I grew up catholic. Catholic school, burning my fingers dipping them in candle wax as an altar girl, going to confession.. When I went to college, I went to the catholic church on campus, got involved in their choir (being a music major, finding a place in church among the musicians has always been a natural fit.) And then the fall of my Sophomore year, some mostly-baptist friends started inviting me to their officially non-denominational church. I finally went to one of their services where I heard the bible story of how this really religious pharisee guy Nicodemus sneaks off to see Jesus at night (so he doesn’t get caught by the other religious people who don’t think Jesus is legit) and Jesus tells this dude that he has to be born again. (There’s something else in that same story I’d heard before about how God so loved the world, but it didn’t make sense until that day.) That night in my room, one of my mostly-baptist friends led me through the sinner’s prayer over AOL instant messenger (I feel old, talking about AIM!). Suddenly, I was born again, ‘saved’. (And since they were mostly-baptists, I got fully dunk-baptized a few weeks later in a water-filled feeding trough.)
At a recent yoga class I attended, the teacher began with instruction to focus in on our breath and become aware of balance: were our inhale and exhale both even and balanced? I was surprised as I began to pay attention that my exhales were less steady and shorter than my inhales.
I started thinking about how our body uses exhales to let go of what it doesn’t need. Perhaps in life I am used to taking in so many good things: a LOT of information, teachings, friendships, spiritual and religious learning. But this reflects in my schedule: I have so traditionally been over-involved and over-committed. Steady at inhaling, at committing to all these things that feed me in various ways, but unsteady in letting them go: exhaling feels a little like carrying too many things at once and being surprised when one occasionally drops. I almost feel afraid or reluctant to exhale, to let things go.
I’m becoming aware of this unsteady tendency of how I let go of my breath and so many other things in life. I’m learning to accept letting go of good things, of transition, to make space for my next inhale, for my next friendship, for the next company or church I will be a part of. I’m letting go of the way life was as a single person to make room for the way life is living in union with my spouse. I’m letting go of the way I connected with my church as a single person to make room for the way Jeff and I connect with our church as a couple.
God, I believe you are the center, the balance of my life. Guide my intentions, how and what to let go and exhale, and to inhale and pick up.
Sometimes I get this (wrong) impression of God as being indifferent.
I think in our culture it’s perceived as politically correct to be indifferent: this idea that I should ‘not care’ what other people do or believe as long as it isn’t hurting themselves, others, or most important, me. We don’t want to give people the idea we don’t like them or disagree with them, so we quietly disengage and live our own (lonely) lives.
Admittedly, sometimes disengaging is necessary instead of fighting unprofitable battles – but I can’t help but wonder if we (I) am more often too disengaged. If being indifferent is ‘not caring’ about other people – then we have a lack of truly caring for one another.
Truly caring can be exhausting and difficult, like disciplining your children or having the courage to (respectfully) tell a friend you believe the choices they are making are not good for them.
With God, I think I fear His indifference because it is often so hard to recognize how He is engaged in my life. Sometimes He feels very distant, and it becomes hard to believe He cares about what I have to tell him or ask Him.
And I think in order to truly care for others, I need to first let God care for me. He is not indifferent and cares for me, for us in a way I do not yet fully comprehend. What kind of care would I show people if I first let God overwhelm me with his care for me?
God, help us know You with clarity, that you care deeply for us and are engaged and with us in the details of our lives. Fill us with greater and deeper understanding of Your love and care for us that we would overflow with that love to others. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ…” Phillipians 1:9-10
I’m sometimes known for my attention to details (Just ask my husband about doing dishes!)
So of course I like the idea that God notices and cares about the details.. the small things that aren’t noticeable at first glance. The way one family I know composts, because they think that detail of caring for the environment matters. The way another friend gets crazy deals with coupons, because those details add up to more money they get to keep (which they often choose to give away.)
Our church services are full of details.
Making the coffee. Setting the sound system. Setting out the treats. Making sure people know where to park, how to get inside the church. Someone thought through the details of the building long before sunday ever happened. How would someone in a wheelchair get in the building or go to the restroom? Can the sound system help someone with hearing aids? What kind of coffee is the church going to purchase, and how does that affect the people who grow the coffee?
All these choices (and so many more in our personal lives) involve more details if we keep breaking them down than we can ever handle understanding or wrapping our minds around. They all affect people in ways we can’t even imagine.
As a musician, I focus in on a lot of details other people would never notice. How is that chord voiced? What harmony should I sing to work with the melody and the chords? I spend time practicing and working out details that ‘other people wouldn’t notice’.
Except, when a professional takes the stage, it seems like people notice. Often not the details themselves, but… something. They notice something is different, more details are thought through, even though the average listener can’t articulate what additional details are added to the music.
In my job at the library, sometimes the staff will spend time straightening the books on the shelf so the spines are even and flush with the edge of the shelf. Someone commented that walking into an area that had just been straightened that it ‘felt’ professional. Taking care of that detail was small and subtle, and arguably not important, but it still made an underlying difference.
I say all that perhaps to reassure myself that the work I put into the details of the music I bring to church means something, matters in some way more than the sum of the details themselves. I say that also to point out the opposite: in the details of my life I let slip, when my tongue is out of control, and the details are chaotic or cutting – it’s the little details where the devil likes to meet me. One out-of place book in a library is often VERY difficult to find. One letter spelled wrong in someone’s name in a database can cause expensive errors. One word I say can hurt my closest relationships. The small things, the details, matter. (Sorry guy who wrote the book about not sweating the small stuff!)
Perhaps it is not the nature of details, but the far more powerful effect of grace in our lives that really allows us NOT to ‘sweat the small stuff’. The small stuff all matters; Grace is the force that sets it right, that takes the best of our details and makes up for the details we miss, the small ways we go around sinning that we don’t even know about.
God, help us honor and worship you in the details of our lives and our work, that all of what we do would be to your glory to the last syllable, bolt, sixteenth note, or coupon.. Help us see the way the details of our choices affect those we are close to (and those who might live on the other side of the world.) Fill us with your grace to learn and forgive ourselves and others for the details we miss. Thank you for making up for all the details we miss and gently teaching us as a father teaches his children.
I married an incredible man this summer. I had three requirements on my list for a guy: must love Jesus, must be musical, and must eat onions. (Not necessarily LIKE onions, just has to be willing to eat them.) After several meals prepared with onion by my friends who knew my requirements, Jeff passed the bill with more than flying colors (and likes onions, to boot.)
And some simply do not believe. We aim to continue to find ways to hold out the elements of Christ to them, that they might taste and see how good God is.
God, help us hold you before us in all our relationships: teach us by your radical sacrifice how much we are loved, and to love others the way we are loved. Thank you for the promise of what’s to come, the great wedding feast when the Church is reunited with Christ. Thank you for the reflections and images of that hope here on earth now: Your Kingdom Come.
I feel like I’ve been blogging for a long time, only my thoughts have never quite made it out from my head to a keyboard to the internets. So this really doesn’t feel like much of a beginning, other than taking a step to actually start communicating in writing what’s been building in my mind all along. Welcome.