Embracing The Bright Sadness

“Our mature years are characterized by a kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness…” Richard Rohr.

It is an interesting tension that older followers of Jesus are asked to hold. In one hand there should be hope and joy. It is the positive sunny perspective on life that gets us out of bed in the morning, looking forward to tomorrow.  It reflects our trust in and belief that Jesus is indeed more powerful

Clouds and sun, all a part of the journey. A beautiful journey.

Clouds and sun at the same time… all a part of the journey. A beautiful journey.

than this world and that He is indeed making all things new, restoring, rebuilding and blessing. Our tomorrows can be better than our todays – this is part of the birthright of children of the King, of those who have been saved and now have the Savior living inside of them. Our faith should allow us to smile.

Yet,  in the other hand we hold a sadness and a darkness that comes with living in a broken world where sin has had its way. It means we don’t pretend all is ok. Because, sometimes, things most definitely are not all ok. This awakening to the presence of pain can be a weight that at times threatens to topple us over in its direction.  As we age, most of us bump into a most sobering, and at times, depressing reality – that this life can really, really hurt. That sometimes things don’t always work out well or even good. Sometimes evil wins and we lose. Sometimes we can’t stop the suffering, especially of those we love. Sometimes life descends into a nosedive of despair that can be difficult to pull out of without medication, unhealthy coping mechanisms of some kind, or a very, very deep and complicated work of the heart and faith. (Phil. 2:2) And not everyone has the time, inclination or stomach for the heart work or faith that surviving such a nosedive into pain requires.

People who have walked with Jesus for a while are able to embrace both sides of this. Joy, while at the same time, sad. Light and dark co-existing side by side in our hearts. Grabbing hold of the two truths at the same time, “It will all be ok. It won’t all be ok.”  As Richard Rohr puts it, “…a kind of bright sadness…”. I suspect you’ve met people like this. They have a weight to them. A gravity. An internal spaciousness about them that allows them to hold two such full and complex experiences at the same time, negating neither, and embracing both. A bright sadness. St John of the Cross, author of the term, “dark night of the soul”,  called this mystery a “luminous darkness”.

And because of the internal and theological stretching required to hold all this, these people are able to hold more of Jesus in the created space.

As a younger believer, I never would have guessed this. Maturity in Christ means being familiar with sadness. Sadness is not a bad friend to have either. It can open doors – to heart things, to spiritual truth, to intimacy with Jesus, to great depth and wisdom. It can be a companion who knows things and shares them with us.

Willingly walking through the doors of sadness holds the potential to lead us to the doors of joy we are looking for, are wired for. But it is not a happy clappy, Hallmark card blurb, easy Sunday School kind of joy. Instead, it leads to the deeper kind that gets us out of bed in the morning when just that takes all we’ve got… knowing that even in the midst of pain, it is still worth it all. The kind of joy that says to despair, “I’m not afraid of you because you have something to teach me about Jesus, about truth, about me…and I’m willing to sit with you, walk with you for a while, in order to learn your precious secrets.” (Eccl. 7:4) Walking through deep sadness leads to the kind of joy that doesn’t blot out darkness, but overcomes it. A greater joy. The joy Jesus promises us.

The path to joy may meander first on the path of sadness. Sometimes for a long time. Being able to hold joy most fully requires that we first learn to hold sadness. And this is a most stretching thing to do. Which is why it is almost always older people who are able do it. It takes a long time and a lot of life to learn to do it properly.

Over the years, I’ve found that Jesus loves the simplicity of a child’s faith, the primary colors, the basic foundational vocabulary, the straight lines, the innocent faith and reckless trust. And I’ve also found that Jesus loves the deep and multilayered complexity of an adult’s faith that involves a lot of blurred edges, uncomfortable uncertainty, endless shades of gray and more questions than answers.

Jesus invites us to know Him from both places if we want.

But we have to be willing to go there with Him. The journey isn’t a short or easy one.

