These Hibernation Days

I hope your Christmas season has been warm and rich, full of reminders that you're loved and there is so much for you to love. Even in my moments of stark disappointment, when I can easily list out all the ways I've felt overlooked by God or others, I remember, "I have so much and so many to love. Even if [fill in the blank], I have been given much by God to be invested in, to love, to hear, to reconcile, and more."

As we move toward the new year, still plodding through the dark days of winter, I am always reminded of God's good design for winter. The old adage, "Bloom where you're planted," is cute, but nothing blooms all year long. Everything appears to die and some things do die. We know seeds must drop to the ground and die before they can be broken open and begin the process of blooming again. Winter is a fallen seed, before it has sprouted again. It is God's gift to us, to teach us of the value of rest, quiet, hiddenness, and death. 

I began the Seven Ways series a few week ago and want to continue today. I said one of the Ways we practice not a work/life balance, but a work/rest model in order to see God as our Creator, Redeemer, and Joy. 

So much is said about work/life balances, especially in the career world. Stay at home parents or spouses laugh at that though, because work is life and life is work and there is no easy seamless division for what is work and what is just life. In many ways, this is a gift from God though. Life is toil, even the weekends are, and when we make these clear delineation of the two, we can begin to grow frustrated when our "life" time (or me-time) is infringed on by work. So instead, Nate and I try to talk about our weeks, months, and our year in terms of work/rest. 

Work is times of faithfulness, of sometimes going beyond our abilities or preferences to get the job done. To be faithful in small places to provide, prove, refine, care for, and supply. This is most of our week, month, and year. We want to go to bed tired at night, spent from being invested in people, in service, in hospitality, in counsel, in vocation.  

Rest is times of knowing God's faithfulness, of seeing the ways our God is our Creator, Redeemer, and our Joy. It is not about us, although it is a gift from God to us. I've written previously about how we practice Sabbath in our home, but this also applies to things like winter or holidays. These are dim days where we feel our frailty and fragility, and where the light of Christ has come and is coming still. These are the days we intentionally step back from much of the daily grind and, instead, look up. 

I am just as proficient at naval gazing as the best of them. It is so tempting and easy to look down at myself or at the world and try to dissect all the missing parts or broken places. But to rest, for me, means I pick up my eyes, look up to the hills, and know my Helper comes from above. It means intentionally not fixing what Jesus has left unfixed. It means not rushing to be or do or go or see something. It means taking my hands off what I want to control. All of these ought to be regular practices but, for us, it helps to have a regular day where we remember in startling clarity how far we've wandered. Our Father is our all-sufficient hope, Christ is our all-sufficient sacrifice, and the Spirit is our all-sufficient help. We need a period of time to just remember, reflect, and rejoice in these truths. 

We practice our sabbath from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday. That might not work for you, but find something that does. We take our cue from the natural seasons, too, and rest more in the winter. We hibernate. No human body is capable of doing all we demand of it all year, we must rest. For many, "rest" waits for vacation days. We've spent all of our vacation this year traveling, driving, seeing family, engaging folks we rarely see, and we come home and need a vacation from our vacation. I don't think God designed rest to be like that.

What would rest look like for you if you simply removed your hands from plowing, planting, sowing, harvesting for a bit this winter? What would it look like for you to rest, not so you can prepare to work again soon, but so you can remember you are the seed and not the farmer? 

Screen Shot 2017-12-26 at 8.40.32 AM.png

The Membership of the Living: the common anxieties

Before I set aside my phone for the night yesterday, a friend and I were texting. We're two friends who try to be faithful in the life God has given to each of us, in the season in which we find ourselves, to the church to which we've been covenanted, to the people we love and who love us. Anyone looking in from the outside would probably say the same about each of us. They might see a few places we could be righted or nudged forward in, more restrained about and more disciplined in, but I think, overall, most folks would view us as two well-adjusted, acquainted with sorrow, faith-filled women trying to live within the goodness of the gospel day to day. 

