Healing

In light of current events, I’ve been overwhelmed with emotion. I’ve often felt frightened, anxious, ashamed, convicted, angry, resentful, and confused. I’ve had a hard time making sense of things and have prayed for cunning eyes and the grace to see Truth amidst the many voices and headlines that seem to assault me every time I glance at my phone…which is basically every spare second of my time because I’m an addict. Working on it.

In response to that, I’ve been trying to be more disciplined about reading Scripture. Every day I try to start my morning by reading the day’s readings and devotions I subscribe to. I’ve been opening up my bible to read the scriptures in deeper context and to take time to really meditate on them instead of just reading them on my phone. It has been a life-giving practice.

I rarely have a hard time finding a way to connect with the day’s readings, but today the readings just gutted me. It was like they were written specifically for this very moment in history.

My eyes are spent with tears, my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground at the brokenness of the daughter of my people, as children and infants collapse in the streets of the town.

They cry out to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint away like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out in their mothers’ arms.

To what can I compare you – to what can I liken you – O daughter Jerusalem? What example can I give in order to comfort you, virgin daughter Zion? For your breach is vast as the sea; who could heal you?

Your prophets provided you visions of whitewashed illusion; they did not lay bare your guilt, in order to restore your fortunes; they saw for you only oracles of empty deceit.

Lamentations 2:11-14 NAB

Gracious, if that isn’t relevant. I’ve never really spent much time in Lamentations, because honestly it’s not very pleasant. I’m definitely guilty of seeking out scriptures of hope and promise and avoiding the uncomfortable ones. The introduction to Lamentations in my bible says, “…the reader is not so much engaged by the Book of Lamentations as assaulted by it.” I feel the same way about the news every dang day. “But with its unsparing focus on destruction, pain, and suffering the book serves an invaluable function as part of Scripture, witnessing to a biblical faith determined to express honestly the harsh realities of a violent world and providing contemporary readers the language to do the same (emphasis mine).

I think that’s where we are, friends. Or at least that’s where I am. I feel assaulted by the pain, horror, injustice, and evil in my country and overwhelmed by the fact that it comes from all sides. But I’m learning that I have to lean into the uncomfortable parts of life in order to grow. I have to examine my own heart, to identify my personal responsibility, look my sin in the face, and make it right. I’m heading to confession today.

I don’t understand the world. I don’t have all the answers and I have failed so many times. I feel pinned and inadequate, ill-equipped to grapple with the things going on in my country and paralyzed by the fear that whatever it is I do, it will never be “right” or “good enough.”

But here’s what I do know. Racism is a horror, an unequivocal sin, and a blight on our culture.

I also know that there’s a difference between justice and vengeance.

I know that we are all sinners and we are all deserving of mercy. Everyone.

I know that nothing will heal us but God, and that we’re not all called to fight injustice the same ways. But just as with the book of Lamentations, I am called to look sorrow and pain in the face and to listen. Everyone is allowed to feel their feelings, even if those feelings aren’t easy for me to understand or agree with. The only way forward for me is to push into the pain and to pray.

Cry out to the Lord from your heart, wall of daughter Zion! Let your tears flow like a torrent day and night; give yourself no rest, no relief for your eyes.

Rise up! Wail in the night, at the start of every watch; pour out your heart like water before the Lord: lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who collapse from hunger at the corner of every street.

Lamentations 2:18-19

Right now my heart feels like the Centurion in today’s gospel (Matthew 8:5-17): “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” I know that I am unable to heal anything on my own, unable to affect change without first being healed myself, without being radically transformed by Christ.

Healing is the central theme of the gospel and healing is what our world so desperately needs. Today in Matthew, Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and many more:

When it was evening, they brought him many who were possessed by demons, and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick, to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet:

‘He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.’

Matthew 8:16-17

He’s here to heal us, friends. We’re never going to conquer evil or injustice or pandemics without looking into our hearts with humility and honesty, taking responsibility for our place in the world, and opening ourselves to the healing light of Christ.

We have to boldly seek truth, realizing that political leaders and organizers of movements may not be completely rooted in gospel truth, regardless of whichever cause they serve. We have to develop open hearts and cunning eyes, constantly checking in with Jesus. He must be the only one we serve, not politics, parties, or movements. To be clear, I’m not advocating that we take no action but rather that we carefully discern which organizations and individuals we support rather than being swept away by every social media post we see that has an eloquent quote (something I am guilty of). We have to do our research before we align ourselves with anything or anyone.

Healing starts with recognizing the belovedness and inherent dignity in each and every person, even those who seem the most evil and ugly to us. We are called to serve justice with mercy and reconciliation. We are required to take responsibility for our actions, even if that means admitting we were wrong. We have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, leaning into the discomfort and hiding ourselves in the wounds of Jesus.

