Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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questions while sitting in the fog

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Questions fill my days, looming like a murky and stubborn fog, without sudden breakthroughs. I don’t know that they’re good questions. They’re just …. questions, those uncertainties which accompany me when I don’t see the next step ahead. Clarity is quite appealing, I think. I mean, the questions, good or not, are keeping me awake at night. A direct answer would make a nice pillow after all. Then, when I rise to a bright and clear morning, I’ll do what God tells me to do.

All I’m looking for is a “yes” or a “no.”

This morning, after another night of wondering, of wrestling, a memory came to mind. (I knew it was a thought not my own, seeing that I was pre-caffeinated.) I remembered how, just days before, in a training session on small group leadership, I described the skill of asking good questions, the kind which are open-ended, which can’t be answered with the simple “yes” or “no.”

Good questions are those which invite group members to process and think and reflect, even to struggle a bit, if that’s what it takes to move information from the head to the heart. As Jim Branch says, “A good question creates dialogue and interaction and life … A good question invites us to go inward, to the very core of our being, and seek something deep within ourselves.”

As a mom of a teenager, one question in particular haunts me: Who am I going to be when she leaves?

It’s not a question that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” Perhaps more than any question I’ve ever asked, it’s this one that invites me to go inward.

Jesus wants the core of my being. And He is so committed to developing faith in me that He might not give pat answers, for those answers make trust unnecessary. Instead, He leads me to the open-ends, which usually means waiting and mystery and longing. The open-ends create space for grace where I slowly learn that the way of faith is not something I achieve. The Way of faith is a Person I receive.

This kind of faith transforms my questions.  I am prone to pray, “What do You want me to do?” But the Holy Spirit leads me to pray, “Who do You want me to become?”

It’s a tremendous shift, one that says “yes” to relationship, which involves more than simply following directives. It invites the Spirit to do tough, tender transformation within my soul. It is the work of grace and not the work of works. It is open-handedness, requiring all of me, nothing closed off, everything made plain to see, all surrendered.

“Who do You want me to become?” is a question that acknowledges that life is not a linear experience from one simple task to another. Rather, it’s a layered story, with subplots and loose ends and mystery. And I might be tempted to think my story is all about me, but God is writing the pages, crafting each chapter in due season. It’s His story.

It’s not that I have an answer for “Who I am going to be when she leaves?” as much as I have an Author who will guide me through that chapter when it comes.  And in the fog, faith says that’s all I need to see for now.

What questions are you asking today?

Of course, we all know, don’t we, that there are other kinds of questions. These are cries of a heart that is broken and grieving. Maybe we aren’t necessary looking for answers, for sometimes an explanation for “Why?” can’t change the situation anyway.

King David expressed this kind of heart’s cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:1–2)

In our small group training, we discussed the value of silence. Anyone who’s led a small group knows the awkwardness of asking a question that’s met with silence. And we are tempted to fill that uncomfortable void with our voices, perhaps cutting off the opportunity for deeper reflection and movement from head to heart. As an introvert, I need time and quietness to process my thoughts inwardly before jumping to quick answers. But when the Lord seems to reply with silence, I feel frustrated, confused, even rejected. Obviously, my pain hasn’t caught Him off-guard, as if He needs time to formulate solutions.

God is never truly silent; the truth is that He speaks all the time in creation and in His Word. But sometimes we perceive His silence in ways that seem almost palpable, like a wilderness where we hunger and thirst without relief. But could it be that, only in the ways of God, silence is still a conversation, deeply inward? It can be a space where we learn to trust His promises and not our perceptions, where we come to discover Him in ways we missed when we walked by sight, where we seek Him not for the fixing but for His face.

Here, perhaps once again, the good question isn’t “what?” or even “why?” but “Who?” When we haven’t received the answers, when we can’t perceive His voice, let us lean in to knowing Him more, the Author who knows all mysteries and holds grace in their midst.

A Prayer for Those Sitting in the Fog ~

We confess our love of cloudless days, bright mornings, clearly marked pathways. We confess our discomfort in the fog but recognize a longing we discover there too. Even as we confess our desire for answers, may we learn to walk humbly with questions. Help us to find your company beside us as we crouch in the darkness and wait for the first light of dawn. Help us to know Your presence in ways we may have overlooked if not for our inability to see.  Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday.

 

 

 

 


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Simply curious and curiously simple

When summer began, I didn’t think about simplicity and curiosity like I do now, as summer nears its end. Sure, every time I rummaged deep through my closet, I thought about the need to clean out. But simplicity as an overall priority wasn’t in the summer plans.

And why would I think about curiosity? I guess it crossed my mind occasionally when my daughter was little and asked “Why?” probably a million times, as all curious children do. I suppose that many people think of curiosity as generally nosy and potentially irritating (not to mention dangerous for cats).

