Returning to a Family Sabbath

iicyiapyggi-henry-be

“Most of the things we need to be most fully alive never come in busyness.
They grow in rest.” — Mark Buchanan

We lit a tiny, very average looking candle at the start of Sabbath last Friday afternoon. Staring into the amber light, I was flooded with memories of our Sabbath practices from years before. When Glenn and I first started learning about the spiritual practice of a weekly Sabbath about eight years ago, we became quite zealous and intentional about it. You know the feeling that comes with any new habit that you are determined to make a part of your life… In that season, we lit a ‘special’ candle each week, dropped all our screen devices in a basket, and said a special prayer to guide us into the next 24 hours.

Sabbath was a special time we purposely set aside each week to stop and rest from regular work activity and to delight in the Lord and His people. 

Over the years, we’ve struggled to be consistent in practicing a Sabbath rhythm. Just as we thought we were getting into a regular, healthy routine something like an extended sickness or a new soccer season…or, you know, the birth of another child…would derail our rhythm. So, we’re starting again by going back to a symbolic act at the start of our weekly sabbath, lighting a candle.

For me, as a mom, in order to be able to truly rest —as much as possible with young kids— this means preparing well. Preparing well actually means doing quite a bit of difficult work. At times it seems counter-intuitive to work, work, work — sometimes in a frenzy — to finally be able to rest and delight.

Our preparation for Sabbath looks like scurrying around an extremely cluttered house, picking up books, clothes, papers, random food bits that should have been dropped only in the kitchen area…since we have a rule of only eating in the kitchen and dining area…except that I have children who don’t always listen and walk around the house humming while eating crackers and dropping crumbs along their path. Do you ever feel as though there are certain statements you say to your kids that you think you’ll be saying forever? I guess training requires repeating the same admonitions over and over and over. Maybe when they’re adults we’ll look back and see some of the fruit of our labors when we see civilized adults making rules of their own…

Anyway…our oldest girls, who are now 11 and 10, are extremely helpful in the process of getting our home organized. One daughter in particular thrives in an orderly environment so she is just as much an advocate of keepings things neat and tidy as we are. (I have to admit here, I’m more inclined to stress tidiness prior to Sabbath than on most other days. I will normally let the house go in favor of doing just about anything else. Otherwise, I feel like I will only have time to do dishes, cook meals, and pick up. This doesn’t feel like a beautiful life to me even if it might appear to others that I have it together if my house is put perfectly in order. Relationship rules the roost for us and that usually means an untidy house!)

But, for us, getting ready for the Sabbath means putting the house back to order and preparing food. Unfortunately, as my husband can attest, it’s a struggle for me to think about planning meals. If I could only point my wand and have a healthy meal appear. But alas, the magic of food appearing hasn’t happened yet. I have a strong desire to eat healthy, but eating healthy seems to mean spending endless hours making your own dressings and condiments, chopping vegetables until your hand hurts, and well, not eating any sugar. We continue to navigate some allergies in our home so this only adds to a bit of struggle when it comes to food.

So, it isn’t restful or Sabbath-esque for me to think about food! But, thankfully, Glenn enjoys cooking! His creativity comes out in the kitchen. He throws a little of this and a little of that into a bubbling pot on the stove and usually comes up with some kind of culinary masterpiece. And for this, I’m grateful. So our Sabbath meals are typically quite nice as Glenn finds it restful to experiment in the kitchen.

Maybe you’re in a phase where you wonder if taking a Sabbath could actually feel restful. I remember the days of having three kids, five and under and feeling as thought the weight of sabbath preparation was entirely on my shoulders. I recently talked to a friend who is a new mom of a young baby. She mentioned feeling like taking a 24 hour Sabbath, as the Bible suggests, was almost impossible considering all the factors and stresses of life in their current situation. But, she said she could take two hours on a weekend day, if her baby napped to find some silence, rest, and reflection. “Can you start small?” Of course, and you don’t have to do it perfectly from the beginning.

I believe the Lord will honor the time we set aside to rest and delight in him even if it’s not an entire day. He asks us to take a Sabbath not only to attend to our relationship with Him, but also to give our whole being– body, mind, and spirit– time to rest. We will have nothing to pour out to others if we aren’t first giving ourselves the gift of Sabbath rest. 

epqniyi6s7e-syd-wachs

“The meaning of the word “sabbath” is “stop, cease, desist, pause, rest.” The first question we need to address when beginning a sabbath pattern is, “What will I cease from?” Only after we have clarified that question can we move on to the second question, “What will I do on the sabbath to nurture my ability to rest in God?” — Lynne Baab

Sabbath rest can look quite different for all of us. For me, a perfect Sabbath would include elements of solitude, reading and reflection, nature, and play with our family. It would mean me ceasing from my regular work during the week such as housework, most cooking, and teaching the kids. Since we live in a fallen world and various life events can interrupt a perfect Sabbath day, I’ll take what I can get.

