Peace in Tension: Getting in the way of God’s good

Over the past year I’ve been reflecting on my search for peace and how I have found it in the tension between two truths. In the spring I wrote about the tension of how every moment matters and yet it is all about the big picture. In the summer I wrote about the tension between God’s sovereignty and human free will. As the leaves change and fall and the autumn weather turns colder, I’m writing my final piece this year on the tension between God’s will for good and His permission of evil, and how I can get in the way of God’s good.

Six days after I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer, my husband Coleman preached a sermon on the story of Joseph. He titled it “God Meant It for Good”.

In the immediate aftermath of the diagnosis, of learning we’d need to leave our home and community in South Africa, in all the chaos of tests and doctors appointments, and the fear as we realized just how sick I was, I had peace. Incredible peace. I truly believe it was a gift of God that I knew soul-deep peace in those days. In the following months as we moved, met new doctors, made a plan, as I underwent surgery, and faced complication after complication, I still knew peace. I knew God’s good didn’t want my suffering and believed He would bring good out of it.

But somewhere in the months that followed, as we moved from the sprint of the crisis to the marathon of recovery, I lost my peace. Days of pain turned into weeks of pain. Weeks of antibiotics turned into months of antibiotics. Months of recovery turned into a year with some measurable improvement but also significant ongoing challenges. As the hard stretched on, my focus turned to earthly things and I found myself struggling with discontentment, dissatisfaction, restlessness, and a notable absence of peace. I found myself getting in the way of God’s good.
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Leaving Inadequacy Behind

“Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best” (Henry Van Dyke).

When I was twelve, my family moved to Bryn Athyn. I was excited to move to a congregation with other church people my age who cared about the things I loved so much. I was disappointed. I found few kindred spirits, but at the time I mostly felt mocked for my strong convictions. In the spring of that year, we had dance classes. With 27 girls and far fewer boys, it did not bode well. The rule was that once the first batch of girls were asked, it was assumed the boys would ask the “leftover” girls for the next dance. Then once all the girls had been chosen, they could re-ask the other more popular girls.

One day when I was standing in the reject corner (like I did every week), all the other “second class” girls were picked before me. I watched as one boy took one look at me, chose to ignore the rule, and went back to the popular corner. I wanted to cry. Instead, I just walked over to join the other girls who were not dancing. It left me wondering what I had done wrong to deserve such treatment. Was I not good enough? I repeated this question to myself over and over, feeling like I was inferior to everyone else.

Looking back, I can clearly see that I was not the problem in that equation. Perhaps the boy who snubbed me was just thoughtless. Perhaps he was dealing with his own inadequacies. Either way, I did not need to take it personally, but I did of course. I was an insecure girl and it hurt. Continue reading Leaving Inadequacy Behind

Shredded Truth

Step one: identify the problem. Step two: come up with a solution. Step three: solve the problem. I understand this process of problem solving and yet somehow I find myself time and again getting stuck between steps two and three. It’s all well and good to come up with a solution; to understand how to solve my problems but putting that solution into action appears to be harder than it sounds. That disconnect between our thoughts and our actions is hard one. We can have all sorts of plans and ideals going around and around in our minds, and yet actually living our lives according to those ideals and plans can go very wrong.

There is a little known German fairy tale, first recorded by the Grimm brothers, titled, “The Shreds” that shows how important it is to not only think what is good but to do what is good as well.

It is a short little story about a beautiful girl who is so lazy that while she is spinning thread and comes upon a knot, she will pull off the knot and throw it on the ground. Her maidservant, on the other hand, is so industrious that she picks up these threads, cleans them, and weaves into a dress. A young man falls in love with the lazy maiden and they are betrothed, but on their wedding day, the maidservant wears the dress she wove from the shreds and dances in it. The beautiful maiden complains and tells her bridegroom that the dress is made from her shreds. The young man, then sees how lazy the beautiful maid is compared to her maidservant and he decides to marry the maidservant instead.
This is a clear cautionary tale against laziness, but using Swedenborg’s science of correspondences, a more spiritual meaning can be seen as well. Continue reading Shredded Truth

A Life in the World

When I get anxious I withdraw. Or maybe it’s simpler to say that only when I’m not anxious do I fully participate. There’s something small to be anxious about almost all the time. Something to be processing, holding, understanding, or accomplishing, and a need to do it “right.”

This last year has been an anxious one for me, and so one of near constant withdrawal – even as the loneliness and isolation has become a part of the problem. I have gotten a lot of things “right” this year in terms of my priorities – my kids and my marriage are pretty solid. We are happy in our day to day interactions. But something’s been missing for me, and I’ve been reflecting recently that I think it comes from too much separation. I’ve been holding back so as not to be overwhelmed, but held back so much that I’ve let go of some of the things that make life full and joyful. Continue reading A Life in the World