Letting Go to Take In – Part 2

trapezeLife is about letting go. When we’re young we have to learn to let go of our pacifiers, our favorite blanket, or that one stuffed animal that has been through every trauma and joy of our young life. We learn to let go of our parent’s fingers as we learn to walk on our own. We let go of training wheels in order to learn how to ride a bike. We let go of the comforts of home when we go to school and eventually off to college.  We let go of our kids as they strive for their own independence. We let go of our parents when the end of their lives come. We let go of our career when it’s time to retire. We let go of certain skills as our body ages. And ultimately, we let go of our very life.  With all this practice, from birth to death, why are we so bad at letting go?

In Part 1 of this two-part blog entry I relayed the story of a recent trip to Disneyland where one of our rented strollers was taken along with some of our personal property.  One of the employees not only helped us look for our missing stroller but ultimately gave us vouchers that allowed us to purchase new items to replace those that were lost.  The experience was a reminder to me that there are times when God asks us to let go so that we might receive something better.  (To read the entire blog entry, click here Letting Go to Take In – Part 1.)

The one thing that all of the “letting go” scenarios described above have in common is that they all signal times of growth in our life.  We are designed to move forward, to grow, to mature.  Sometimes those points in our life are exciting, but mostly they are just plain terrifying.  Perhaps that is why we’re so reluctant to let go.  We don’t know what we don’t know or haven’t experienced before.  We may want to move ahead but the fear of the unknown cripples us.  We may even believe that letting go is the best thing for us, but when our lives bring us to that precipice of change we’re never sure we can actually do it.

The scripture I used in Part 1 was from John 14-17 where Jesus is trying to prepare His disciples for the end of His earthly life.  They are being asked to let go of Him – His physical presence in their lives.  And what He has for them to receive is His Holy Spirit.  This is most definitely a growth point for His disciples.  They were about to carry on His ministry.  They were about to establish His church in the world.  Everything that they had watched Him do over the past three years was now their job, their responsibility.  Now THAT’s scary!

But Jesus didn’t leave them empty-handed.  He didn’t just yank off the training wheels and say to each of them, “Good luck, kid!”  No, He gave them His Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was going to run alongside them as they learned to balance, pedal and brake.  He would hold them up when they were too weak or inexperienced to do it on their own.  He would never leave their side.  He would always be there to protect them, dust them off after they fell, and help them get back on the bike even when they wanted to quit.

We read about Jesus giving them this gift in John 20:19-23.  This is right after Jesus resurrection when He first appears to the disciples.  It is on the evening of the first Easter Sunday.   It says, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’  And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'”

There is one key word of this text that is important not to miss.  Jesus tells the disciples, “Receive.”  In fact in the original Greek text it is a command that can also be translated, “Take!”  The same word is used when at the Last Supper Jesus tells His disciples “Take and eat” or “Take this cup.” (Matt. 26:26, Mark 14:22; Luke 22:17)

What God has been teaching me about letting go is that it is a two-step process.  It is not just a matter of loosening my grip on whatever I have been hanging onto.  It is also about receiving from Him what He has for me.  He wants us to… “Take!” what He is giving us.

Imagine sitting at the Last Supper with Jesus and you are the one reclining next to Him at the table.  He blesses the bread breaks it in half and hands you one of the halves.  He says to you, “Take and eat; this is my body.  Break off a piece and then hand it to Andrew.”  Imagine nodding politely, smiling at Him and saying, “No, thank you.  I had a falafel for lunch and I’m stuffed.”  Unimaginable, right?!  We would never think of declining something that came from His very hand.  But, have we?

When we brought home the brand new Elena Princess dress from Disneyland my grandniece was uncomfortable about it.  She felt really bad that someone had taken the other dress.  She was also concerned that her great grandma was going to feel bad since she was the one who had bought that dress for her and even hemmed it up for her so it would fit better.  Even though we assured her that her great grandma would not be upset, with all of the emotions tied to losing the other dress, it was hard for her to take in this brand new one as her own.  It can be hard sometimes to take in something new especially when the circumstances are emotionally impactful.

God has shown me times where I have not received the gifts He has given me.  At times it has been a kind word from someone that I have just not let penetrate my heart.  At times it has been a lavish gift of someone’s time, attention or expertise.  At times it has been an opportunity to uniquely use my own skills or abilities.  While I may have experienced these things, gone through all the motions, and even been thankful for them I never really took them in as my own.  I never took possession of them.  I never consumed them as if they were gifts of my very own to keep.