It’s easy to hear messages from our culture that say we need to focus on getting more, and doing more. I’m consistently asking the Lord to remind me of His words to be grateful in plenty and in little. My temptation is to look for how I can work more to gain more material things. The irony is we can even try to get ‘more’ — rest and reading and renewal— out of a Sabbath, and undermine the spirit of the Sabbath in doing so!

On the Sabbath, I remind myself of who I am as God’s beloved child and of who He is.

There’s nothing I can do to make Him love me more.

Sabbath is a chance to stop and hear the wind blowing through the trees, and to and listen to my sweet child narrating a story. Last Friday, Jane and I spent quite some time playing various card games like Memory and Old Maid. It was a delight to hear her giggle in her efforts to find a way for me to repeatedly get stuck with the Old Maid. It’s possible there are some holy moments waiting for us if we take the time to pay attention. 

Advertisements

GIVEAWAY: “Journal the Word” Bible

9780718090838-jpg_2

Do you remember more when you write it down?

Do you actually remember your grocery list after you’ve written down the items you need, even if you walk off leaving it on the kitchen counter?

Do you remember the ideas of a conference talk if you take thorough notes?

Over the years, I’ve realized the Scriptures I write in my journal seem to seep deeper into my soul. When I take the time to journal my thoughts and impressions, I find I become more aware of how God is speaking to me through His Word.

Deuteronomy 11:20
“Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates…”

I’m excited about the release of the NKJV Journal The Word Bible as an aid in your journey toward remembering Scripture. This gorgeous Bible with a sturdy black leather cover and elastic band around the Bible has ample space in the single columns on the lovely cream pages for you to copy Scripture, write personal reflections…or even to sketch a drawing.

Think about this as a family heirloom: your recorded reflections can be enjoyed by your family for years to come as this Bible is passed on to future generations.

With Christmas soon approaching, consider giving this Bible to a friend or family member. She will be delighted by such a thoughtful gift!

I’m fortunate to have one copy of Journal The Word Bible (NKJV) to give-away.

CLICK HERE to enter the giveaway!

Slowing Down to Be With Jesus

IMG_0818Well here it is….Part 2 on The Emotionally Healthy Leader. [You can read Part 1 HERE.] If thinking deeply about my shadow side wasn’t enlightening enough, I went on to ponder the ideas surrounding the concept Pete called, ‘Slowing Down for Loving Union.’

“In an exhaustive biblical study, theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote about how often Scripture describes people who do things for God without having life with God. Characters such as Balaam, the Old Testament prophet, Judas Iscariot, and Saul were all engaged in what most certainly would have been considered effective work for God by their communities, but without having an authentic connection to Him. The only mark of genuine spiritual maturity and ministry effectiveness, Edwards concluded, is the outworking of agape – a self-giving love for God and others. That is the one quality of our lives and leadership the devil can never counterfeit. And the sources of that agape love can be found only in a life of loving union with God.”

For the majority of my life in and around ministry, I have pondered this. But the trouble comes in when ministry itself is what fills all your time. We can spend all our time serving Him, but where do we carve out time to just be with Him? Unintentionally, its easy not to foster a deep and life-giving relationship with Him.

Here’s a peek at Pete’s assessment  – How Healthy is Your Experience of Loving Union with God? (You can rate yourself, Always true of me down to Never true of me)

  • My highest priority as a leader is to take time each day to remain in loving union with Jesus.
  • I offer God full access to my interior life as I make decisions, interact with team members, and initiate new plans.
  • I wait to say yes or no to new opportunities until I have sufficient time to prayerfully and carefully discern God’s will.
  • When I become aware that I am anxious or feeling emotionally triggered in leadership, I slow down to be with God.
  • I regularly set aside time for experiences of solitude and silence that enable me to be still and undistracted in God’s presence.

In considering the life of Jesus, it gives me perspective to realize He spent 90% of his life in obscurity. The stories we know of Him took place in a three year time period. Even during these three years, He continually went away from the crowds and noise to seek His Father.

“Jesus models contentment under pressure, calm in the face of betrayal, and power to forgive at his crucifixion – all of which is the fruit of a long history of oneness with his Father. I am convinced that a significant reason so many Christian leaders lack the qualities Jesus modeled is because we skim in our relationship with God. Whenever we find ourselves wanting the ministry impact of Jesus while simultaneously resisting spending time with Jesus, we are positioning ourselves for a beating and some variation on being run ‘out the house naked and bleeding’.” 