Here is the prayer of my heart:

Lord Jesus, you know our hearts, where they are aching, consumed by anxiety, gripped with fear, where they are hurt, wounded, and hardened. You know all the places we store up little hopes. You know our wants and needs and all the false gods we turn to. Give us the grace to turn to you today. Lord, bolster us where we feel weak, weary, and worried.

Jesus, heal our hearts. Bind up those things in us that rebel against you. Purify us and give us hearts of flesh in place of our hearts of stone.

Father, give us eyes to see you at work in our lives, hearts that break over what breaks yours. Give us ears to hear you speaking directly to us and the humility and obedience to serve you.

Reveal yourself to us, Lord, in every person we meet. Remove our blinders that we might see belovedness all around us.

Jesus, this world is broken. We are broken. Draw us to you and comfort us at your breast. Help us to recognize you offering yourself to us and give us the grace and fortitude to offer ourselves back to you.

Amen

Transition

The other night one of my kids was acting weird. She just wasn’t herself and I could tell that something was bothering her. When I prodded a little, she completely and theatrically melted down. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she kept repeating. “I don’t KNOW what’s wrong with me. I don’t KNOW what I’m feeling, if I’m happy or if I’m sad. I don’t know what to FEEL. My life isn’t turning out the way I wanted. Like, who am I even??!?”

Did I mention we have a flair for the dramatic?

I tried to cover my grin as I calmed her down. Poor kid was just so frustrated with so many things and having such a difficult time articulating her emotions, so I leaned back onto something that I’ve used with the kids for a long time now. It’s just a quick check in that reminds them of their identity and consists of three simple questions: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? Being reminded that she was created by a loving God who made her and made her good was enough to settle my girl for the night.

And the whole situation seemed hysterical to me until I was having an identical breakdown like two days later.

I’m feeling rather adrift if I’m honest, having a difficult time finding my place in things. Without Easter to look forward to or Lent to keep me disciplined and no solid end in sight for the stay at home order, I’m having a hard time coping. It’s like the “day after” feeling I always get after holidays, but amped up a few hundred notches.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

Today’s Gospel reading from John (20:11-18) shows us Mary Magdalene encountering Jesus and mistaking him for the gardener. When she fully recognizes Him, it’s obviously a moment, but eventually Jesus says, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. but go to my brothers and tell them…” and gives Mary that incredible job of being the Apostle to the Apostles.

In today’s Blessed is She devotion, Kendra Tierney writes:

She can’t hold on to Him as her friend and teacher. She needs to let go of Him as a Man so she can embrace Him as God. She can’t get caught up in her expectations for the moment and for her life, because Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.

Kendra Tierney, Blessed is She, 04/14/20

“She can’t get caught up in her expectations.” Man, that gutted me. I think that much of the reason I’m struggling to cope these days is that I’ve been caught up so tightly in what I expect my life to be like. I have a vision for how I think things ought to be, what Lent should look like, how I want Easter to be celebrated, how frequently I think I should be able to receive Holy Communion.

“…Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.” I think it’s only human nature to cling to what we know, especially in difficult times of transition.

I’m a birth doula, so I often see the world through the lens of childbirth. I always say that life is like labor, transition is the hardest part. Transition is the part in childbirth that seems to take the longest, when a mother’s body is completing its final preparations to deliver her baby, it’s an eternity of seemingly unstoppable intensity. This is the point when mothers frequently begin to doubt themselves, when they say they can’t go on any longer, beg for it to be over, many times searching frantically for any “out” they can find. Alas, the only way out is through, as we all know. In order to get through transition in childbirth, a mother must push through the intensity so that she can push in a more literal sense to bring her child into the world.

And as I’ve seen time and time again in childbirth, the women who cope with labor the best are the ones who submit themselves to the experience. They don’t try to control or manipulate the situation, but surrender themselves to the waves. Laboring women who do fight their bodies get panicky, tension making the pain more intense. Labor oftentimes takes longer and is more of an ordeal that they survived than an event they took part in.

We’re in transition right now. Just like the experience of a laboring woman, it feels that there’s no end in sight. Our current reality feels like some sort of endless in-between where we’re promised something good on the other side, but it feels like we’ll never ever get there.

The only way out is through. The only way to cope is to refocus our lives on the One who is calling us to a new and different experience of His love. In order to progress, we must let go of our expectations, lay down the ideals we’ve been clinging to, the preconceived notions of what “normal” is or what our lives “should” look like, and submit ourselves to the experience, however difficult it may be. It is only in surrendering to labor that a pregnant woman comes to deliver her child. It is only in surrendering ourselves to our present circumstances that we will encounter new ways to experience the Risen Christ and, like Mary Magdalene, receive a deeper sense of what we are called to as His disciples.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

True Connection: Hiddenness, Solitude, Truth and You

In a world that predisposes us to yearn for social connection, hidden seems horrible. We’re surrounded by promptings to share our lives, compulsions to photograph our food, document our days. Pinging phones remind us that people are waiting, posting, moving, doing and if we don’t check in, we’re missing out. 

