Posts about family life


Confined with Ourselves

Posted on May 01, 2020


Easter Vigil by ourselves (and Deacon Aunt Margie and cousins Charlotte and Josiah)

My uncle used to joke at the end of an evening, “We enjoyed ourselves…that’s about all we enjoyed…”  Here at home quarantined with ourselves I find we are enjoying ourselves... some of the time;  we are also disappointed in ourselves or bored with ourselves a lot of the time.  

In “The Wise Woman,” by George MacDonald, the mystical Wise Woman, in order to affect change in a selfish girl, confines her in a home where she must labor day after day at mundane chores.  With another self absorbed young girl, she encloses her in a bubble in which she must see herself in mirrors from all sides.  I feel that this “shelter-at-home” has this agency of transformation behind it--forcing us to be with ourselves as we go about mundane, repetitive labors, some of which we don’t even know how to do.

I know that I had big plans for this time cloistered at home with my children.  I gained twenty hours a week simply by not doing carpools, shuttling to activities, and engaging in active church ministry.  In the return for the deep loss of engagement with friends, life giving activities, and all the preparation for a Holy Week that we live for every year, I thought life at home would provide a kind of sabbath;  I would be productive;  we would have the chance to read books we have not had time to read, learn games that are still in their shrink wrap on the shelf, play music, sip coffee, make food that we enjoy, FaceTime with family and friends overseas, watch some documentaries.

Even as I look at that list, I realize we have done some of all of those things.  My meals have been more interesting because I am at home during meal prep time;  I have skimmed a Marie Kondo organizing book and organized my closet and drawers and the board games (whoopee); my boys played eight hours of Monopoly; we have had daily walks and more regular family prayer; we have had meaningful Zoom calls with family and friends, the kids have strung hammocks four high, and we have read out loud to each other and watched an interesting movie series.

But the feeling I have is restlessness and disappointment.  Screens are necessary for school and engagement with others. My husband has been on Zoom calls for work sometimes eight hours straight, and my older children are scattered throughout the house on computers for E-learning. It is a disconcerting disconnect to be so embodied with ourselves while being completely disembodied from others. And it is a strange “sabbath” to be away from Church and Communion.  The regularity of the news feed of fear looms large in our conversation, and our daily decisions about contact with extended family or others feel disorienting.

In this atmosphere of restlessness, I have watched us all go through a level of de-tox, of slowing down, of accepting limitations. Not having the normal hurry that jerks us out of our homes and gives us a brief escape into activity, not having the rush of careening toward lights out, forces us to be with our thoughts and our emotions, to be reminded of our choices. It is almost as if being able just to be with ourselves has affected an important work of awakening in us a discontentment with life, a longing for something more.

What if the success of this time is not once again measured by productivity or even creativity, but by personal growth in gratitude, hope, faith, and love?  By shifting our expectations of life? And is it possible that this is achieved simply by being with our own emerging thoughts, reactions, fears, and expectations, and having time to see them as they are?  And then to find that God is opening a window into an eternal space? 

At the end of each day, I do an Ignatian Examen, which involves rehearsing the day from four vantage points.  This has formalized a self-examination that has helped me articulate what is emerging in myself.  This first involves asking Jesus to be present with me as I look back over my day to reveal what I need to see in the light of his love.

The first is Gratitude:  this is a chance to allow the events, conversations, faces of the day to go before me, and to see the hidden mercies, graces, joys of the day.  The monopoly game on the living room floor for three days was an irritation, but two older brothers included a younger brother who often feels excluded, and he held his own.  I become present to that hidden small miracle and grateful for the seeds of something transformational. We stood and observed an unusual hawk in our backyard and identified him as a Cooper’s hawk.  To help our family with gratitude, we have a gratitude journal on a stand on the table encouraging everyone to write moments of gratitude throughout the day.

The second is Thoughts: this is an opportunity to examine my thoughts of the day--this is where I end up spending a lot of time. Where did my thoughts lead to faith, hope, and love?  Where was I caught up in a desolate cycle of thought?  Dialoguing with God about these thoughts and having him shine his light on them, has been an important aspect of the shelter-at-home for me.  Where are my disappointments catalytic for re-evaluation and change?  Where are my disappointments simply an acknowledgement of living this side of heaven? My fears of how this whole Covid-19 experience will change our world have had to be challenged with the faith for how this whole Covid-19 experience could change our world!  

The third is Words: this is an invitation to rehearse my words of the day.  I often find that I neglected to use words that could bless others and encourage them.  Instead, I was reactive or critical.  But I can also hear God’s, “Well done,” when I engaged in a conversation where I listened and was a vehicle for blessing in my words.

The fourth is Deeds: this is a chance to pause and examine actions of the day.  Where were they self serving? Self-sacrificing? Pointless and wasteful? Enriching and engaging?  Where did my deeds match with God’s purposes for my day or where was I drawn into the expectation of others or the misplaced desire to please others?

This simple exercise (which I actually do the following morning, looking back on the day before) has helped me be “with myself,” but in the transforming presence of God.