Oh, how I’ve been guilty of this. How many times have I prepared and given out of a dry and weary place? How many times have I led out of my own strength rather than relied on my relationship with the Lord?

When I think of all a day could potentially hold, its easy for me to be a doer rather than a child of God who sits in stillness to listen to His voice. I believe God is big enough to speak to us in many ways if we have the eyes to see and ears to hear. If we choose to seek Him, can He not whisper to us in creation, in the glory of the the clouds, in the whoo of an owl out my window? Can he not bring me peace in mind, body, and spirit through the practice of Sabbath? Can He not whisper His truth in a great book, a Bach cantata or a timeless piece of art? As we expand our view of God’s communion with us, maybe the idea of never ceasing prayer will take on new meaning.

If you’re a ministry leader – a pastor, a small group leader, a missions director, or any kind of leader for that matter – please read this book.  It will challenge and encourage you to develop a deep, communion with Christ, examining its profound implications for surviving stress, planning and decision making, building teams, creating healthy culture, influencing others, and much more.

Here’s a link to buy it now – http://www.amazon.com/Emotionally-Healthy-Leader-Transforming-Transform/dp/0310494575/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1446784964&sr=8-1&keywords=the+emotionally+healthy+leader

The ‘Emotionally Healthy Leader’….Reflections on Our Shadow

2280054089_23e71485c9

Autumn. It might just be my favorite time of the year. The changing leaves, cool brisk morning air, pumpkins, fall wreaths, apples, and sweet cinnamon hand soap are some of the small things that make my heart sing. As I embark into another fall season, much about it feels familiar. An yet no season is the same. I’m in a new season of evaluating myself as as leader. I know this won’t be the last time.

Glenn and I have been reading and talking through a book called, The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero. I have been incredibly challenged in my inner and outer life through Pete’s life experiences and Godly wisdom.

One of the chapters addresses Facing Your Shadow. What is a ‘shadow’? Scazzero calls a shadow “the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than-pure, motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behavior. It is the damaged but mostly hidden version of who you are.” Our shadow side may be sin, or simply weaknesses. For some it might be greed, bitterness, anger, sloth or perfectionism. For others it could present itself in a need to be needed or be liked by people, overworking, or a desire to control. Scazerro references Robert Louis Stevenson’s, Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I can relate. As I go about my day, cleaning, teaching, organizing (maybe), writing, reading, more cleaning up, driving, chatting…I typically think of myself as a well-adjusted human. But oh, some nights, I am a mess. My insecurities about relationships, educational decisions, family situations– you name it— all come out in a not-so-pretty external-processing. I’m learning the more aware I am of my emotions, and the better I get at communicating them, the healthier I’ll be.

Being an ‘Enneagram 9’, I am a mediator or peacemaker. Because of this, I try to harmonize the various parts of my life. I appreciate seeing all sides of an idea so sometimes taking a firm position on something is difficult. In the past month, I’ve agonized over certain decisions and get frustrated with being what Glenn affectionately calls a ‘process’ decision-maker (as in, I’ve got to test things and see how it feels, before deciding on them). I’m continuing to realize and embrace the way God made me, and yet continue to lean into Him as I lead out of weakness.

[By the way, if you want to dig deeper into looking at your shadow side, you might enjoy the Enneagram typology. Its an ancient framework using nine types helping you identify your true essence and what motivates your behavior. I may blog about this some time…]

Back to the book…

Assessment
Throughout the book, there are opportunities for self-assessment. [There are more resources related to emotionally healthy leadership and spirituality HERE.] Here’s a portion of Scazzero’s assessment, ‘How Healthy is Your Approach to Your Shadow?’ (Scazzero has a rating scale, but you can use these statements for contemplation here.)

  • I take time regularly to experience and process my anger, fear, and sadness with God and others.
  • I have a healthy awareness of my shadow – my wounds, self-protectiveness, and weaknesses – and how I am tempted to sin against other people in my unguarded moments.
  • I am honest with myself and a few significant others about the struggles, doubts, and hurts deep beneath the surface of my life.
  • I am able to identify the roots of my leadership weaknesses and failures (mixed motives, fear of what others think, anxiety, anger, etc) In my family of origin or in my personal history.

You know it’s your shadow when……

  • You act out inappropriately under pressure
  • You don’t want someone to succeed because they’ve hurt you
  • You get busier rather than more reflective when your are anxious
  • You do and say things out of fear of what other people think.

“The degree to which you can recognize and engage your own shadow is the degree to which you can free others to face theirs.”

