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And The Truth Shall Set You Free

And the truth shall set you free.

I’ve said this all my life long with great satisfaction and with very little evidence. I’ve thought that the truth could set us free to choose something and oppose something else. We can choose good in all its forms, or evil in the multiplicity of its seductions, and the temptations of compromising evil spirits. It is a lifetime’s work which will continue throughout eternity. We will not be good in a flash. I remember attending the funeral of a prominent member of another denomination. It was said in the eulogy that what he was most looking forward to was sharing in Christ’s glory. And I thought, ‘No, no, it doesn’t work like that.’ And I was happy that we had doctrines to protect us against such distortions of the truth.

What I had not anticipated was the unwelcome intrusion of pain, and its entitled claims on my life. After all, we are born, not for ourselves, but for others, and here was my pain , insisting on its claims to my time and attention. It was alarming, to say the least.

Let me explain. Two years ago I had a foot reconstruction. Doesn’t sound like much, but it involved four operations in one – one to insert a stainless steel plate with eight screws, one to fashion a bone bridge on the top of the foot, and one to cut chips of ankle bone away to insert in the bridge to keep the foot steady. The fourth one merely cut and extended a tendon. This all took two and a half hours to make me a new woman. I woke with a woozy hoorah that it was all over and stepping it out would be my new normal. Wrong! The surgeon performed a very good operation, but he was no match for the arthritis and gout that attacked the damaged bones. He admitted to me afterwards, ‘I can do the operation, but I cannot control the healing’. He is a lovely man and most times he wins through. But this time he didn’t. I confess that I entered the ‘poor little me’ zone and succumbed to that most unpleasant zone of being – self pity. 

Now here is where the Truth comes in. I consulted a pain relief specialist who told me that this was my lot in life. Things would not improve, but I could learn to manage the pain. I felt oddly exhilarated to hear the truth. The Lord did not expect me to be a holy martyr, I could take pain pills with a clear conscience. My clever doctor prescribed a state-of-the- art pill that has a built in protection for the kidneys and liver, and I am a new woman. The truth has set me free from false hope, yearning and resentment. In combination with an appropriate diet, I can do almost as much as I could before, and am mercifully old enough to have outlived the grievances I was cultivating. The truth has set me free. Hallelujah!

The Lord Loves Us

My sister recently had her first baby and it was deeply powerful watching a younger sibling step into that new role of mother. The birth of a baby is inevitably miraculous–how could it not be? But when it’s also the birth of loved ones into parents, I found that to be so much more powerful and inspiring than I was expecting. 

Watching my sister and brother-in-law go from expecting parents to parents in reality, and seeing the love for this new tiny person blossom into something tangible and tender and primal and beautiful–it’s just profound. And it brings me back to the way the Lord is looking at us, loving us, celebrating and marveling at each new development and state. He loves each new baby indescribably more than their new adoring parents do. He already loved the parents that way. Their joy at this new phase of life is a tiny drop in the pool of the Lord’s pleasure at our joy, and at the birth of a new angel in potential. 

It’s hard for me to grasp how much the Lord loves me, loves all of us. But the thing that brings me the closest to understanding is witnessing and experiencing the love of parents for their children. I’m sure I’m not alone there. 

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

This quote often brings me to tears. Each of us, everyone, even me: we matter to the Lord. Before we even came into being, He knew who we would be and wanted and waited for us. This parallels beautifully with the feelings of expecting parents: the anticipation and wonder and love already wrapped up into this eagerly awaited little being. Except that when compared with the way the Lord actually loves us, our love is pale and shallow. And rather than seeing that as deprecating of our love or abilities, it fills me with wonder at the sheer magnitude of the Lord’s love. 

I don’t think that we finite beings can ever truly comprehend the love of the Infinite God. But I find it comforting–especially during these uncertain and frightening times–comforting and awe-inspiring and thought provoking to stop and think about just how big and profound His love is. And so I will close with these passages, which say it better than I ever could. 

“The nature of the Lord’s love surpasses all human understanding and is unbelievable in the extreme… To save a soul from hell the angels think nothing of giving their own lives; indeed if it were possible they would suffer hell themselves in place of that soul… They confess however that that love does not originate one little bit in themselves but that every single aspect of it does so in the Lord alone.” (Arcana Coelestia 2077)

“…the Lord’s love is directed towards the whole human race whom He wishes to save eternally and to join so completely to Himself that not a single one of them perishes.” (Arcana Coelestia 2023)

“The Lord however, in all His conflicts brought about by temptations, never fought out of self-love, that is, for Himself, but for all throughout the universe. He did not fight therefore to become the greatest in heaven, for that is contrary to Divine love. He scarcely did so to become the least. He fought solely so that all others might become something and be saved.” (Arcana Coelestia 1812)

Baby Teeth

The first article I ever wrote for New Christian Woman was entitled, “Teething.” It described my first experience comforting a child who was cutting new molars and how it helped me understand a little better just how much the Lord loves us and wishes to ease our pain. The toddler who was the inspiration for that article is now in kindergarten and has her first loose tooth. I must have blinked.

