Embracing Discomfort

“Buuut, nooooo.” His drawn out whine turns quickly into grunts and groans. His little body tense. His breathing shallow and quick. He reaches out for me in desperation, begging me not to leave. “Mooooooommmmmy!”

I sigh and sit down on the edge of the bed again. “Take a deep breath. Use your words.” I instruct. My voice is gentle, but firm, and I can hear the weariness creeping in at the edges. He calms a little and struggles to find the words. “Are you afraid?” I ask.

“Yes…No.” He shakes his head and the corners of his lips turn down slightly. Then in his matter of fact voice, the one he uses when he’s trying to explain something to me as if I’m the child, the voice he uses when he’s trying to figure something out, “Well, it’s not really that I’m afraid. It’s not like I’m scared something will happen…” He pauses, “It’s different. But, it’s sort of like fear. I just…” His voice lowers, “I don’t want…” He begins to work himself up again, “I don’t want to be aloooooone.”

A sympathetic smile stretches across my lips, “It’s loneliness. The feeling is lonely. You don’t want to feel lonely.”

He latches onto the word right away. “I’m lonely. Don’t leave. It’s noooot faaaaair!”

That term grates on my nerves for what feels like the hundredth time that day. My fatigue begins to win out over my sympathy. “It’s ok to feel lonely. I need to leave now.” I make it half way down the hall before he starts crying and calling after me. I don’t want him to wake up Sage. I take a deep breath and lower my shoulders before going back in. This time I have to make a conscious effort to keep the impatience from taking over. “Thaddeus, I already read and laid down with you for a long time. It’s late now. I know you are lonely and I know that is an uncomfortable feeling. I don’t like feeling lonely either. But, it’s ok to feel lonely. It is not ok to yell and call after me. You might wake up Sage. It’s time for me to go now.”

He begins to work himself up and get loud again, and I resort to the one thing I know will work, “Thaddeus, if this continues I’m not going to be able to lay down with you tomorrow. I’m sorry. I really want to lay down with you tomorrow, but I can’t reward this kind of behavior and I need to know that you will listen and let mommy go when I say it’s time.”

“Nooooo! I want you to lay down with me tomorrooooooow.” He whines.

“And I want to lay down with you too. It’s entirely in your power to make that happen.”

“Buuuut, I’m loooooonely.”

“I know. Try singing a song, or playing a game in your head, or you can count quietly, or tell yourself a story.” I list off a few options, and it dawns on me that I am just giving him distractions. “It’s ok to be lonely.” I say the words again and really hear them. “It’s ok to be lonely.”

I leave the room eventually with this quote playing in my head.

“Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.

Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you

As few human or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight

Has made my eyes so soft,

My voice so tender,

My need of God

Absolutely

Clear.” – Hafiz

And I realize that I do exactly what Thaddeus did tonight. I throw a tantrum when I start to feel lonely, afraid, confused, or any other number of “negative” emotions. And if I can calm myself down from my tantrum I do exactly what I advised him to do, I avoid those feelings, distracting myself with other things. I surrender my loneliness too quickly as Hafiz wrote.

What if instead I just sat with those feelings? The feelings that are uncomfortable. The feelings I don’t want. What if I was able to make friends with them? Invite them to do their deep work. What if I embraced the discomfort instead of trying to get away from it? What if I allowed these feelings to soften my eyes, soften my voice and drive me to recognize and understand my deep need for God?

What would that look like. I think perhaps it would look a little like Holy Saturday.

This is the work of Holy Saturday, isn’t it? The disciples scared, confused, locked away, huddled together in the upper room. Sitting in the dark, in the unknown, in the liminal space. Sitting with those uncomfortable feelings, sitting with our failed expectations, sitting with the “it isn’t fair” that rises up in our hearts. Sitting in-between death and resurrection.

I pray that whatever liminal, threshold, space you find yourself in would be ripe with hope. That even in the darkness you would feel the strong arms of grace. I pray for grace in the waiting, grace in the uncomfortable feelings you don’t want to feel, grace in the unknown. Grace in your tantrums and grace in your distractions. Grace to sit in the awkwardness of silence. Grace be with you, friends. And grace be with me as well.

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

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Some Thoughts on Maundy Thursday

IMG_4733Today I started sprouting some whole un-ground spelt. But, before I got started I decided to sort through the grains because there were these strange little black balls mixed in with the grains. At first I thought they were pepper, but on closer inspection there were not. (Aside: anyone know what they are? And why there were in my spelt?) Anyway, sorting through a bag of un-ground grains was a new experience for me. It was tedious and monotonous, but somehow it seemed like an appropriate activity for Maundy Thursday.

As I sorted the grains it felt a little bit like I was engaged in a type of litany – A call and response between God’s heart and mine. Here are some of the thoughts that God brought up as I sorted the grains.