Jn. 17:13 …but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Phil. 2:12…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

Phil 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Eccl. 7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

(originally published 10/12/13)

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The Beauty (and Sneakiness) of Ordinary

I’ve known for a long time that I’m kind of ordinary. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy wrestling through this depressing truth. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know all the “right” responses to this…”There’s only ever been one of me in all of history”, “God made me special”, “If I were the only photo-13person on earth, Jesus would have still come for me”, “No one shares my fingerprint or DNA, literally and metaphorically”, etc, etc etc.

It’s just that my culture of famous, notable ministers, of passionate coffee-drinking, creative/hipsters changing the world, and social media allowing me to see it all, have combined to give me a deeply entrenched inferiority complex, leading to some rather profound spiritual wounding. Those with intense and successful ministries, tell me that to really be a disciple of Jesus, my life must be radical. My deeds awesome. My sacrifice epic. In fact, they use their personal examples of how God has used them, to encourage me to pursue great things for my great God. And I agree with almost everything they say, even as I come up short by comparison. Then, there are creative/hipsters out there who live these amazingly interesting lives pursuing their dreams…and who inadvertently shame me for, ironically enough, financially supporting their creativity through my consumption and encouragement of their attempts to change the world.  Then, Facebook lets me see glimpses of other’s extraordinary lives that look so much more meaningful and, honestly, more fun, than mine… that my heart, immediately and without too much of a push, goes to some dark and self-condemning places.

It isn’t hard to see how I could begin to think, “Hmmm…this says something about how God feels about me… that His plan for me is so…ordinary.”

What bothers me most is not that I will never win a Nobel prize, or build an orphanage in Asia, or lead a movement-starting ministry. It is that God has called me to be ordinary. As far as I know, I am not living a disobedient life to my Savior. And as a result of my faithfulness to Him, I live in a rather nondescript suburb of a pretty average city. I am pursuing an important, but not a particularly world-shaking profession. I go to a healthy and loving local church, but we aren’t pumping out best-selling books, hosting large conference or creating paradigm shifting worship albums. My personal ministry is very fulfilling, but no one will look at my “numbers” and do anything but yawn. Most of my days are spent getting kids off to school, cooking and cleaning, driving, bed time routines, conversation and Parks And Rec reruns with my husband in between it all.

I am ordinary. By both providential calling and gifting. Sigh.

What I’m finding though, is that ordinary can be beautiful. And learning to find Jesus and His love in the ordinary parts of life is actually a most extraordinary pursuit. Because, while ordinary is where I live, it is where Jesus lives too.

In the naps, in the snuggles, in the casseroles, in the traffic jams, in the coffee, in the time spent pairing up socks.

He is enough. I am enough. 

There is beauty in the sacrifice required to be a parent to kids day in day out, in learning to put the needs of another in front of my own and learning to enjoy it even. There is beauty in being fully present at my church every Sunday…faithfully worshipping God, serving others, offering my gifts, and receiving the gifts of others. There is beauty in a marriage that is best represented by an open front door, a well-used kitchen table, a refrigerator with kids’ report cards and artwork stuck to it, and a bed that my beloved husband and I have decided will only, and ever be, just for the two us to share. There is beauty in following Jesus as best as I know how in the middle of all of this.

Most healing…most growth…most blessings…are found in the ordinary places of our lives. And the gift wrap they come in is the ordinary people and relationships that we often overlook. “Ordinary” can be sneaky that way.

Not everyone gets to change the world. But everyone can be changed.  Jesus extends the invitation to become more like Him, (which is indeed quite extraordinary) in the midst of our ordinariness. And it is a goal that everyone has the potential to reach. I can be a success in His eyes, in my eyes, by being exactly who He has created me to be, exactly where He has placed me, doing exactly what He has asked me to do.

Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.


 

The greatest love stories are those that play out all around us in the middle of ordinary.  An Ed Sheeran song, of all things, gives beautiful words to this in a wonderful married person’s love song. He sings, “We found love right where we are.” Most of us do, you know.

