More than you can handle?

IMG_1271“Hang in there, God won’t give you more than you can handle!”  How often have we been in a hard place and heard these words from someone we know? Or more specifically, how often have we said these words?

I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear this I want to hide, or run in the other direction as fast as I can (which, by the way, isn’t very fast at all).  I have yet to try that, but the majority of the time there is a little voice in my head screaming, “That’s not what that verse is talking about!“

I think that this mistaken idea of God not giving us more than we can handle comes from 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”.  (NIV)

However, when I looked this passage up, I noticed that Paul seems to be speaking about idolatry.  Earlier in the passage Paul refers back to the Israelites who “celebrated with feasting and drinking, and indulged in pagan revelry”  (1 Corinthians 10:7 NLT) and goes on to warn against sexual immorality and idolatry.

 I know that the idea of God not giving us too much isn’t meant to be a religious platitude. When we speak it we intend for it as an encouragement.  When someone has depression or has just lost their job.  Or nothing seems to go along as planned or there is chronic illness in our family.  It’s easy to think God won’t give us more than we can handle; in fact, sometimes it’s even comforting to think this.

I think God does in fact give us more than we can handle, so that  we learn to trust God, and depend on God to get us through the hard things in life.  To stretch ourselves and to be challenged. To discover what we are really made of and capable of. And, most importantly, for us to grow in God, knowing that when God tells us “I am with you.” he really means it, he’s got our back.

One of the more notorious biblical characters, Moses, heard “I will be with you” when he was standing before the infamous burning bush. Shaking just thinking about facing Pharaoh and leading the Israelites out of Egypt, nauseous at the thought of having to cross the Red Sea with hundreds of thousands of people. And desperately trying to talk God out of making him the leader of all those slaves looking for freedom. Moses’ tactics didn’t work.

Later in the Old Testament, this same conversation happened between God and Joshua. (It seems as though God has a habit of choosing reluctant leaders, but we won’t get into that one today!)

I know I felt similar feelings as Moses and Joshua when God called me to leave my hometown to move to the inner city and serve him there.  And, “strangely” enough,  God gave me the same answers.  I kept coming back to the story of God asking Abraham to leave his homeland and promising to bless him more than he can ever imagine. Abram took that chance. I took that chance…

There most certainly were times when I thought I had bitten off a lot more than I could chew. Days of discouragement and loneliness. Nights of second guessing why I was doing was doing.  And the tears. Oh so many tears…

And then these words would come whispering back to me in the night “I will never leave you. I will never leave you.  I will never leave you”. And it brought me peace.  And joy. And love and laughter.  Again and again, the dawn would come for me.

Jesus echoes these sentiments in the New Testament, as if he knew we would need more reminders.  How comforting to hear Jesus inviting all of us who are weary (who isn’t?) to come to him with our burdens so that he can give us rest. How appealing!   And then one last time, in Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus said,  “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age” just as he ascended into heaven.  One last parting thought for us.

I realize that these words of comfort ring as true for me today, as they did thousands of years ago when they were spoken to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah and countless others who have doubted what God has called them to do, and felt completely inadequate to fulfill their mission.  Maybe, instead of saying “God won’t give you more than you can handle” we should say, “God will most certainly give you more than you can handle.  But he’s got your back!”

How about you?  Have you found yourself in negotiations with God lately? When have you felt that God has called you to more than you were equipped for? I’d love to hear of some of your experiences and how God has (or is) been with you in your journey.

MIndfulness

IMG_0465

Mindfulness

Ok, am I ready?
No, wait, set the timer so you don’t constantly check the clock.
Ok. Ready?
I close my eyes, all I can think about and feel
is the pounding in my head.
It pulses to the ticking of the clock…
My lips are dry. So are my hands…
Ugh! Will this winter ever end?
I hear the furnace kick in, and find myself anticipating
the warmth it brings.
Warm thoughts of my day come to me,
Encouragements and blessings.
My breathing slows and deepens.
I can smell the soup that was cooked for dinner tonight.
More warmth.
The small lamp in the corner of the room
Shines light and patterns on the wall and ceiling.
Peace and tranquility fill me.
The timer rings,
What? How can it be ten minutes already?
And I am grateful for these moments of mindfulness.

I have done different awareness examens, mindfulness practices and such over the last few years, and every once in a while I realize how I have forgotten to practice it for some time.

Two weeks ago I had to do a mindfulness exercise for a class I am taking. It felt so freeing to give myself permission to sit and be still and quiet. I don’t tend towards being overly busy in my life, but this exercise was a great reminder to me to just stop and be intentional about being mindful and contemplative. I started with ten minutes and I expected it to feel long however, I felt surprised when the timer went off. As if I wasn’t ready for it to end.

Since practicing mindfulness every day several weeks ago, I’ve found I am more able to notice little things around me and appreciate them for what they are.

The sound of the coffee beans being ground in the morning, the steam from the kettle warming my face, and the smell of fresh delicious coffee brewing in my French press.  Or the sunshine warming my back earlier this week as Jeremy and I skated along the river enjoying a long weekend together.

Each time I am mindful, it’s like a little Sabbath within my day. In his book “Sabbath” Walter Muller quotes Henri Nouwen as saying “The noise of our lives made us deaf, unable to hear when we are called, or from which direction. … Our lives have become absurd- because in absurd we find the Latin word surdus, which means deaf.”