First, he reminded me that it is not my job to sort. It’s not my job to sort or judge anyone else’s life or heart, AND it’s not even my job to sort my own heart. I have a tendency to be very hard on myself. I want to be perfect and I want to be perfect NOW. I want to change how I act, and think, and feel. I want to change my heart and at times I WORK HARD at trying to do so. But, the truth of the Gospel is that I can’t change myself. I can’t purify my own heart. I can’t sort out all the “icky” stuff from my life. There is none holy, no not one. And I can’t fix myself.

The hope of the Gospel is that Christ is powerful to cleanse us. He stoops down and cleanses the disciple’s feet, washing them clean, purifying them. And he does the same for me. He is the one who sorts through my heart and weeds out all the impurities – all the shaft, rocks, bugs, and little black things that I can’t even recognize any more. I don’t need to cleanse myself, I don’t need to judge myself. He is the One Judge and he is merciful. He is the one who cleanses me and his hand is gentle. IMG_4735

Another thing happened while I was sorting. As I sorted through the grains, I noticed that some of them were broken. For a second I actually thought about sorting out all the broken pieces while I was sorting out the other stuff – I know CRAZY, right? But, there was a little part of me that wanted everything to be perfect and look perfect and uniform. I know it was ridiculous. Those broken pieces were perfectly good pieces of grain even though they didn’t look as nice or perfect as the whole pieces.

Then I heard God whisper… “Bethany, I don’t sort out the brokenness either. The broken pieces stay.” It struck me that when God is cleaning and purifying and sanctifying my life he slowly picks away the rocks, the dirt, the bugs, but he leaves the broken pieces. He leaves the wounds, the hurts, the scars, the places of my life that aren’t neat and clean and whole and perfect. Sometimes I wish he didn’t leave the broken pieces, but there is something beautiful about the fact that he does. He’s not wasteful. He may refine me but every bit of me that is worth keeping will be kept even if it looks a little broken or misshapen.

Oh, and his work is slow. He doesn’t sort and purify quickly. He doesn’t use a machine and haphazardly throw me into a standard system. He slowly picks up and looks at each grain of my heart. He sorts by hand – strong, yet gentle hands.

Search me, Oh God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Rejoicing in the journey-
Bethany

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Prayers from the Cross

 

I meet regularly with a group of ladies to study and practice together various spiritual disciplines. This past week I was unable to be there for the whole time but came in just in time to hear the last bit of a discussion on prayer, particularly focusing on prayers that Jesus prayed throughout his life. The prayers that particularly struck me where the prayers from the cross, and as this is Good Friday I thought I would try and share some of the reflections with you.

Jesus’ prayers from the cross:

“My God my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

None of the gospels have all three of these prayers together and so honestly I had never really looked at them together before, but it struck me this time that they go beautifully together and even seem to represent a sort of progression of faith through trials.

It starts with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We must first be willing to admit openly our own doubt, hurt, anger, sadness and despair. We must be able to admit how alone we feel, how distant God seems. We must be able to be honest enough with ourselves to allow ourselves to question God. My God, my God why have you forsaken me?!?!?!

I truly believe that question is an important one for us to allow ourselves to ask. But, I realized something else too; Jesus spoke the question in Aramaic, which at this time was one of the most commonly spoken languages of the area (if not the most commonly spoken). It never dawned on me until this week how significant that really is. Jesus was open with his questioning of God. He didn’t try to hide it, he didn’t keep it in or under wraps, and when he spoke it he didn’t just speak his question in a way that only a few would hear or understand. He proclaimed it openly and “in a loud voice” in a language that all around him would understand. I think that says something about how we should question and doubt God, and paints a picture of what that might look like that is very different from how we currently approach questioning God’s presence in the church. The church should not be afraid of people’s questions; people should not hide their questions. They should be able to be open and honest with their pain and doubt and questions not just with God, but with the community around them as well.

I think that the path to deeper faith must begin with prayers like “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” It is only when we openly admit and acknowledge our deep hurts and feelings in community that we can move forward into healing.

The next prayer is “Father, forgive them, for they known not what they do.” This is a difficult prayer to pray. But, often in trial after we admit our pain and questions, in order to move forward we need to seek out forgiveness for ourselves and for those who have wronged us. One of the ladies in our group pointed out how rarely we really pray for GOD to forgive someone who’s wronged us. We know that we need to work to forgive them, but do we ever pray for God to forgive them? Do we really want God to forgive them? So, often even once we have come to a place where we can say we forgive those who’ve wronged us we still expect and want God to dish out justice towards them. Asking God to forgive the other who has hurt us takes forgiveness a step deeper and though it is a difficult step it is a step that takes us one step closer to the life of faith – trusting that God knows best and that His love is all encompassing for each and every one of his creatures.