I am adjusting my expectations of this Coronavirus Confinement.  I have ceased to expect that I will accomplish a lot or that I will have bursts of creative energy and artistic output.  It will be more like the planting and weeding of a garden--totally unspectacular, laborious, with little to show for it at the end of the day, but evident in the breaking forth of a new season.  In actuality, weeding and tending and planting is full of the small actions of hope and expectation. So helping a child with math, listening more intently, making food, sitting down together to eat it, going on countless walks, being willing to navigate the feelings of fear and frustration with an awareness of God’s presence is sowing transformational rewards. 

In short, being with ourselves as we actually are, increases the capacity for us to be with God and others as they really are and find joy in it.  And when this confinement is over, I believe we will look back and see the creativity that emerged, the changes that were sown in the hiddenness of this time, and the longing for God and true community.  This is the faith I am engaging for how our world will be different after Corona...we will be different.  And this unleashes eternal possibilities.  

I better go cut some boys’ hair right now, a labor I do not relish. Wish me joy.

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Living Into Our Inheritance

Posted on June 29, 2018

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Let’s suppose that you awaken tomorrow morning to a phone call. Some distant relative has died and left you with an ample inheritance that will set you up for the rest of your life. You have to wait to receive it in full, though, for five years. But for the next five years, you can ask for what you need, and it will be provided. How would you live the next five years differently than you live your life now? You do not have the inheritance in your bank account yet, but your future is secure. Well, in fact, this is the truth for every believer: Jesus, when he ascended, left us with an inheritance.

My husband’s grandmother died, and her daughters divided up the inheritance. The grandchildren were asked what they would like. My husband asked for a teapot from the thirteen that were in his grandparents’ kitchen. Those, we were told, were already claimed. Later we were allowed into the basement to put our names on anything leftover that we desired, and they would review the requests of all the grandchildren. We found a lonely teapot in the basement and put our name on it. We received that forgotten, exiled to the basement, teapot, which we sarcastically now refer to as, “Nana’s favorite teapot.”

Sometimes we think that God’s inheritance for us is like that basement teapot--the leftovers. It’s good and serviceable, and even brings joy. But it isn’t specifically chosen for me, set aside, preserved in love.

What is the inheritance you are receiving?

“Do not fear little one, for the Lord has been pleased to give you his kingdom.” We are being given a kingdom. This is no leftover, cheap handout. This is a costly gift. It is a kingdom that comes with a king who has given everything for you to be his heir.

What is this kingdom that is my inheritance?

Oswald Chambers says that eternal life is not a gift from God, it is the gift OF GOD. I am given God. Eternal life is the life Jesus lived here on this earth, and now it is in me. Paul calls this the mystery of our faith, our great inheritance: Christ in me, the hope of glory. In Ephesians 1:14 he says that the Holy Spirit is the guarantee or downpayment on our inheritance, until we require full possession of it. While we wait to receive ALL that is ours, we have the Holy Spirit of God. What does this look like in our everyday life?

We have ETERNAL GENES: the eternal internalized.

According to I Peter 1, we have an imperishable seed--different genes. I actually have come into Christ when I am born again, and I now carry Jesus’ genes...literally in my body. CHRIST IN ME. This is the mystery and the hope of glory.

Recently, I was angry at the way I was treated by a fellow Christian. I stewed about it for a few days. Then I felt the Lord say, “You are a Christian. You have all it takes for you to forgive. You have me. Are you willing?” I have Jesus genes from which to forge new reactions.

I Peter 1:22-23 says, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” How do I love? I have been BORN AGAIN of seed that is imperishable. How can I let that slight pass me by? Because Christ did, and he is within me to live out his life. How can I forgive someone who betrayed me? Christ did, and he is within me to live out his life. How can I give up anxiety? I have Christ’s genes of confident hope within. Christians love because they have love genes.

The Lord does not expect that we can stir up love, forgiveness, or patience. It is not that we simply follow his example, “WWJD” (What Would Jesus Do), for that becomes work that wears us out.

Instead, he puts the Holy Spirit within us so that it becomes natural for us to live in virtue only because the life of Jesus is literally filling our bodies. Virtues are fruit of the Holy Spirit, not simply choices and actions that we practice.

When I inherit God, I am inheriting tangible gifts, such as: grace, faith, life, love, hope, but only as they are nested in God’s person. How many times do we want a certain particular result to a prayer but not the real inheritance of God with me, God in me. I want a new house or healing from an illness, or success for my child, and God says, “Ask for the full inheritance.” Luke says, Ask, Seek, Knock, and he will respond, for how will he not give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!

We have ETERNAL RESOURCES.

As Christians, we can live outside of common sense with our money and our time because of who we are--in the family of God with all of God as our rich and glorious inheritance.

God not only gives us financial resources, but emotional, spiritual, and physical resources. We usually live by what we see instead of the possibilities in God himself.