When God brings us to these places of growth in our lives it is important that we complete both steps.  That we thoroughly let go of the old, release our white-knuckled grip and open our hands to receive.  And when He gives us what He has for us that we fully take it in and embrace it.  That we consume it and make it ours.  Like a trapeze artist, we can keep swinging on our bar, but until we let go and grab on to the next swing we are never going to move forward.

The disciples had to take in the Holy Spirit in order to carry on the ministry that was ahead for them.  If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be referring to these verses in scripture.  The same is true for the plans that God has written for each of us.  There will be many points in our journey where it will be time for us to take our next step of growth.  We have to trust God not only in the process of letting go but also in the process of taking in.  The best part is, the same gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gave to His disciples, He has also given to us.  We do not have to fear letting go of that trapeze.  The Holy Spirit has us in His grip and will always be there with us.

Lord, thank you that You have made us to grow and mature.  Even though that may not be our favorite thing about being human it is good.  You are always good to us.  Forgive me for the times I have been reluctant to let go and trust You.  Forgive me for the times that I have not taken in the amazing gifts that You have given me.  Help me to keep my hands open to You so that You will be glorified.  Thank you for the gift of Your Holy Spirit in my life.  I love you, Father.  In Your Son’s precious name, amen.

 

 

Letting Go to Take In – Part 1

My grandniece and grandnephew recently came to California for a visit.  One of the requisite stops on this whirlwind weekend tour was Disneyland.  My sister wisely chose to rent two strollers as soon as we arrived so we could make our way through the Park as efficiently as possible with a 6 year old and 2 two year old in tow.  Conveniently, the strollers also served as rolling storage bins for such things as diaper supplies, extra changes of clothes, water, snacks, jackets, hats, and souvenirs.  Short of renting a pack mule and a hiring a Sherpa I’m not sure how else we would have transported all that we brought.

The sun had already gone down by the time we set sail through “It’s a Small World.”  It was a nice relaxing circumnavigation and the last ride we would go on before settling down for a snack with a good seat for the fireworks show.  When we returned to the stroller parking area to move on with our evening plans, we discovered that only one of our strollers was where we had left it.  The other was missing.  We checked to see if it had rolled away.  We carefully looked at every other stroller left in the parking area.    We walked around to see if someone had left it nearby after realizing that they had taken it by mistake, but to no avail.  The stroller was gone and so was the stuff we had left stored in it.

Upon that realization the mental gymnastics began.  What did we have in that stroller?  We hadn’t taken a formal inventory beforehand and, with the number of things we brought we probably should have.  My sister went through a mental checklist of all she had packed that morning.

In the meantime, I flagged down an employee, Nataly, who worked in the toy store nearby.  We explained what happened and asked her where we might be able to get another stroller.  Instead of giving us directions, she began searching for the stroller herself.  She asked me to come with her to another stroller parking area to see if I recognized any of them as ours.  After looking through every aisle we returned to my sister empty-handed.  By this time, she had determined that my niece’s Princess Elena dress (that she had been wearing earlier in the day) and my nephew’s extra pair of shorts were the two most significant items left in the missing stroller.  As I inquired again about replacing the stroller, Nataly said, “Getting you another stroller is the least of our worries.  What I’m most concerned about is your personal property that was taken.”

To be honest, I had already given up on that.  I was pretty certain that we weren’t going to find that stroller and whoever took it, now had our stuff too.  Those items we lost would either end up in the trash, at lost and found never to be claimed, or for sale on “Offer Up.”  But Nataly’s sincerity was genuine.  She told us that she wanted to make a few phone calls but that she would be back with us in just a few minutes to tell us what our next steps would be.

As she returned to the toy store our collective mood was low.  Whether the taking of our stroller was intentional or accidental we felt ripped off.  And that was because – we had just been ripped off!  Our day was slowly coming to an end and this wasn’t the note we had hoped to end it on. All four of us were physically tired and the excitement and adrenalin that had kept us going for hours on end was completely depleted.  Waiting for Nataly to return seemed like an eternity.  It was just more time wasted from the fun we thought we’d be having and all because someone took our stroller!

At last Nataly returned and in her hand she held a small booklet.  She asked for my grandniece and nephew’s names and wanted a description of what we had lost.  She carefully jotted down everything we told her.  When she finished, she handed me the two pages of the booklet she had torn out like checks from a checkbook.  “Take these vouchers – one for the princess dress, and one for the boy’s shorts, to the stores I have listed on them.  I’ve called ahead for you.  They know you are coming.  With these vouchers you’ll be able to get a brand new princess dress and a new pair of shorts.”  She ended her instructions with, “I’m so sorry this happened.  I hope you all have a good rest of your night.”

