Friday, August 29, 2014

An Invitation to Rest

I'm so grateful to my friend Suzanne Stelling 
for sharing her beautiful picture!  
Aren't you?


If youre a mama, no one needs to remind you about the tremendous amount of time, energy, and dedication it takes to raise a child.  Whether its preparing your newborns 22nd bottle, answering your preschoolers 657th question, or desperately hoping your little ones will nap for just 30 minutes so you can rest your weary self, you know it well:  caring for our children takes every last ounce of love and energy we have to give, and sometimes maybe even a little more . . . especially when we remember that were not just responsible for keeping them clean and fed; were also called to cultivate their little souls.  If we want to have what it takes to help our children grow, blossom, and thrive, we need to be thriving ourselves.

Mamas need to cultivate our mama-souls.

But how?  This is the question you considered in Moms N More this week.  Since I couldnt be there in person, Rebekah invited me to share a little bit about a way Ive found to nurture my soul, so that I can have what I need to love my family well.  Maybe youll find something here to encourage you, too.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I grew up in one of those go-to-church-three-times-a-week families.  And since Im also a ministers kid, the Bible has been part of my life literally since I was born.  Honestly, the fact that Ive been reading, hearing, and learning the principles in this amazing book for such a  l-o-n-g time can make it hard for me to encounter scripture in a fresh way. It was true when I was growing up, and it continues to be the case now.

But when I was in my early 30s, my husband and I brought two little ones into the world during a 17-month time-frame (a feat my sister-in-law calls having twins the hard way J).  When I became a parent, my long-time exposure to scripture combined with the 24/7 nature of mothering young children created a real problem for me.  I wanted to connect with God on a regular basis, but the classic quiet time model just wasnt something I could sustain.  Plus, it felt more like a burdenanother item on my ever-growing to-do list instead of a time where my spirit could be refreshed, re-energized, and equipped for lifes challenges.  This left me feeling frustrated, and I wasnt quite sure what to do about it.

As I continued to grapple with this challenge, my search led me to a new way of spending time with God and his word.  The namelectio divinais unusual, perhaps because its ancient.  Also known as sacred reading, this method has been practiced by Christ-followers for centuries.  Lectio divina is rooted in the biblical idea that scripture is “living and active, and it involves not only reading a passage for literal understanding, but also contemplating it and even inviting God to speak through the text to me, sometimes in a way that is immediately relevant to current struggles, joys, tasks, or season of life.

I’ve found sacred reading to be a particularly rich practiceespecially during the incredibly busy season of life that is motherhood. So, if you’d like to give it a try, this post is for you.  Keep reading for a step-by-step description of how lectio divina works.

Rest

When I’m hoping to spend time practicing sacred reading, I find it helpful to plan ahead a bit.  For me, this means making sure I’ll have 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted time, and finding a comfortable, quiet place.  Coffee, tea (or another yummy something) is great too. 

Because I’m one of those type A “do-er” types—I usually need to start by decelerating” from my typical high-speed, multi-tasking-mom pace.  Often this means writing down—and then putting aside—the list of “to-do’s” spinning in my head.  I also like to turn off my phone and put the laptop out of reach.  Then it helps to close my eyes and take just a few deep breaths.

Remember 

In both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible speaks often about Gods abiding presence in the lives of His followers.  Yet even though His word is full of such reminders, I often find my attention pulled away from the reality that He is beside me every step of the way. 

Because of this struggle, sometimes I need to actively remind myself what His word says about His presence.  Remembering helps to anchor my soul and mind in the truth:


  O Lord, you have examined my heart
 and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
    
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
 even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!
I can never escape from your Spirit!
    
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
Psalm 139:1-12a (The New Living Translation)



. . . he is not far from any one of us.
‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’
Acts 4:27b-28a (The New International Version)


For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us 
from his love.
Death can’t, and life can’t.
The angels won’t,
and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away.
Our fears for today,
our worries about tomorrow,
or where we are—high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean—
nothing will ever be able to separate us 
from the love of God
demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ 
when he died for us.
Romans 8:38-39 (The Living Bible)


In addition to describing His presence, scriptures also promise guidance for Christ-followers, and sometimes I need to remember this as well:


He guides me in the paths of righteousness 
for His name’s sake. 
Psalm 23:3b (The New American Standard Bible)


Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more;
with your own eyes you will see them.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,
“This is the way; walk in it.”
Isaiah 30:20-21 (The New International Version)


I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit
who will help you and always be with you.
The Spirit will show you what is true.
The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit,
because they don’t see or know him.
But you know the Spirit,
who is with you
and will keep on living in you.
John 14:16-17 (The Contemporary English Version)

Because of these promises, I can be confident as I invite Him to renew my ability to perceive His direction and guidance.   So I like to say a simple prayer asking Him to do just that.  Then Im ready to move on to the next part of my time with Him.