One time my mother, before the days of internet searches, wanted to find a family in a 20 million person city who had been in the news. She wanted to share the Gospel with them. We chuckled a little at her confidence that she would find them. Her comment was, “I have the God of the universe who knows exactly where they are. He will share his knowledge with me, and I will find them.” We prayed in faith for this to happen. She was not surprised (though we were!) when she was at a party and found herself standing beside a cousin of the family. The cousin then set up a meeting with the family, at which time my mother shared the Gospel. I was instructed by such confidence in the resources of God.

We have an ETERNAL HOME.

We are restless down here--always dissatisfied with this place as home. May it always be so. We cannot live as if this world is our home, or we will forego so much of our inheritance while we are here. When Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth built a house in Changte, China that had wooden floors and glass windows, they did it because it would attract the Chinese to come and visit them. They would have hundreds of people go through their home in a day, sometimes for weeks. Rosalind would teach the Gospel inside the home; Jonathan would teach outside. Anything not nailed down would be stolen. Their attitude was that this house of theirs was God’s to be used as he desired to reach the world. Imagine viewing our earthly homes as a temporary place that God uses for the sake of his kingdom because we know that we have an eternal home that is prepared for us...and is beautiful beyond compare.

God’s vision for our home is eternal; the home we build here must have that eternal perspective, or we will lose so much of the inheritance he is imparting to us now...that participation in his kingdom.

Why do we live as paupers, not as if we have an eternal inheritance?

This rich inheritance that we are told actually takes revelation to grasp is a treasure that we so often leave unmined, unexplored, undiscovered. God, we complain, has all these benefits to pour out, but here I am waiting, and I’m not seeing the cascading benefits.

In actuality, God created us to pour out his benefits on us; but the benefits are bound up in his person. He gives himself. We come to God so compressed and pinched, crowded with other desires, cluttered with the wrong dreams, that we have so little room for our inheritance...which is God Himself. And God is not tame. With him comes a wind that stirs up our own ideas of life and value, image, time, money...and until we are willing for all of that to be rearranged, we will forfeit the fullness of our inheritance.

We want to feel different, but we don’t always want a disruption to our affections and our inclinations. Well, the inheritance is God, not a pack of presents, and we have so little room for God. We are much more committed to our own earthly ideas of inheritance to let go of them that easily. We love the world and what it has to offer more than God. But God can help us with this…

How does God help us access our inheritance?

He sends us trials! These trials turn us away from our complaints, our small, cracked thinking, our satisfaction with this world, to the vast, magnanimous, cosmic expanse of the Lord...if we submit to the trials. We have so little capacity to receive God. The Holy Spirit has to soften us, make the stone in us flesh so that we can absorb life, so that the atrophied places in us are able to pulse with new life.

The last twenty years for me have been an emptying out of my ideas of inheritance. The enemy of our souls creates an illusory inheritance, like a chimera that we keep chasing. God does us a favor when he frees us from that illusory pursuit. I always wanted to live a sacrificial life and see great works of God, but I wanted to be aware of myself and enjoying myself doing these great things for God. I wanted to live in the miraculous world of God’s constant provision and the obvious results of my work for God. This was more about my feeling accomplished in my life for God than in my drawing closer and closer into the mind and heart of God.

Years of diapers, and allergy diets for kids, and muddy boys, and constant demands on my minutes, my energy, my limited resources, my sleep, and then discoveries of my own impatience and anxieties left me sometimes wondering: is this my inheritance?

It was when all the capacity to be pleased with myself was gone, that I discovered what Psalm 84 talks about: in their hearts are the highways to Zion. And Psalm 36, “He has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city.” God doesn’t want my performance. He wants me. He wants to be able to impart his love to me anywhere at any time.

My inheritance was all around me, just hidden like the Pearl of Great Price. God in my day, speaking to me. God in this child right in front of me, bubbling with life, God in a word of Scripture. The Lord didn’t let up and hasn’t. He wants to empty me of the expectation that in this world I could somehow be fulfilled, when my true desire is to be united with him. The beauty of our inheritance is that it begins now in the impartation of the Holy Spirit. I don't need to live on ramen while I am waiting for the feast. I am offered the bread of heaven.

I can actually say that, through trials, God is giving me such a greater level of healthy detachment from the world and a greater investment in my real inheritance. It is like unlocking a door into a universe I never knew was behind the door while I was living in a small cramped room and thinking that was all there was, when the door stood right before me.

Trials wean us from what has filled us and given us meaning so that we can find ourselves empty and ready for the filling of God.

Only in the squeeze do we see what is truly in our hearts and find ourselves ready for the transforming work that Christ can and will bring as we surrender. We are incapable of living into our inheritance of “Christ in Us” because our vessel for receiving God (the imagination, heart, and body) is restricted and pinched. The only way God can stretch us and carve out an expansive space for himself is through emptying us. And that rarely feels comfortable.

Fear not, little flock, for it is God's good pleasure to give you his kingdom. Welcome to your inheritance. Don't leave it unclaimed.

If you would like to listen to an audio of a similar teaching on this subject that I gave at our diocesan clergy retreat, you can access it by the link below. It has some of the same material, but is greatly expanded.

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