Last week I was doing some work at my Planet Changer Uganda office located in Seeta, just outside the capital of Kampala. I knew it was going to be a busy week as I was picking up supplies with our Uganda director Moses and his wife Bena.
We needed bunk beds, mattresses, sheets, chairs and a handful of other supplies to get the rooms at the office ready for a team from SVA Church. They will be coming in January to help with water testing, GPS tagging of completed water systems and conduct community health and sanitation surveys.
As there was not a bed for me yet, I stayed at a nearby hotel, this would be my basecamp for accomplishing the long to-do list. While I was looking forward to some alone time with God while savoring some amazing Ugandan tea in the mornings, my experience ran on the twin rails of beauty and struggle.
Behind the door of room 712 I passed into a divine portal where I was about to wrestle everyday for a week.
While no place is truly holier than another, as God is found everywhere and within you, during my prayer, meditation and sleep time I entered into a thin space. A thin space is the Celtic way of expressing that you have experienced the presence of God in such a real and intimate way that the veil between the here-and-now and the presence of God is as thin as translucent paper. Room 712 became for me a Jabbok river of sorts confronting my greater and lesser angels.
In the morning, while I read, prayed and meditated, God’s presence was so tangible my entire body was humming with the energy of creation.
It was amazing…
A place I didn’t want to leave…
Like Peter, I said, “Let’s build three shelters and stay here!” when he experienced the transfiguration of Jesus right before his eyes.
I felt as if I might float away, I even checked once or twice to make sure I was still sitting in my chair! I wondered if I might float right into His throne room on the waves of His love and light.
However, while I slept, we wrestled for control of things I felt I might lose, things I might gain. My mind wouldn’t settle, I felt the weight of my thoughts on my chest like a cement blanket.
Was I jacob at the Jabbok river wrestling with the man who was really God? Would I cling until He blessed me? Who was I, and why did the night spaces become an MMA ring? Was I jacob or Monty or pastor or activist or or or. If I follow His lead and surrender all, who will I become? Will I like me? Will others like me?
While my mind worked to control scenario after scenario crashing through my mind, in the tumultuous silence I finally heard what my soul needed most: “I love you, You are mine.”
And that is exactly what I needed to hear.
Some days it seems like my weaknesses are all that I see. In our culture we major on minimizing or denying our weaknesses preferring to put forth an impressive, but false, image of our-self to others.
This past week it seems like I have acknowledged my weaknesses an awful lot…Each time I confess the areas I am not as gifted in, or the things that I do poorly, there is a moment of “oh God, should I have been that honest and vulnerable?” This is invariably followed up with the thoughts, “Well, too late now, better to be authentic and healthy than living in the shadows of someone I am not.”
This is the battle between what you know is right and best and true, and what your shadow-self wants.
to be liked…
to be needed…
to be seen as better or more Teflon than you are…
The list is legion isn’t it?
The breath by breath process of becoming human, earth, holy, a soul marinated in God’s beauty and love is not easy.
We need reminders about our earthiness…
We need reminders about grace…
We need reminders of God’s acceptance and fierce love…
While I was reading todays devotion from “Jesus Calling” (author Sarah Young) I danced with her well written words of this reality in our spiritual journey. Sarah writes the daily devotionals as if Jesus were having a personal conversation with you. She masterfully ushers you into a dialog with God as He speaks directly to your soul. Todays reading said:
It is good that you recognize your weakness. That keeps you looking to Me, your Strength. Abundant life is not necessarily health and wealth; it is living in continual dependence on Me. Instead of trying to fit this day into a preconceived mold, relax and be on the lookout for what I am doing. This mind-set will free you to enjoy Me and to find what I have planned for you to do. This is far better than trying to make things go according to your own plan.
Don’t take yourself so seriously. Lighten up and laugh with Me. You have me on your side, so what are you worried about? I can equip you to do absolutely anything, as long as it is My will. The more difficult your day, the more I yearn to help you. Anxiety wraps you up in yourself, trapping you in your own thoughts. When you look to Me and whisper My Name, you break free and receive My help. Focus on Me, and you will find Peace in My Presence.
When we acknowledge our weakness we step off of the throne and onto the altar which ushers in peace and hope.
The season of Lent is here, it begins today, which is Ash Wednesday.
Interestingly enough, the huge celebrations of Fat Tuesday sprang up as a reaction to the imposition of religious ritual concerning the observance of Lent…a season in the church year whose focus is on repentance and realignment with God.
In and of itself, having a time of spiritual realignment is good for everyone…however, when the grip of religion laces its fingers around anything, it tends to strangle out the beauty and grace, and in their place are born rules, regulations and legalism.