Reflection:
Sometimes I wish this process would end, but I remind myself the Holy Spirit is living in me encouraging, comforting, and teaching me every step of the way. My heart’s desire is to disciple others, but how can I do that in His way if I’m not continuing to allow Him to work in my own heart?

If we are to grow into the likeness of God, we must grow in awareness of how He wants to change us.

More reflections on the book to come…

A Marvelous and Melancholy May: Reflections on Delight, Sadness and Longing

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.”
Ecclesiastes 7:2-3

**************************

I’ve been thinking about writing for many weeks, but just haven’t been able to muster up the emotional energy to put any thoughts or experiences into words until now. I want to be someone who will speak in the strong moments in life and in the ones that don’t go as we hope. So here are some thoughts surrounding the latter.

IMG_0044

Outside Shakespeare’s childhood home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The last month began with a gloriously delightful trip to England. Words wouldn’t adequately express how wonderful and soul-filling the trip was for me personally.  Eight days away from my children, with my husband, with friends, with great books, in London, in Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon– a luxury made possible because of Glenn’s wonderful parents and their willingness to be with our kids. These are places that I have desired to visit for many, many years. Plus, there was the plane ride where I read an entire book set in England! Brideshead Revisited brought me into the world of a man who had great desires, searching for something more than what he had known. Little did I know, I was about to enter a world that would captivate my imagination and passions.

IMG_0059

The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian library in Oxford, home to some of the world’s greatest treasures of the mind.

Our days were filled with tours and walking around historical sites, wandering libraries centuries old, drinking too many flat whites, perusing used books stores with all my favorite books, and engaging in intellectual and invigorating conversation. My worlds were merging – I looked upon fragments of an ancient Sappho poem that my girls memorized this year. And the original handwritten, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. And an unexpected visit to Shakespeare’s home brought so much joy, having listened to a 16 hour audiobook last year about his life. I was ecstatic to see the places I spent so many hours reading about.

IMG_0025

Grahame’s original handwritten manuscript of the ‘Wind in the Willows’, which were a series of letters to his son whilst away on a long holiday.

I felt on top of the world, even if for a brief time.  If you know me, I’m usually the stable, steady type, emotionally. Rarely do I feel the heights or depths of extreme emotions. But I fell in love with so many facets of England, and I fell hard when I returned. Of course, part of this was likely due to the fact that I came home alone (Glenn stayed on for some meetings) to my four children whom I missed dearly but who still needed to be fed, bathed, listened to and the list goes on. I must have briefly forgotten all the physical and emotional energy it takes to run our home and educate our children on a daily basis! The whining and fighting that occurs daily and that I normally I tune out, was like loud gong and a clashing cymbal.

Upon my return home, I asked myself, “Was it worth it?” I usually ask myself this question if I leave home without my kids.  But normally its only for a couple days. This was 8 glorious days. Still, my answer was, ‘Yes’, of course, but I really felt like I paid a high price for my departure.

This particular time, I felt very emotionally down and sad. It was as if, being in some of the environments in England showed me how much I desired some of those elements to be a part of my daily life. Even though I read deeply, have great conversation with friends and mentors, it just isn’t the same. There is no way to re-create many of the experiences I had there.

And that’s just it, isn’t it?  We were made for another world. There are longings in our hearts that won’t ever be fully met on this Earth. Being made in the image of God, we have a sense that everything isn’t what it was created to be– ideas about how a perfect homeschool day could go, or the perfect walk in the woods, or a perfect relationship. Somehow our ideals often don’t seem to be the reality we live in.

May was also the time for endings. As I wrapped up the school year with my kids, there were numerous bittersweet moments– the ending of activities, programs, recitals, book groups, and even the saying goodbye to friends. All this amidst weeks on end of rain and hail, storms and gray, and sunless skies. I couldn’t shake a deep sadness in my heart that I knew was about longing.  A longing for things to be different.

Many days, I would begin to cry and call out to the Lord. He was drawing me to Himself, not to pull me out of the pain, but to call me to reach out to him in the midst of the difficulties. It was a call to grieve even the small things that didn’t turn out as I thought they might, a call to seek only Him in the midst of wanting to find my joy in the things He created.

I’ve been reading Saint Augustine’s Confessions and he talks about grief in this way: “Grief eats away its heart for the loss of things which it took pleasure in desiring, because it wants to be like you, from whom nothing can be taken away.” Later in the book, he writes these soaring lines about true Joy: “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose . . ! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves. . . . O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.

Sometimes we ask for God to show up in our circumstances and to fulfill a desire of our heart. Sometimes the circumstances change. Sometimes His Holy Spirit comes alongside us to walk with us in the midst of what we are going through. And this is the source of our truest Joy.