It’s ten degrees above average where I am in North Carolina today – which isn’t a big deal, considering that spring has been beautiful here, and we’ve been spared the kind of weather that’s been disastrous in other parts of the country. But April, which is usually my favorite month of the year, has been far from typical where I live – meaning down in my soul.
From my car, I watch as my daughter struggles up the school steps, bent over with a book-bag stuffed with year-end projects on her back. In her, I see myself, burdened by a load of cares and my same-old shortcomings. Somewhat ironically, the places where I feel lacking are the places which pile on my insecurity and disappointment.
I’m writing this post to join Emily’s discussion, Let’s Share What We Learned in April. But I think, at the month’s end, I know less than I did before. And oftentimes I feel less-than-Christian for the ways I struggle.
For everything I don’t know, however, I still know this – Jesus is mine and I am His. On days like these April days, I remind myself that where I am less-than, He is more-than. I have little else to claim but His complete acceptance of me.
Perhaps I’ve learned a few other things from April. It makes sense to expect that being generally weary and downcast would decrease one’s capacity to see things clearly. On the contrary, this season of struggle has sharpened my ability to notice and appreciate, to listen and observe. I like how Annie Downs expresses this dynamic:
My ability to feel the depths of something good was strengthened by my choice to feel the depths of pain. I don’t know exactly how this works. I just know the more I hang on and feel, the more I am able to feel; and each time more balm gets rubbed into the wounds of my soul …Looking for lovely is not about pretending everything is beautiful and nothing is ugly and you have no questions or doubts and picking out the beautiful in your everyday is going to protect you from anything hurting ever …. there is beauty in choosing to feel that pain, in calling hurt what it is, and not pretending everything is okay (Looking for Lovely, pages 75 – 76).
In the past 2 weeks, I’ve been looking-for-lovely and I’ve filled my phone, and even my “real” camera, with photos as spring unfolds herself. It’s humbling to see that I don’t have it all together but even more humbling to grasp that the Creator does. The word “humility,” after all, comes from the root humus, meaning “earth.” Pausing to appreciate His hand in this loveliness gives me perspective.
Look at the birds in the air. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them. And you know that you are worth much more than the birds. You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it. Matthew 6: 26 – 27
The spirit of humility which God desires for us is never accusatory, like the less-than thoughts I struggle with. It’s being absorbed with His majesty and mercy. Every “less” in my life is swallowed up in unstoppable, lovely (saturated-with-love) grace.
As I find solace in the works of God’s hands, I’m learning how restoring it is to set my own hands to creativity. Every day we go about our lives maintaining things – our possessions, our bodies, our jobs. All this maintenance is necessary; it’s a fulfilling of God’s commandment to steward the earth. But creativity can be spiritual practice as well, a reflection of God who makes things new. When we cook a fresh meal or move furniture around to find a new look or write words or bake cookies or put a plant in the ground or play a few chords, the process can be inspiring and lovely and freeing in itself (no matter what the product looks like).
Unlike God, of course, the outcomes of my creativity are often imperfect or incomplete. It may look “less-than” to me, but every effort makes me intentional, unique, and more alive as an image-bearer of the Creator.
Perhaps I am moving from a “less-than” state of mind toward a recognition of the loveliness within, because of Jesus.
As I learn to regard myself humbly and kindly and patiently, I soak in these wise words from Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
By cultivating a spirit that is more inclined toward delight and less toward duty, I’m treating others more kindly as well. By releasing demands on myself and my people, I let go of those measuring sticks that would keep us living less-than freely, authentically, and abundantly in Christ. The love of our Redeemer is more than we could ever ask or imagine.
I’m ready. Are you? Let’s come alive together.
There is a correlation, I’m finding, between beauty and perseverance. It feels like beauty might be knots in the rope you are climbing, gas stations along the cross-country journey, the water stations set up strategically on a racecourse. Beauty is what makes it possible to keep going … I needed to find beautiful if I was going to hang in there. I have spent significant time over the last few years looking for lovely because I do love beautiful things. But mostly because I just don’t want to quit anymore (Annie Downs, Looking for Lovely, page 50).
Even as we accept our own frailty, help us not to despise ourselves for it. Instead, may our weakness be a reminder of your strength within us. Embolden us to speak even if we misspeak. Enliven us to move even if we fall down. Encourage us to embrace even if we get hurt … As we face those places in our souls that are frozen, may the hard spots begin to thaw in the presence of Christ. May we not try to mop up the water that comes from the melting but offer it somehow to quench the thirst of someone else (Emily P. Freeman, a prayer in Simply Tuesday, pages 199- 200.)
I’m joining the “Let’s Share What We Learned in April” discussion at Emily’s site today.