If you haven’t seen The Lego Movie yet, what are you waiting for? It is a celebration of how ordinary is often a sneaky cover for extraordinary. And, I totally could have given this speech.

 

“I Want My Heart Back.”

I was watching an episode of Chuck of all things, when my insides spoke up and broke my heart.

If you haven’t seen Chuck, I refer you to Netflix. It is a sweet and funny tv show from a few years back that, even with a silly plot, has these great characters you grow to love. The heart of the show is, Chuck Bartowski, who is an adorable chuckfinale_350120127155713underachiever, underemployed at the Buy More, a Best Buy rip-off. Part of a bigger story than he knows (aren’t we all, really), Chuck ends up with a spy supercomputer in his head. (Stay with me here.) He ends up with the very skilled and amazingly talented CIA agent Sarah Walker as his handler.  And together they grow. Sarah is incredibly driven, successful in her field and practically invincible. But, because of a broken past, she has chosen to shut her heart down. She is cold, calculated and unable to truly connect with those around her. Chuck on the other hand, while a slacker and goofy, knows how to love and how to be loved. He has friends and family that he is deeply attached to, and a real life – beyond just a mission. As time goes on, Sarah realizes that being connected with those you love is worth the risk, and she opens herself and her heart up to love. Over the course of their story, Chuck wins her to his way of doing life. She does not win him over to hers.  It is a great love story – a broken heart meeting a healthy heart… and the contact leads to healing. 

This is how all healing takes place by the way.  (Minus the spy supercomputer, in most cases.)

I don’t even remember the scene I was watching, but as this theme was playing out in front of me, I heard from deep inside me, a voice cry out “I want my heart back!”

And it was my voice.

It can be a powerful moment, when your insides tell you something is broken, without you even asking. (I actually think this happens much more often than we realize – we just have to be paying attention.)

It has been one of those seasons of life…experienced by us all…when what was color has turned gray.  When the joy that normally bubbles up goes flat. When external circumstances conspire to divert valuable attention and energy away from the care of my internal condition. When busyness takes the place of being known by others. And it seems like I either consciously or unconsciously decided that thinking about how I feel is easier than actually feeling how I feel.   I’ve spent years living from a head that was trying desperately to control and minimize my heart. This is why watching Sarah Walker stumble through an emotional learning curve moved me so. It is so familiar.

One of the great problems with this life strategy, which is very common by the way, is that when you attempt to shove bad emotion in the closet, all the good ones go with it too.  We may be aiming for “no pain”, but what we get along with that is “no love”. The cost to maintain such an arrangement is much more than most of us are willing to pay.

There’s a reason why Solomon teaches us in Pr. 4:23,  “… to guard {our} heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Because, when we lose our heart…we lose pretty much everything else along with it. 

We all do it you know…return to what is familiar in the midst of stress and pain.  Some people indulge their anger. Others medicate in whatever way makes them feel better. Some hide and withdraw. Some compensate with achievement. When he got overwhelmed, Peter returned to fishing. I tend to watch a little too much tv…and this time, both God and my heart came looking for me.

The question open to us all then is…how do we find our way back? To joy. To the whole-heartedness Jesus intends for those who love and follow Him? 

When we take our turn on the very human part of the journey that leads through darkness…

When we fall away from what we love…

When we end up on a road we didn’t intend to take…

When powerful emotions like fear and anger and sadness and disappointment stand so front and center in our lives that we will do anything to get them to sit down…

When we lose touch with that part of us on the inside that breathes life and gives color and taste and vitality and passion to our daily existence…

How do we find the way back?  The way back is the same for us all…we get our broken heart next to a healthy one…

We get ourselves next to Jesus and those who love Him.

And then we let the contact lead to healing.

Ps. 34:18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

(Below is a little clip from Chuck that pretty much sums it all up.)