We were dumbfounded.  Disneyland was going to give us – FOR FREE – the two articles of clothing that someone else had just stolen.  They were not just new versions of what had been stolen from us.  They were better, more valuable, authentic Disney merchandise.  We thanked Nataly again and again.  It was truly more than we could have ever expected anyone to do for us.

This experience reminded me of something God has been teaching me lately.  Sometimes, God asks us to let go so that we can take in what He has for us.

One of my favorite parts of scripture is found in the Gospel of John, Chapters 14-17.  These are Jesus’ last words to His disciples before He goes to the cross.  In this tender conversation, Jesus tells the disciples that they are going to have to let go of something very precious to them — Him.  While He assures them He will never leave or abandon them, He is going to prepare a place for them and then He will come back for them. (John 14:1-4)  He promises that after He leaves He will send them Someone who will be with them forever, His Holy Spirit.  (John 14:16-17)  He even tells them, “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate (Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)

Imagine being one of those disciples.  You have just spent the last three years of your life spending every day with Jesus.  You walk together, eat together, worship God together, minister to others together, and watch The Messiah just do His thing.  Every day is a new adventure, another miracle, or a mind-bending parable.  You get to witness lives being  changed forever after just a word, a look, or a touch from Him.  You have seen water turn to wine, dead people brought back to life, crippled people walk again, blind men see again, and deaf people able to hear.  Your personal understanding of God and spiritual matters is far more than the wisdom of every rabbi you have ever met and all of them put together.  You wake up every morning eager to see what Jesus is going to do next and wonder how it is that you have been so fortunate to follow Him around day after day.  And now He tells you that He’s leaving.  He’s going someplace that you can’t go.  His kingdom that He’s been talking about will come, but not right now.  You’re not going to be together any more.  Things are going to be different from here on out.  In fact, tonight is your last night together for a while.

The disciples had to let go.  They couldn’t have possibly understood what He was trying to explain to them that night.  He knew they were the ones to carry on His ministry.  He had chosen them to do so before they were even born.  And He also knew they needed His Spirit to do all the things He had prepared for them to do.

They had to let go.  They had to let go of the physical presence of God Himself.  That seems impossible, doesn’t it?  Who in their right mind would let go of Jesus if He was walking and talking with you every day and teaching you more than you ever thought you could know and experience!  But that was what He asked them to do, in order to take in something even greater than His physical presence.  What could be greater than that?  The truth is the disciples would have no way of knowing what Jesus was promising them.  They couldn’t fathom anything greater than what they had right in front of them.  But Jesus knew it would be better.  It would be the very power of God living inside of them, inhabiting their own body!  They would now be able to do what He had been doing.  In fact He told them they would be doing even GREATER things than what He had done.  (John 14:12)

I cannot possibly compare our Disneyland experience to what the disciples went through.  But it is a hint, a shadow, a vague impression of the truth that sometimes we don’t know all the good that God has for us when He asks us to let go of something.  Those times of letting go are rarely ever a part of our plan and certainly not on our timeline.  And we can’t possibly fathom that what is in store for us is going to be better than what we already have.  But if God is behind it, it will be the very best for us.  And it is completely undeserved.  Disneyland did not “owe” us newer, better quality clothes.  They didn’t take our property.  They weren’t responsible for keeping our items safe.  But, they graciously gave us what they had.

Sometimes we have to let go.  Sometimes God asks us to do what seems unfathomable.  But He is good.  He cannot be anything but good and what He has for us is always for our good.  We have to trust and believe that even when we don’t understand what is happening or why.  If He asks you to let go, trust that what He has for you may be more than anything you would have asked for or imagined.

Lord, You are good.  And what You have for us is always good.  How is it that we forget that?  Help us to trust in Your goodness.  Help us to believe in what we cannot see and trust that no matter what You ask us to let go of, the purpose is for our good and Your glory.  Thank you for Your love, Your provision, the gift of Your Spirit living within us, and for blessing us through people like Nataly.  In Jesus’ precious name we pray, amen.

(Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article “Letting Go to Take In.”)

 

 

You Want Me to Show You My What?

hemofgarmentWhat is the one thing you are most ashamed of, most embarrassed about? We’ve all got something. For many of us there are probably several things. They are things we may not like about ourselves or things from our past that we want to be free from. We may be the only one who knows about them. If only someone would just heal that part of us or set us free from whatever it is that continues to haunt us.