This milestone has left me feeling more nostalgic than I would have expected. After all, it’s just a tooth. It’s not like she’s leaving for college or getting married or even getting her ears pierced. But I got a little choked up when I saw that tiny tooth wiggling precariously in my daughter’s mouth. A piece of her is about to be gone. Her body is finished with it and making room for a bigger tooth. This is how it’s supposed to work. 

And as silly as it is, my child’s dental development has once again nudged me into looking a little deeper at how this mini milestone correlates to our spiritual growth. I guess the Lord prompts us to muse over important things in unexpected ways.

Baby teeth seem almost pointless. We have them for such a tiny fraction of our lives – why bother with them at all?  But no part of our design is an accident. Not only do baby teeth help us chew our first solid foods, they also serve as placeholders. They ensure that our mouths have enough room for the adult teeth to eventually grow. 

Isn’t that the case with our regeneration? We don’t start our spiritual journeys by chomping down on the most complex teachings in the Word. We start small. Think of baby teeth as the simplest truths – the ones that help us chew the basics of worldly wisdom that we learn as very young children. “Don’t touch that, it’s hot.” “Don’t go down stairs that way, you’re more likely to fall.” “Chew before swallowing or you will choke.” As we mature into older toddlers, our palates expand and we start implementing bigger truths to process fundamental dos and don’ts such as the Ten Commandments. We also learn more about consequences. “Don’t lie. If you do, you’ll get a time out.” “Treat others how you want to be treated. There will be less fighting that way.”   

Our adult teeth start to push their baby placeholders out of the way when we are ready to process even more complex things. “Treat others how you want to be treated” is a great summation of loving the neighbor as yourself, but children need to internalize it beyond its surface meaning. We shouldn’t treat others nicely JUST so they will treat us nicely in return. We should do it because it’s the right thing to do. Because the Lord tells us to. We literally outgrow the softer meaning and need to be able to process the much tougher concept – one that we will be chewing and digesting over and over again for the rest of our lives. 

I appreciate the Lord’s mercy in allowing us to make these shifts gradually. Our baby teeth fall out one at a time. Our adult teeth grow in slowly. These transitions are a gift. Sure, there will be the unseemly gap in the interim but the adult tooth we need is there. We just can’t see it yet. Isn’t that the case with so many tools in our spiritual growth? We are given what we need to process bigger and tougher things when we are ready. How blessed we are to be so fearfully and wonderfully made.

“Tooth” [means] the outer part of the understanding, and therefore … natural truth since this composes the life of that part of the understanding. The reason why “the teeth” have this meaning is that like a mill they grind and so prepare the food which will serve as nourishment for the body, at this point the food which will serve as nourishment for the soul. The food that nourishes the soul is intelligence and wisdom; this food is first received, ground, and prepared by cognitions or knowledge of truth and good in the natural….” Arcana Coelestia 9052 

Family Bible Reading

My household has undergone many ups and downs since the lockdown started.  For us in South Africa, the country went into lockdown in early April, but life had been disrupted for several weeks even before that. School and normal family routines were all thrown into the air.  I’ve tried several versions of new routines: some where I just let the kids do whatever they wanted, some where I was scheduling and managing every hour.  I’ve continued to change and juggle the routine as life continues changing – sometimes on what feels like a daily basis! But one of the things that has come out of all this is a new routine of reading the Bible with my kids.

As a family reading the Bible has always been at least an occasional part of our routine.  But in the last few years with school taking up more time as the kids moved from pre-primary to primary and even now senior primary grades, our time at home to do additional study has fallen away.  And while I know they are reading the Bible at school I am not in that routine with them.  But since the lockdown and having the kids at home we began to read daily together, and I have been amazed again and again by the experience.  

My kids all enjoy reading, so I wasn’t really surprised to find them excited at the idea of reading together.  But what I have been surprised by is their ability to read even some of the stranger or more violent parts of the Bible and then follow up with insightful and useful discussions.  We spent June reading through Revelation as we led up to New Church Day on June 19th.  We have several picture books which helped to give a more concrete understandings of some of the stranger creatures and scenes described.  But each day my kids were eager to read more, to understand more, to find passages they recognized, and to discuss the strange beasts and the terrifying plagues.  I remember reading through Revelation as a child and feeling confused but enjoying it, but I don’t remember expressing the enthusiasm my kids regularly share with me.  

When I decided to make daily Bible reading a part of our routine I expected the kids to hesitate or whine.  But I have been thoroughly enjoying my time to connect with them and watch their enjoyment as they find new Bible stories to wonder over or light up as they read a verse or a story they’ve learned about before.  It is an experience that I’m already holding on to as a bright spot in these stormy times.