Read (Receive, Reflect, Relish, Realize, Rest, Return)


For the Word that God speaks is
alive and full of power . . .
exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging
the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12 (The Amplified Bible)


Our inner thoughts are a lamp
 from the Lord,
 
and they search our hearts.
Proverbs 20:27 (The Contemporary English Version)


The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,

searching all the innermost parts of his being 
Proverbs 20:27 (New American Standard)


While He spent time on earth, Jesus gave believers a tremendous gift by suggesting a way for us to talk to Him.  He did this by teaching whats commonly referred to as the Lords Prayer (found in Matthew 6), and with each passing year, I find myself praying it more and more often.

One line from that text—“give us this day our daily bread”—reflects our need for ongoing spiritual sustenance.  The fact that Christ invites me to make this request on a regular basis gives me great comfort because my need for Him is a daily (or sometimes an hourly) reality. The truth about me is that I often find myself in need of refreshment, encouragement, wisdom, forgiveness, and hope.  And I dont think Im the only one. 

This is why Gods words for mecommunicated through scripture to my heart and spirit are such an important part of my life.  These truths are my daily bread. 

So, after Ive invited God to renew my ability to perceive His direction, I often spend time reading scripture.  Since Im well into my 3rd decade of following Christ, Ive tried lots of different methods for spending time with Gods word.  Sometimes it involves reading new passage each day.  Other times it means working through a Bible study of some kind.  In recent years, though, I often find myself spending time with one passage of scripture over a series of days or even weeks. There are many good ways to read the Bible, but this is the one that seems to fit most naturally into my current season of life.

So, you may be wondering:  what does it look like to do this?  Although its difficult to put into words, I recently heard a pretty good description in an interview with theologian and scholar Walter Brueggeman. 

In the program, Brueggeman discusses a way of experiencing scripture thats different than memorizing Bible verses or reading the Bible.  Instead, he says, we can allow specific images, phrases, or words from a scripture passage to linger with us.  

So, for example, if I am reading Psalm 23, Gods identity as a shepherd might seem especially significant on a particular day.  When that happens, I can spend time reflecting on that image both while I am reading, and throughout the hours and perhaps days to come. 

What scripture does, Brueggeman says, is invite you to keep walking around it and looking at it another way and noticing something else.  I respond to this invitation when I take time to sit with these images . . . relish them . . . let them become a part of [my] prayer life and [my] vocabulary and [my] conceptual frame. 

Though he didnt refer to it as such, Brueggemans words capture a bit of what happens in the practice of sacred reading.  Instead of reading the Bible and being done with it, lectio divina offers something far more profound, with a process that is simple: 

rest from the days busy-ness

  remember His abiding presence & continual 
                                                                guidance
      read scripture

         receive it as His words

       reflect on what I've read

            relish the truths I encounter

                 realize its relevance for today

                      rest in His continued presence as I ...

                           ... return to the day's activities

Brueggemans interviewer (On Beings Krista Tippett) calls this practice  dwelling with the images from scripture.  This, to me, is what sacred reading is all about.  To borrow from the Psalmist, it is a way to hide Gods word in my heart.  To echo Christ, it is a way to receive the sustenance I needmy daily bread. 
                                                     
One other thought:  if youre like me, you may find yourself anxious to hear a word from God as a result of your time with Him.  Sometimes we do sense what seems to be specific guidance.  Other times, though, we may end our prayer time without having perceived any particular prompting.  This, for me, can lead to disappointment, or even concern that Ive somehow missed His voice.

Im learning, though, that regardless of what seems to happen while I give time to sacred reading, I can trust my Father to guide meboth in ways I can identify and also in ways I may not perceive in the moment.  

And Im seeing that as I take time to dwell with the images, ideas, and truths in scripture, this creates room for these images, ideas, and truths to dwell in me.

Questions to Think and Talk About

I can't wait to see you all in person at Moms N More!  In the meantime, here are a few questions for you to think on, journal about, pray through, or discuss with a friend.
You might even talk with your little ones about some of these ideas; you may be surprised (and encouraged) by their insights.
*  Is the notion of Gods abiding presence new for you, or is it familiar?  When you really allow yourself to acknowledge this reality, what thoughts, feelings, or questions come to mind?
*  Have you ever wondered why some believers seem to hear Him more easily or often than others?  If so, what do you think about this?
*  Have you experienced a time when Gods word seemed to be especially alive or relevant for a circumstance you were going through?  What was that like?
*  Can you recall an instance when an idea from scripture seemed to come out of nowhere when you needed it most?
*  Can you remember a past experience during which you seemed unable to perceive Gods direction?  When you look back at that experience from today, can you identify ways in which He was guiding you even when you might have been unable to recognize it at the time?
*  Want to dig a little deeper into the subject of connecting with God?  Here are a few books that I've enjoyed over the years.

  • Ruth Haley Barton's Sacred Rhythms:  Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation
  • Gary Thomas's Sacred Pathways:  Discover Your Soul's Path to God
  • Jan Johnson's Listening to God:  Using Scripture as a Path to God's Presence
  • Marva Dawn's Keeping the Sabbath Wholly:  Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting


*  I also really like this little podcast describing a practice known as breath-prayers.
*  How about you?  Leave any book titles or other ideas in the comment box below.  And remember: when you are thinking about how to connect with God, don't be afraid to find what works for you . . . . especially during this very-full season of mothering.




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