Now imagine that Jesus is coming to visit your church. You’ve heard He can heal the sick, free the demon-possessed and even raise the dead! Certainly, He could do the same for you. So, you, along with hundreds of others, go to see Him and you hope that maybe, just maybe, your path will cross His. You also hope deep down, that maybe that will be enough – just crossing His path might be enough to bring about the healing you seek. You stand elbow to elbow with hundreds of others at the foyer of your church to welcome Him. You’ve heard He’ll be arriving soon. You’re hoping that whatever you are seeking healing from is not visible to others.  At the same time, your heart longs to at last be free from it.  The energy in the crowd begins to shift as word travels that He has arrived. You check your appearance, straighten your clothes, and take a deep breath. Your nerves tingle as you wonder if He’ll notice you and what you will do if He does.

Then the moment arrives. You see His smiling face as He makes His way into the crowd. You soak up His presence but secretly wonder if the healing within you has already occurred. Is it gone? Am I free? Will I know when it happens?   You hope He sees you as He passes through.  Then suddenly He stops right in front of you.  Your nerves surge through you as they never have before.  The crowd urges Him on towards the sanctuary but He is not willing to move forward.  You can’t take your eyes off of Him.  He turns and faces your direction.  More nerves.  The smile on your face takes a dramatic fall as His eyes catch yours.  The crowd continues to urge Him on but He has focused in on you. Your heart is pounding out of your chest but you’re not sure you’re even breathing.  You try to look away from Him but can’t.  The people around you begin moving away until there is no one between you.  You and He are standing face to face. He smiles and calls you by name.  You try to smile back as your eyes fill with tears.  The crowd is now silent and all eyes are on you. Then He says, “Show me.” The pain, shame, and hurt come surging to the surface.  You know from His question that the one thing you have been hiding from the world for as long as you can remember is what He is asking to see.

I recently re-read a few of the healing stories we find in the Gospels. There is the man with the withered hand in Mark 3:1-6; the woman with bleeding issues from Mark 5:25-24; and the man who was an invalid for 38 years sitting at the pool of Bethesda in John 5:2-9.  What I saw in these stories that I had never seen before was the fact that the one thing that these three people probably spent their lives hiding from others or carrying as their greatest shame was exactly what Jesus asked to see. To the man with the withered hand He said, “Stretch out your hand.” To the woman with the bleeding issues who touched His robe in secret He said, “Who touched me?”  And to the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years He said, “Get up and walk.” In all three of those moments, Jesus was asking each of them to trust Him with their greatest vulnerability. And, when they did, He restored them. He healed them.

Jesus asks the same of you and me. We can say that we trust Him. We can even believe that we do. But have you truly given over to Him that one thing that you don’t want anyone to know about? If He said to you, “Show me,” would you?  Just knowing that Jesus knows about our issues is not the same thing as showing them to Him.  He wants that intimacy with us, where we feel safe and secure in Him enough to share our deepest hurts.  And He assures us through His Word that His desire to see our deepest need is not to condemn us or embarrass us. It is in order to heal us, to connect with us at our most vulnerable place.

St. Paul brought to the Lord three times his “thorn in the flesh” and specifically asked for God to remove it from him. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) In each case, God’s answer was not to remove it, not to heal Paul of it. But what did the Lord say? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (v. 9) Paul didn’t receive healing, but He received God’s grace and a greater dependence upon God’s power. Like the three other examples, Paul had that intimate, personal moment with the Lord over his greatest weakness.

Being vulnerable with our Lord isn’t about what we get out of it. It is about Who we get out of it. I am not suggesting there is a magic formula for healing. If you just show God your most vulnerable issue, He’ll set you free – guaranteed! That’s not it. God calls all of us to an intimate and personal relationship with Him. He does heal. There are countless examples not only in the Bible but in our world today. But beyond healing, God seeks to transform His children. I propose that what Paul received was far greater than a physical healing.  He was forever changed to be more deeply connected to and dependent upon God.  He wants that for us. He is always moving us closer and closer to Him.

Will you trust Him with your deepest vulnerability?   He may grant you a miraculous healing or freedom from it.  If not healing, He will bring you to a new level of intimacy you never thought possible with the God of the universe.

Thank you, Lord, for your depth and desire to grow more intimately with us. Thank you for the examples of faith you preserved for us in your Word. Each one of those men and women were willing to risk showing You what brought them pain, shame, and disgrace. Help each of us to have the faith to trust You with our greatest weaknesses that we may grow closer to You. Thank you for loving us more deeply than we can even imagine and for always wanting to transform us into being more like Your Son. In His precious name, amen.

A Gutter Ball Performance

In my experience, there in nothing quite as vulnerable as bowling. Your skills, or in my case, lack thereof, are on display for all to see. There is no turning back from what you’ve done. Everyone has seen it. It’s out there… strike, spare, split, gutter ball… it’s all out there.