How true, that we become so busy that we become deaf! We cannot hear our own hearts or more importantly, what God is saying to each of us, and sadly, that is when we miss so much.

What about you?  If you have never done a mindfulness exercise I encourage you to try it.  See what you notice; your breathing rate slowing down, the temperature of your body.  Sounds around you.  Maybe some stress you have been holding onto, or perhaps something that has brought joy to your day.  What is God  telling you in these moments?

Sabbath

2013-08-26-1638

 

I grew up in a home where Sunday was our designated “day of rest”. As a child, I often found this day to be a bit boring, and I wasn’t always sure what I should be doing to “rest” because to me that implied sleep, and as a child that didn’t seem to be too enticing. While I knew that keeping the Sabbath was important enough that it was included in the ten commandments, I didn’t realize the full value of this opportunity until a bit later in life.

It was when I began ministry seven years ago, that I really began to learn more about the Sabbath. Rather than just thinking of it as a dull day of not doing a whole lot, I began to discover what it really means to keep the Sabbath, and what gives me life and what doesn’t. I enjoyed exploring the concept of the Sabbath as a day of rest and looking at ways to not only rest my body but also my mind and my soul.

When Jeremy and I got married, we got the book “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly” by Marva Dawn and a set of handmade pottery candleholders from our supervisor as a gift. She encouraged us to create our own Sabbath rituals as a new family. This was most certainly one of the most meaningful wedding gift we received and we enjoyed exploring this idea together.

In his book “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” Pete Scazzero writes about four components of a biblical Sabbath; Stop, Rest, Delight and Contemplate.

Sometimes, I find the “stopping” to be the hardest. To just leave those last few things undone, the laundry in the basket or the one thing left on my to do list. And yet, I know, I could keep going  and going, and really, the list would never end. I could always find something to add or one last thing to quickly get done. Once I’ve stopped the other three seem to come a lot easier.

In the beginning of our marriage, without knowing about the ideas of stop, rest, delight and contemplate, we intuitively looked for things to do that incorporated those concepts. We slept in and woke without an alarm and had a tradition of having pancakes for brunch. We spent time at parks, the beach and with friends and spent time reading books to one another and discussing the ideas.

The Sabbath has always been a delight for us, something we anticipate each week. We’ve never felt like it is a chore or an obligation, but a wonderful gift.

We enjoy attending our church services in the morning and then coming home in the afternoon to rest, delight and contemplate.

One thing that I discovered about myself is that I need to be careful how much I am involved in on the Sabbath. I have at times committed myself to more than one social engagement on a Sabbath and discovered at the end of the day, that I felt “gypped” or “ripped off” because while I enjoyed time with friends, I felt emotionally exhausted and not at all refreshed. While I am quite social and love my friends and family, as my friend often says, “Too much of a good thing is still too much”.

It was only recently when I discovered that I have forgotten the “delight” aspect of our sabbath. Lately I’ve found, I often prefer to sleep, read or just hang out on the couch and have forgotten to be intentional to delight. I’m looking for ways to be more mindful of this for the future. Even playing games with my husband or going out to dinner together can be delightful if I choose to do them. I’m looking forward to going back on our photo walks in spring, which we enjoy where I feel invigorated by the fresh air and looking for God in pockets of the city.

I realize that keeping the Sabbath looks different for a lot of people. We might be in a season of life where we have others to care for, children or elderly parents. We might have a career that requires us to work odd hours. We might not have a social circle that supports this kind of practice. And yet, each of us can practice Sabbath in our own ways, sometimes beginning with just one afternoon each week and building on that. .

What about you? How do you enjoy the Sabbath? How do you keep it feeling fresh rather than a sense of obligation?

Speed Limits

2013-05-04-1275DSC_0760

I was looking at this photo today and as my mind was daydreaming about spring blossoms returning once again, I noticed the speed limit sign, tucked neatly in the corner.  Peeking out, right beside the beautiful spring blossoms as a little reminder to us all, “don’t get too distracted”  it says, “keep it slow”.

As I think about this, I am aware that just as there are different speed limits for different conditions, on the highway, in the city, on a country road or in a back lane, each one of us has our own God-given “Speed Limit”.

Some of us are only able to work part-time, to spend their time volunteering in one thing in their community.  Or perhaps one decides to focus on life at home. Others may be involved in so many activities and commitments that it makes my head spin, and yet, they  are able to balance it all and find joy and life in this.

Regardless of where each one of us falls on this spectrum, we need to take time to become self-aware and be true to ourselves.  For years I felt anxious about being too busy and overcommitted, feeling like things were out of my control and off-balance.  And then I realized, this problem was largely my own fault!  I took a step back and thought about what was really important to me.  I needed to slow down!

Slowing down allows us to examine what is most important, what gives us energy and how we want to spend our time. I discovered that I really value my time at home with my husband Jeremy; hanging out together, working on a project together or just quietly reading in the same room (yeah, we’re nerds like that!). Also important to me is my time with friends, hanging out, chatting and drinking coffee; and spending time planning and cooking meals to share with those I love.

Sticking to my personal speed limit means I have space in my life for the things that are the most important to me.  Space for peace. For quiet.  To meditate on scripture, or a song, or whatever God brings to my mind that day and to pray.  To practice Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.”  It gives me the freedom and ability to say no to things without guilt and yes to things that have great meaning for me.

How about you?  What’s your “speed limit”?  What does it allow you to do or not to do?