But when I consider what I’ve learned this summer, simplicity and curiosity are the recurring themes – which seems odd, given that I conceptualize the two as almost opposites. Simplicity, to me, seems a minimalistic quality, while curiosity is expansive. If simplicity is focused like a microscope, then curiosity is exploratory like a telescope.

Yet, I’ve discovered that these qualities, in tandem, are lenses through which I see more of God.

One of the more important lessons showed up on the summer curriculum when my husband, daughter, and I told our friends how much luggage we were planning to carry around Europe for 2 weeks. My heart sunk when they told us that, basically, we were nuts.

I’ve never traveled lightly. As I pack, my mind creates a plan for every “what if” I can think of.

If only I had been a Boy Scout, I could take the “Be Prepared” motto to a new level. Travel with me, and I’m willing to lug all the snacks, hair gel, Tide-To-Go, first-aid supplies, and ponchos that we could ever need.

Pack lighter, our friends said.

You won’t be able to walk quickly between train, bus, and subway stations.

You need to limit yourselves to a carry-on each.

Quite reluctantly we went home to unpack all the things we wanted and repack only the things we needed. This required a wrestling match between what could go and what must stay home.

During our trip, I discovered a lesson that traveling writer Tsh Oxenreider has known for a while: “There’s a beauty to curating our life’s needs to the basic essentials. There’s a step of faith involved when you decide to leave behind those socks in order to make room for that swimsuit” (In my case, room would be made for snacks). You can read the rest of Tsh’s post on traveling light {here}.

The Febreeze fabric refresher made the cut, thankfully, so I doused my outfits in Linen Fresh every time I wore them (repeatedly). We ate unfamiliar but delicious food, and the packed nibbles weren’t necessary after all. And we managed the buses, trains, and subways while looking as little like tourists as possible (well, that’s not completely accurate but, hey, we tried).

Lesson learned. I really can simplify and survive. I wanted to come home and streamline.

As I considered what to release, I decided that my newly acquired spirit of curiosity was worth keeping. For two weeks, in the midst of Austrian Alps, German rolling hills, and Albanian countryside, I marveled at the Creator’s glorious touch upon the amazing people, stories, and sights we encountered on our journey.

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Before Salzburg, I didn’t think I’d be all that interested in Mozart’s birthplace, his life, or his classical works. But I realized there that Mozart’s musical masterpieces bear witness to the One who composed heavenly melodies before violins and pianos existed.

My awareness of God’s glory was undoubtedly influenced by my surroundings. But could it be that wonder arises less from place and more from perspective?

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I’ve started to think of curiosity as a posture of open-handedness in which we release our grasp on the urgent things in order to freely receive the essential things. Traveling light increases our capacity for exploration, and simplicity creates space for curiosity to fill.  I long to live open-handed, in hopeful expectancy as I release and receive as God wills. Then He stretches my faith in His limitless possibility. Open-handed anticipation seems, to me, the essence of worship.

Even though, years ago, my little girl’s bevy of questions irritated me at times, they endeared me to her childlike spirit. I remember her delight in discovery, her ability to be awed. This is the sort of faith which children of God aren’t meant to outgrow.

We’re born with an innate curiosity that compels us to explore, marvel, and believe there is more to life … I don’t want us to just be curious about God; I want us to be curious for more of Him. I believe that the goodness and wonders of God can amaze us, but it’s our curiosity for more of Him that propels us forward to experience more of His presence in our lives (Logan Wolfram, Curious Faith).

So I have begun to see curiosity as the anticipation of God’s movement. This can happen as I wash dishes at my sink and watch the butterflies dance with the flowers and the hummingbirds hover and dart, jockeying for position at the feeder.

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As these miniature wonders capture my attention, the Holy Spirit reminds me that the Heavenly Father is mindful of the tiniest of creatures and He’s promised to be all the more trustworthy for His children. And He never grows weary or irritable with our pursuit of Him.

God’s patience toward our curiosity remains constant even when our childlike faith is obscured with hard questions. Even as I long to travel lightly, I can’t dismiss the heaviness in our world – in my own soul.

I started blogging after my father was diagnosed with cancer. Although I had followed Christ for most of my life, I was never awed in anticipation of Heaven, to be honest. Maybe it’s kinda boring, I thought … Maybe things of this world have more excitement to offer.

But Daddy died, and to have any comfort at all, I started reading and writing about eternity.  I was curious for eternity. And curiosity offered forward movement.

Grief was my companion but powerless to keep me stuck in despair.  As I learn to be awed by the Lord of eternity in the here and now, this moving forward with hope cannot fail.