Fat Tuesday, then, became the last opportunity before the 40 days of Lent to go and sin wildly. As I ruminate on this, isn’t that always what happens in our lives when rules replace relationship? When we live by a check-list of dos and don’ts, we begin to think and respond in contractual terms instead of relational exchanges. When this happens, we experience Fat Tuesday’s surrounding every area of our life.
For instance, when a marriage becomes contractual exchange, then love is something that is earned in light of certain actions having been done well. And, contractually, if certain actions are not done, or are not done to the expectation of the other person, then love is contractually withheld until those things are accomplished.
This is not a marriage though, it is a contract based on rules. A relationship that is based on an unconditional covenant understands that sometimes things don’t always happen or get done the way we want, desire, or expect, but since the marriage is based upon covenant love, love is always infused regardless of contractual performance.
You might also see the Fat Tuesday effect in marriage happen when a spouse is bound by duty to “do something” “be something” or “go somewhere he/she doesn’t want to go.” Since he/she did their contractual duty they feel justified to over indulge some area as a “reward” for their work. Maybe a husband finds justification in going on an extended hunting trip because he just got word that his In-laws are coming to stay for an extended period, so he needs to get out-of-town for a while before that happens and his In-laws rules cramp his style…or perhaps a wife limits out the credit card on a spa day because her husband’s college buddies are due the next day, and since she is being the “good wife” and allowing it, she’s gonna splurge!
Do you see how contractually we live? Do you realize contractual living, or religious living results in the creation of Fat Tuesday’s? When genuine love and relationship fills our world, we can enjoy life, have fun and not feel guilty about it! Isn’t that a novel concept. Religion creates Fat Tuesday’s…Fat Tuesday’s create guilt and shame…Guilt and shame turn a powerful season of grace and alignment like Lent into a ritualistic experience of dos and don’t devoid of their real meaning.
When we approach God contractually, we turn something that is holy, cool, and cosmically awesome like Ash Wednesday or Lent, into a check list of contractual duties to appease God into liking us again…This is so far away from the God revealed through Christ.
If we would live in a sense of daily alignment, in other words, simply realizing that God is for us, not against us, and that as we make mistakes, or perhaps over-indulge in something that isn’t good for us, we stop, and have a relational conversation of confession, repentance and forgiveness. God isn’t standing by with the lightning bolt of contractual misuse ready to smite us, but rather is simply waiting for us to say…“man, I blew that one, I’m sorry, please forgive me..”
In that moment, the spirit of religion is thrown out the window, and a relationship is born. Religion focuses on rules to keep you in line. God invites you into a relationship, where the interactions are based upon a mutuality of love.
Because I am so grateful that God loves me on my best days as well as my most abysmal days, I look forward to a season like Lent not in such a way that compels me to go out and get bombed out of my skull because I won’t be able to drink for the next 40 days, but instead, I long to have a season offered to me where I can realign my thinking process with God’s…Where I can experience grace in the midst of economic trials…Where I can be reminded that God doesn’t care about how well I perform for Him, only that I love Him, and He is thrilled that I simply showed up!
Maybe what I am saying is that an excessive emphasis on rules naturally finds its outlet in sin or doing things that we normally wouldn’t do if we lived relationally. Perhaps Fat Tuesday’s exist because the religious rules push people where they don’t need to be pushed. Maybe, just maybe, some of the dumb choices that are made in the Fat Tuesday’s of life wouldn’t happen if we understood God relationally and religiously…hmmm, I think I’m right.
What would be even more powerful is if we all realized that God intends our lives to fully experience fun..joy..laughter…and good times. Sure there are some incredibly hard valley’s we will go through, but the religionists among us seem to think that that is all that God wants us to experience…”Stay in the lines, only use these colors, don’t have fun if at all possible, chin up, gut in…etc.”
As I think of Jesus, and all his human interactions, I think of how often He was at parties, amongst friends, enjoying the things of life…not just sitting in Temple or Synagogue assailing Himself religiously. Jesus had an incredible sense of humor that is lost in translation from the Aramaic and Greek into English. He enjoyed living, had fun, and avoided the mistakes of the Fat Tuesday’s of life while enjoying all the celebrations of this life.
So on Wednesday this week (Ash Wednesday) take some time to remember that you are human, a creation of God’s, made of earth, and that one day you will return to the elements of this planetary creation. In light of that truth, ask God to help you realign your heart and soul to His, not because you are doing all the right things, but because He is such a great God who loves you and will never leave you in the hard moments of life.