Yet most of our conversations are not full of accolades about ourselves or pats on the other's back or lists of how well we're each doing. Mostly they're full of confession of brokenness, fears, anxieties, discomforts. They're usually brimming with the asking of precise questions and then really listening to the answers, rarely giving counsel to one another (although she is by profession one and I am not without plenty to give), but mostly just listening. 

Last night I vaguely confessed some anxiety and she asked me to name my top three and, dear readers, I'm going to share them with you here without regret.

My first is that I will never be a good enough wife (although my husband has never and would never say that to me); my second is that my body will always betray me, no matter how healthily I eat, how faithfully I exercise, and how tenderly I treat it; and my third is that I have peaked in life, ministry, faithfulness, writing, and it's all downhill from here. These are the anxieties that arrest my soul. And then my friend shared hers. They weren't the same as mine, but they were nearly the same; the first having to do with love and marriage, and the want of it, the second having to do with the frailty of the body, and the third having to do with living in light of eternity. 

It occurred to me that most of us, if we're honest, probably struggle with these three main anxieties: the anxiety of being loved, the anxiety of being alive, and the anxiety of being faithful. Fill in the blank of your anxieties and my guess is they will fall somewhere in there somehow. We humans are more alike than we like to pretend in our individualistic world. 

I have been thinking a lot about listening recently. How good and right it is to listen well and how awfully bad we are at it. Most of us are thinking of the next thing to say before the other has said anything at all. Many of us only ask questions to ascertain information for ourselves or to turn a conversation in the direction we want it to go. Some treat conversation as an opportunity to interrupt or monologue or catch the other in a moment of poor logic, frailty, fear, or false theology. 

Recently my husband and I were listening to a friend talk about a hard thing that happened in her life and I wanted to interject counsel or a good idea or to give quick comfort, and my husband only said, "I'm sorry this happened. It must have been hard." And then he was quiet, listening longer, letting our friend speak freely, without caveat, without question, without interruption. I thought to myself, I want to be more like this. Rarely do we stop to consider how alike most of us all are, deeply wanting to be loved (or even liked), deeply desiring the full experience of being alive, and deeply wanting to be found faithful. And how most of us just want the comfort of another person acknowledging the pain of life on this orb, and then simply saying, "I'm sorry. I think I get it a little, but not all the way, but I want to sit here with you in it." 

I just finished rereading Wendell Berry's essay Health is Membership from The Art of the Commonplace again yesterday. It's one of my favorites and it ends with this short illustration from when Berry's brother was in the hospital undergoing a triple-bypass operation. The whole essay is wonderful and should be read by anyone who is alive, but I wanted to share the last few paragraphs with you today: 

The most moving, to me, happened in the waiting room during John's surgery. From time to time a nurse from the operating room would come in to tell Carol what was happening. Carol, from politeness or bravery or both, always stood to receive the news, which always left us somewhat encouraged and somewhat doubtful. Carol's difficulty was that she had to suffer the ordeal not only as a wife but as one who had been a trained nurse. She knew, from her own education and experience, in how limited a sense open-heart surgery could be said to be normal or - routine.

Finally, toward the end of our wait, two nurses came in. The operation, they said, had been a success. They explained again what had been done. And then they said that after the completion of the bypasses, the surgeon had found it necessary to insert a "balloon pump" into the aorta to assist the heart. This possibility had never been mentioned, nobody was prepared for it, and Carol was sorely disappointed and upset. The two young women attempted to reassure her, mainly by repeating things they had already said. And then there was a long moment when they just looked at her. It was such a look as parents sometimes give to a sick or suffering child, when they themselves have begun to need the comfort they are trying to give.

And then one of the nurses said, "Do you need a hug?"
"Yes," Carol said.
And the nurse gave her a hug.
Which brings us to a starting place.

Listening can be a hug. Asking questions can be too. Confession can be. And mirroring confessions can be too. Conversation is an art. It is a commonplace one, but no less worth the attentiveness of a master artist and maybe worth it more than all the canvases of the world hanging in all the museums of the world. 

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 8.44.37 AM.png