I was with one of my best friends and her family a few months back. They were going bowling and invited me to join them. At that point I had bowled a grand total of four times in my life and on one of those occasions I was two years old.  In my more recent attempts I managed to take a fair stab at the game, nothing spectacular,  but I held my own. I was looking forward to just being with this extended family of mine and bowling sounded like a lot of fun.

Not coincidentally, the Lord had been making me aware of my thoughts and behaviors with regards to “performance.” I was stuck in the mindset that somehow it was about what I did for Him that was somehow connected to being loved. I knew in my head that wasn’t right. That’s not how He operates. But my actions and my thoughts weren’t supporting what I knew to be true. I had hoped a day with close friends would take my mind off of it for a while but, as He often does, God had other ideas.

For the next two hours the Lord proceeded to show me exactly how much my “performance” was worth to Him. To say my bowling skills were pathetic would be extremely generous. I am not sure I even broke 100. Every time I stepped up to the line, it seemed my attempt was worse than the frame before. It didn’t matter what I tried, lighter ball, heavier ball, slow release, fast release, flip the wrist, don’t flip the wrist, spin the ball, don’t spin the ball… nothing I did seemed to work. It was utterly humiliating.

Although I don’t think she would ever admit it, I believe my dear, sweet friend was purposely throwing gutter balls just to make me feel better. She is not competitive and she knows I am. She’d sacrifice a good score just to make me feel better. That’s just her heart for me. But even in her gracious attempts she still outscored me by a significant margin.

But the most powerful thing that happened to me that day was not the humiliation of a horrible bowling experience or even the love of my dear friend. The most powerful experience came from her dad, David.

Although his whole family was there – his wife, his daughters, his grandkids, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephews – he was focused on me. He just wanted to talk to me, spend time with me. He wanted to hear my opinions about things. He didn’t talk to me about bowling. He didn’t try to correct my form. He just wanted to know me better. He didn’t care what the score was. He’d just be waiting for me after each attempt I made so that we could pick up our conversation where we left off. And, when the game was over he wanted to make plans for the next time we would be together.

The ride home for me that day was a tearful one. I was raw. I felt totally exposed. My “performance” was out there for the world to see and it was awful. But the tears weren’t because I bowled a terrible game – although that didn’t help. The tears were coming from the vulnerability of having my “performance defense” ripped away from me in such a tangible way. I was not only face-to-face with the truth of being a horrible bowler, I was also face-to-face with an overwhelming sense of love and acceptance. I had a choice to make. I could either continue to cling to the lie I was believing or relish in the love that was being extended to me.

Amidst the tears and confusion as I drove home, I sensed the Lord’s presence. He knew my choice. He was the One who put it in front of me. Still following my old pattern of behavior I said to the Lord, “David was so nice to me.” I heard God ask me, “Why wouldn’t he be?” I answered through my tears, “Because I’m a terrible bowler!” I’m almost sure I heard a sympathetic chuckle from the Lord as I felt His embrace. Had the feelings not been so deep I would have joined Him in that chuckle. I knew it was ridiculous as soon as I said it but it didn’t change the fact that that is exactly what I believed. The choice was an obvious one. I chose to let go of the gutter ball performance and cling to the love.

What David showed me that day was a beautiful and powerful example of God’s love. It is NEVER about our performance. It is always about His love for us. He already knows us. No one knows us better. He created us. He wants to show us how well He knows us and that comes through spending time with Him. His desire is not only to spend time with us but for us to desire to spend time with Him and grow closer and deeper in our relationship. It’s all about that relationship. We as believers get so focused on what we “do” for Him. But that is not what deepens our relationship WITH Him. That is not where our love and acceptance is found. The love and acceptance come first. It always has! “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It has NEVER been about our performance. Our performance could never merit the kind of love He has for us.

It is only from the depths of our relationship with Him that the gifts He has given us flow freely into the world and what we “do” for Him becomes visible for others to see. What we “do” isn’t for Him to see and notice us. It’s for others to see and notice HIM. Our focus should always be Him and our relationship with Him. It should never be about the works. They should flow from the relationship and what He does with them in the lives of others is between Him and them.

Lord, thank you for loving and accepting terrible bowlers like me. Thank you for your love and acceptance before I ever did one thing for you. Help me to focus my time, energy and love on my relationship with You. May the gifts you have given me flow freely into the lives of others to point them to You. But, may my focus never leave You and may I always desire to spend time with you. Thank you for giving us people in our lives to show us Your great love for us. Thank you for David. In Jesus’ precious name, amen.