Kindness

To be honest, this past week has been a bit of a struggle for me. With life and “stuff” happening, it’s been challenge for me to be kind to myself. I wondered, how can I write about kindness when I am struggling to be kind to myself this week? And then I realized, that’s exactly why I need to write about kindness. To remind myself (and others!) that it is quite necessary to practice kindness to myself.

If I am to love others, as I love myself just as Jesus told me to, shouldn’t that imply that I also love and care for myself? There are times when I am harder on myself than I would be on anyone else. Beating myself up for silly mistakes, and not extending the kindness and grace I would to others if they found themselves in the same situation.

Practicing loving kindness starts with ourselves. If we show ourselves kindness in small ways, it will extend to others. When I feel the freedom to rest when I am sick, I am able to give others more grace and kindness when they are struggling. If I give myself permission to make mistakes, and not be a perfectionist, then it’s much easier for me to loosen my expectations of others.

Knowing this fact, it seems to me that it is all the more important for me to abide in Christ. The more that I abide; the more Christ will influence my thoughts, my actions, and my feelings. I hear the voice of Christ in those tricky situations, rather than the voice of my humanness. I hear Christ speaking words of love and tenderness to me, rather than judgment and criticism.

Questions for the week
In what ways do I need to practice loving kindness to myself this week? To others?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 NIV

Slow Down for Loving Union

Slowing down can often be difficult in our fast paced society. We are often rushing from one event to another; to meeting after meeting. And when we are not, we feel as though we should be. We feel as though the more we have in our schedule, the more valuable we are. Rest and reflection can be looked at as “wasted time” and we often end up trying to wedge in our time with God whenever we have extra time to spare.

What would happen if we intentionally scheduled our time with God? If we put that in our daily planner first and worked everything else around our time of Abiding with Christ?

In his book The Emotionally Healthy Leader Pete Scazerro writes, “ Bearing fruit requires slowing down enough to give Jesus direct access to every aspect of our lives and our leadership. Just because God has access to everything that is true about us does not mean God has access to us. Loving union is an act of surrender- giving God complete access- and we can’t do that in a hurry. We must be humbly accessible, with the door of our hearts continually open to him. Jesus doesn’t force that on us; it is something only we can do…” (P.118)

Just as Jesus slowed down to live in loving union with the father, we are also invited to take part in the same practice. John 15 :5 reminds us, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Slowing down to spend time in loving union with the Lord is not only life-giving to us, but also gives life to those around us. If I make time to be filled with God’s love, it is only a matter of time until that same love flows out of me. This love (or sometimes the lack thereof!) affects everyone around me- from my spouse, to the barista at the coffee shop to how I react when some cuts me off in traffic when I am running late.

In what ways do I need to slow down to take part in loving union with the Father

Rest

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So often in our lives, rest becomes the last thing on our list of things to do. We do as much as we can in a day, and in a week, and cut our hours of rest and sleep down so that we are able to get more accomplished. At times this may result in us being less effective in our ministries and less caring to those around us as we can get exhausted and irritable. What might happen if we flipped this pattern around put rest at the top of the list?

Rest is a form of caring for oneself and connecting with God, and it is an important part of a healthy walk with God. In his book, “Let Your Life Speak”, Parker Palmer writes “Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”

In scripture we are invited to come to Jesus to receive rest that truly refreshes us. In Matthew 11 Jesus invites us to rest in Him.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly
.” (The Message)

As we continue to journey through Lent, I invite you to set aside some burdens if you are able to. Take a brief moment (or an hour, or even a day if you can!) to hand these burdens over to Jesus and rest in His presence.

Lord Jesus we confess that at times we are overwhelmed with the needs around us. We pray today that we will have the courage to set these burdens before you and to embrace the rest and refreshment that you offer to us. May we walk in your strength and not our own.
Amen.

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

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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?