When I take time to really seek and consider the greatness of our God as He shows Himself on earth, I am increasingly certain that His eternal presence is anything but boring.

In A Hunger for God, John Piper writes: “If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

Curiosity, in my mind, is the drinking deeply, and simplicity is the making room for the great. Together, they satisfy a thirsty pilgrim who learns to travel lightly.

May we not stuff our souls, like we stuff suitcases, with so many small things that we become distracted and burdened and miss the great things. Margins built into each day allow us to pause and breathe and seek God in the marvelous and in the mundane. This requires some unpacking of what we want and repacking of what we need (which I suspect is what we want most of all.)

Maybe this means that we unload unnecessary material possessions or a people-pleasing mentality or a tendency toward comparison or a reluctance to forgive.

And we repack a curiosity that turns us toward one another. If we become more genuinely curious about our neighbors and their perspectives, strengths, wounds, and needs, perhaps that curiosity will birth compassion in our souls, rather than competition or criticism. It gives us a lenses through which we see God’s glorious image in His children. May we hunger to observe and to listen and to understand and to love and to experience the manifestation of God’s glory in this way.

God’s table is offered here for all of us, here and now. Let’s meet one another in this spacious place to be simply curious and curiously simple for Him, and our brothers and sisters, together.

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Here are my favorite resources for traveling light and staying curious:

The Art of Simple by Tsh Oxenreider and a community of people who define “simple living” this way: living holistically with your life’s purpose.

Curious Faith: Rediscovering Hope in the God of Possibility by Logan Wolfram ~

“Sometimes we may not be able to fix what’s broken. But we can’t lose the capacity to walk curiously after the Lord just because we can’t make sense of everything that happens in a broken world. Hope and curiosity are still for us. And when we carry heavy things we have to believe that the redemptive work of the cross can and will be redemption enough. In the end, God always ends. He always restores. He always redeems.”

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Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily P. Freeman ~

“What if, instead of thinking we have to choose between our ordinary life and an extraordinary life, we began to realize they’re the same thing?”

“Let me hear Jesus whisper to me the lesson he taught the disciples, the one about praying for this day our daily bread, not bread to last the week. Let me believe him when he tells me the most important work I’ll do today is to receive the love he wants to give and then hand it out to others.”

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The Disguise of the Divine

It’s been a delightfully ordinary day so far. Walmart trip – check. Grocery store – been there. Bank – did that. Laundry – in progress (always in progress, right?). Unloading dishwasher – done.

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I don’t usually find delight in ordinary tasks, but Gideon’s story challenges me to adopt a new perspective. In Judges 6, we find that Gideon was threshing wheat when the angel of the Lord appeared. Hiding in a winepress (not the usual place for threshing wheat), Gideon didn’t want any sort of encounter, much less a divine assignment. However, Gideon learned that ordinary is often the disguise of the divine, a lesson seen elsewhere in Scripture.

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I think of Moses’ calling in Exodus 3:

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush….”

And the calling of David in 1 Samuel 16:

“Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord has not chosen these.’ So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’

‘There is still the youngest,’ Jesse answered. ‘He is tending the sheep.’

Samuel said, ‘Send for him….’

Then the Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; this is the one.’”

Consider that Jesus called Peter, James and John while they were in their boats: “‘… from now on you will fish for people,’ He said. So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5: 10 – 11).

Gideon was farming, Moses and David were tending animals, and the disciples were working their daily tasks when  miraculous movements of God interrupted their monotony.

Today’s tasks, even the most mundane of them – are often preparation for tomorrow’s calling.” ~ Priscilla Shirer.

God calls you and me to be faithful with the assignments that He’s entrusted to us. And here is the place where the simple is sacred, if we will choose a perspective of thankfulness. Gideon’s wheat, Moses’ flock, and Peter’s boat were evidences of God’s blessing.

The load of laundry? That’s evidence that we have ample clothing.

The full dishwasher? That’s proof that a meal was prepared and enjoyed last night.

From turbulent 17th century France rises the testimony of Brother Lawrence, a monk who gave his faithful attention to God’s presence in any activity. Assigned to the mundane tasks of peeling potatoes and cleaning the monastery kitchen, Brother Lawrence developed a holy perspective of common work.  Because he didn’t compartmentalize his communion with God to “spiritual” endeavors, Brother Lawrence worshipped in the midst of his very ordinary business.

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“We can do little things for God,” said Brother Lawrence. “I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him.”

Likewise, I want to search out the grace of my everyday tasks (even laundry) and cultivate a grateful, worshipping heart. Perhaps tomorrow’s calling will require some extraordinary preparation, and if so, it begins today – in the midst of my ordinary life.

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“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.”
― Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God— but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people— and this is not learned in five minutes.” – Oswald Chambers

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