

*By the end of this month, I hope to be at two miles. I’ve signed up for the Human Race again, raising money for World Relief and refugee resettlement. With God’s help, I’m going to get there! If you’d like to donate to my walk, please follow the link. I and the amazing refugee population I know and love would appreciate it greatly!

Best of Intentions

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Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty! (Proverbs 14:23 NLT)

The daffodils are up in my yard, and I’m in full “I love spring” mode. Well aware that snow in April is always a potential dark horse around here, I appreciate every flower, bud, and branch I can smell and carry into the house—especially daffodils.

Every spring I look at the daffodils, decide we need more of them, and intend to plant more in the fall. Then autumn comes, and I might or might not remember that spring promise.

Click on over the The Glorious Table today to read further and find out why I, and so many others of us, have to conclude that “my springs are full of good intentions, and my falls are full of “I meant tos.” What do we do about it?

 

With-ness

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I’m sitting here, hands cupped around a hot mug, savoring a moment I never take the time to savor when I’m at home and all the world hedges in around me.

A hot cup of tea. Sunshine. And the presence of God.

Not the insistent, task-driving presence of God I don’t realize I too often imagine. Just presence. With-ness. Nothing else.

Why is this so elusive?

I realized something this morning that scared me. For the first time, the past few months, I have not loved what I do. I am so blessed to love pastoring, writing, everything God has given me.

The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance! (Psalm 16.6)

I assumed it would always be like this. The problem is, making that assumption, I naturally assume that more is better. If work is a good thing, why isn’t more work better? Why isn’t adding a dozen more things to my to do list way more fun? Why don’t I want to tackle them with the same excitement?

So I’ve been adding. And adding.

We’ve reached the tipping point. The other side is darkness and burnout, and I am so close to that edge that I can see the jaws of the kraken. It is not a pretty sight.

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I’ve been imagining all the things God will need to take away from me to bring me back from the edge. What has to drop off the list? What must I lose to find joy again, to love the written and spoken word for themselves rather than for what they can do for me and the places they might take me? To love pastoring for the call and not the applause?

To love God for moments like these rather than what he can do for me, too.

We have got this so wrong.

I don’t expect time with my husband or kids to “work” for me in some way. I only want to be in their presence. I don’t plan to leave their presence suddenly energized or enabled to carry out some new task in my day.

But we expect that of God. We don’t simply be with him. Maybe this isn’t a revelation. It is to me.

I neglect prayer because it doesn’t “work.” I don’t feel different. Life doesn’t go better. So why spend those precious minutes I could be working in a pursuit that seems to be staring into space, waiting for lightning that doesn’t strike? Oh, I do pray, because I do believe in it.

But I’ve got it so, so wrong if I’m waiting for time with God to “work.”

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Why does it have to “work”? Why does God have to “work” for me? Why do there have to be results? Why can’t we just be? We’re cultivating a relationship, not a business partnership. Relationships take time. They take stillness together. The best relationships happen when we do nothing together but sit and stare and feel one another’s existence. We know that, if we’re blessed to have those relationships. We never ask those people to do anything more than they do by being.

I don’t have to ask God to be for me. He already is. I don’t have to ask him to be with me. He’s never anywhere else. I just have to stop long enough to stand in the sunbeam rather than run through it, hoping for something to stick.

It is time to scale back. Back to the basics of just sitting with God. Asking him to rule the to do list. Giving him veto power over my hours and days and minutes. Listening. Sitting. Sipping. Tasting and seeing that he is good.

This isn’t the blog post I planned to write. But it’s the blog post I needed.

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