Now obviously there is so much merit to the community found on social media. Now more than ever, the ability to socialize via the internet can 100% be a lifeline for those weathering tough seasons of life. We’re in a unique time when many of us are literally unable to socialize in any way other than social media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. These are all the connecting threads binding us together in a bizarre time when we need each other. And that’s good. What a gift it is to communicate and connect.

But the other side of this connection is the compulsion to share, to be relevant, to create content. We’ve seen it before when tumultuous headlines light up our Facebook feeds: there’s also the compulsion to panic, vent, share our unfiltered opinion, comment on every post that irks us. I can only speak for myself, but I have frequently felt the urge to chime in with something in order to feel…important, valuable, noticed, preferred, validated. I want to be noticed and social media is my stage. If I get enough comments, enough validation through likes, then I’m not hidden.

But, y’all, hidden doesn’t mean forgotten. Read that again: Hidden does not mean forgotten. Hidden doesn’t mean unloved or unloveable. Hidden doesn’t mean irrelevant or unimportant.

We have been drawn into a time of hiddenness against our will. None of us has chosen this pandemic, none of us desired this time of separation. This is hard and it’s scary and it’s lonely to be hidden away like this, to suffer in this strange way.

I’ve written before that the Lord has spent the last year and a half or so leading me into solitude and silence. It has taken (and still takes) extreme focus and discipline for me to settle down into silent prayer, to be still when I’m with the Lord in Adoration, or to quiet my thoughts just to be with Him.

Henri Nouwen said the following and I think it’s so beautiful and true:

Every time we enter into solitude we withdraw from our windy, earthquaking, fiery lives and open ourselves to the great encounter. The first thing we often discover in solitude is our own restlessness, our drivenness, and compulsiveness, our urge to act quickly, to make an impact, and to have influence; and often we find it very hard to withstand the temptation to return as quickly as possible to the world of “relevance.” But when we persevere with the help of a gentle discipline, we slowly come to hear the still, small voice and to feel the gentle breeze, and so come to know the Lord of our heart, soul, and mind, the Lord who makes us see who we really are.

Henri Nouwen

We Americans are really terrible at slowing down. We value productivity, measurable achievements, checked off to-do lists, profits. We have bought into the lie that we’re only worth as much as we produce whether that be in the currency of dollars or follows. We have to make, do, create, impact, influence in certain ways in order to be “worthy.” For us to be forced to stop, for us to be isolated, unable to do is unthinkable. Our society has enslaved itself so intimately to this lie that we literally have people licking airplane toilet seats during a pandemic in order to be noticed. How deep must our addiction for notoriety and attention be if we are willing to prostitute ourselves to these ideals so easily.

Y’all, I call bullshit. I’ve spent the last year and a half learning over and over and over again that it isn’t what I produce that makes me valuable. My identity as created human being, Beloved of the Father is what makes me valuable. Period. This is such a difficult lesson to learn and I’ll keep learning it until the day I die. The lies are loud, but the Truth is deep: I will be just as valuable if no one comments on this blog post as I’ll be if it gets shared across the entirety of the internet. I will be just as valuable if I impact people with my words as I’ll be if I’m ignored.

This deep desire for acceptance, validation, recognition is what spurred me to give up social media for Lent. If I’m honest with you, every time I publish a post, I stalk it. I check back minute by minute (not exaggerating) to see if anyone liked it or commented. Because if you like my writing then you like me. If I get lots of attention from a post, then I get a dopamine hit and I feel worthy. Perhaps I’m less dramatic than the girl licking toilet seats, but I’m just as much as slave to the lie as she is.

Now is a time when we’ve all been put in an uncomfortable place and we get to choose how we respond. Will we fight and rail and scroll, scroll, scroll, starving for connection that won’t truly satisfy? Or will we use social media as a tool for connection, mindfully utilizing it to feed our hearts and minds with content that leads us closer to Truth? Will we use this time to connect with the people who have been gifted to us: our partners, parents, children, roommates, friends? If we’re alone, will we call and check in rather than letting Twitter updates do our talking for us? Regardless of our station, will we take time to do the hard work of silence and solitude, allowing it to transform us?

Solitude is hard, uncomfortable, and pushes us to a place where we’d rather not be. It’s up to us to decide if we will put ourselves at the service of the problem. My prayer for us all is that we would suffer well, that our interactions, whether online or via some other medium, would be truly connecting in meaningful and helpful ways. My prayer is that we would not be slaves to the internet, but rather let our solitude transform us and, after connection to Christ through this time set apart, that social media might serve us and be the medium through which we communicate the Belovedness of others.

Hidden is not forgotten. He will not leave us orphan. Christ is present, He is moving, He is real, and He adores you. Go be a light and walk in the truth that you are incredibly, indescribably loved just as you are, no matter where you are.

Peace and perseverance in all things,

Mary Susan

Note: Take a listen to the Abiding Together podcast to hear more about this idea of hiddenness and our identity as Beloved. They’re discussing Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen for Lent and there is so much good truth being shared there.