As difficult as these first two prayers can be I think the finally prayer is really the hardest, but it is also the sweetest. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” From that place of doubt, of questioning, of asking, “God why have your forsaken me?” we move to a place of complete rest and surrender. Our Lord is no longer referred to simply as God, but Father. And despite the fact that He may still seem distant and that our circumstances haven’t changed  and we haven’t received a clear answer to the deepest questions we ask, there comes a point of faith where we have a decision to make… will we trust? Will we surrender over our control? Will we follow this God that we don’t understand, this God that seems to forsake us at times, this God that calls us to a new and difficult way of living? Will we open our clenched fists and allow God to take us wherever He leads us, through whatever He leads us, trusting that He is love? Will we join Jesus in praying “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”?

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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An Example of Maundy Thursday in Action

This is what I wrote on Maundy Thursday last year:

Today is Maundy Thursday – it is the day we remember Christ washing the Disciples feet. I was doing a little research on Maundy Thursday and found this on Wikipedia:

The word Maundy is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (”A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34) by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet.

Along with my fried Tara (see her post on Maundy Thursday here) I found the meaning behind the days name to be very interesting and challenging. In the past Thursday of Holy week was not a day I really gave much thought to. I knew that it was related somehow to the foot washing but it wasn’t really a part of Easter for me. My family would often go to a service on Good Friday but we never went to church on Thursday and never really included Thursday in our Easter/Holy week celebrations. But, today I find myself thinking about Maundy Thursday. How can I enter into Christ’s command to “love one another as I have loved you” today? How can I commemorate and celebrate and remember the miraculous act of the God of the universe stooping down to wash the feet of dirty and sinful human beings – of stooping down to serve them and to serve me?”

This lent and holy week have been very different from last year for me. Last year this was a season of learning for me and I was very aware of the days of lent and did what I could to enter into them. This year, although I had planned to enter into lent in many ways as I had last year, I felt God calling me to a slightly different rhythm – something which I wrote a bit about here and am planning to write more about in the coming days. But, today God brought my awareness back to the fact that it is Maundy Thursday and as he did I started to think about a beautiful event that I will be participating in this evening.

Tonight marks the official release of the new Czech translation of the Bible. Our friend Sasha Flek has been working with a small group of others on this translation for the past 17 years. Tonight there will be an open event in Bethlehem Chapel (were Jan Hus preached) to celebrate the release of the Bible. Starting tomorrow there will be public readings of the Bible in 70 major Czech cities that will run for 24 hours straight reading the Bible from cover to cover between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. This is an amazingly significant event and many in the Czech Republic, no matter what their religious beliefs, are excited about it. The Czech tv and radio have both run free adds telling about the Bible and the Czech news has done in-depth interviews of Sasha including asking about his own conversion and calling to the Bible translation. The coming days will be a time to celebrate the birth and completion of a God-given vision and the resurrection of the Bible for a new generation of Czechs.

Today on Maundy Thursday, a day when we remember Jesus stooping and washing the disciple’s feet and telling them to love one another, it dawns on me that is exactly what Sasha and his team have been doing. They have given up their time and agenda’s to stoop over the Bible for 17 years so that they can show love and bring love through the written Word of God to their people.

Today I pray that those who receive this new translation, that those who hear it in the streets and in public squares over the weekend would feel the love of a God who stooped down to serve and die for each of us.

If you’d like to learn more about the Czech Bible translation visit this web site.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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Eastertide (The Easter Season): Viewing Easter as more than a single day

img_6023.jpgIt came to my attention – just this year in fact – that Easter is not a day. Easter is actually a 50 day season of the church calendar starting at sundown on Holy Saturday (starting at the Easter Vigil) and ending at the day of Pentecost, when the church remembers and celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. This year Eastertide lasts until Sunday May 11th (Pentecost).  

It seems right to me that Easter should be longer than a day. It is (or should be) the central focus of our Christian walk. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! And with Him we are risen as well from death to life – not just in the age to come but in the here and now. We were dead but now we live. We were lost but now are found. We have life and hope that cannot be taken from us. Our God is not dead and buried – He is alive and well and active in our lives. And remembering that and choosing to live in that should create joy. Thus, the season of Easter should be a time of celebration, a time of feasting, a time of pure joy.

May the coming days of Eastertide be days of joy for you. May they be days filled with play and celebration and laughter and delight in knowing that God delights in you, He has given you life – life to the full! May each day of Eastertide build on the day before until we come together to Pentecost and with equal joy remember that God is with us, that He has given us His very Spirit and has sent us out with purpose and mission.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Beth Stedman

Photograph by Beth Stedman

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