White Space

 

The other day, someone at church shared with me a picture they felt the Lord gave them. The saw a well-tended beautiful orchard that was vast, sprawling over hillsides, and producing much fruit. What particularly caught the person’s attention was how well the orchard was organized: The trees were in rows, and with perfect space between each row.

The space between the rows, they said, was particularly significant. On the East Coast where they grew up, they explained fruit trees grow, but there is no space between the trees. The trees just crowd out one another and prevent growth, similar to what happens when a tree is not pruned properly: The production of fruit is inconsistent at best.

I want to reflect today upon the space in our lives. Space has an interesting quality. It is both nothing and something at the same time. On the surface it is  useless, and yet it is indispensable. As one article on graphic design explains, “white space should not be considered merely “blank” space — it is an important element of design which enables the objects in it to exist at all; the balance between positive (or non-white) and the use of negative spaces is key to aesthetic composition.” So it is also in God’s artwork, our lives.

[White] space should not be considered merely “blank” space — it is an important element of design which enables objects in it to exist at all. So it is also in God’s artwork, our very lives.

As my friend shared with me his vision, I realized for me that space is the time of waiting. During this season God has given to me some promises that are deeply personal, and He has encouraged me to set my heart on them coming to fulfillment. Space is the time between us, like Abraham, receiving the promise and having it come to fulfillment.

Space is not only a period of time but a quality in the human heart. My children and I were talking the other day about the tendency in revival worship services for us to fake our worship: To act as though we are excited even when we aren’t. Now I am a big proponent of breaking through barriers of discouragement and worry and other things in order to worship authentically. There is good in that form of intentional worship. But in whatever environment we find ourselves, there is a tendency to act as though we are full when in fact we are empty. We want to give the appearance of fruit when in fact we are presently in the space between.

My wife often quoted a saying about the twelve-step program: “Those who progress in this program are those willing to sit with their uncomfortable feelings and take them to God.” In other words, those who progress are those who learn to be comfortable with space. And this pertains to the spiritual life in Christ as a whole.

We are a tapestry of fruitfulness and space, but if we seek to fill the space with other things — fakeness, striving, addiction, escape, busyness and so forth — we end up affecting the fruit we now possess. We prevent future fruitfulness.

My encouragement to you and me this morning, this Labor Day weekend in the States, is to be comfortable with the space in your life. Allow God to meet you in that place. Rest in His presence; rest in His promise. God does not waste a single moment in our lives. In the space where nothing seems to be happening, God is reaching down to bring healing and to bring forth something beautiful.


Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

 

Vulnerable

One of my favorite bloggers InsanityBytes wrote a comical and insightful essay the other day on relationships between men and women titled You Don’t Have to Lie To Me. There were so many good points in the article, but this one particularly grabbed my attention regarding the need for men to be vulnerable in a relationship:

“Nobody’s suggesting men must be all emotional and touchy-feely here, but if you can’t give something of yourself emotionally, how in the world can there even be any intimacy in a marriage?”

I agreed with her. But it took the majority of my ride home from work (it is a long ride, like two hours — don’t ask) to pinpoint what troubled me about the common perception of vulnerability in relationship we have, which InsanityBytes had effectively captured.

And then the light bulb went on: Vulnerability is not exactly the same thing as being “emotional and touchy-feely.” It can be. But vulnerability, in its strictest sense, is the ability to allow what is on the inside of us to be known to the outside world. Whether that manifests as emotional and touchy-feely or something else entirely depends on what is on the inside of us.

Granted, vulnerability can often be associated with being emotional and touchy-feely because, as a general rule (which I will be accused of being sexist for but at the moment do not care) women are much better at vulnerability than men are. So the vulnerability we often see modeled is coming from women. Further, vulnerability often is associated with weakness. That is, to be vulnerable is to be willing to open up about our struggles and insecurities. We tend to equate vulnerability with weakness.

But in the context of intimacy, vulnerability is so much more than this. It is, first of all, about sharing all that we are on the inside, not just sharing our weakness. Further, I would argue — just as I did recently that women are unique in how they lead — men are unique in how they are vulnerable. In response to InsanityBytes I put it this way:

I think we must make a distinction between men being vulnerable and men being vulnerable in the way women might be vulnerable. Jesus was (and is) both vulnerable and strong at the same time. We men in our vulnerability should be willing to show our weakness but also willing to show our deep passion and strength as well, something that is rarely modeled.

So there are two parts here, actually. The first is that men being vulnerable in weakness will look different than women being vulnerable in weakness; I say this only because no man necessarily wants to be accused of being “emotional and touchy-feely,” but all men have a need to be vulnerable.

Secondly, part of men being vulnerable is not only to admit weakness but also express strength in their vulnerability. Said differently, vulnerability is not just about weakness: It is in fact one of the greatest strengths in a relationship that men have to offer.

Most men, however, do not know how to be both strong and vulnerable at the same time. In fact, for many men strength is the exact opposite of being vulnerable.  Being strong means being stone-cold and emotionally distant. Men do not cry, do not show feeling, and do not get “emotional” not so much because they are incapable of it, but because they believe it is a sign of weakness. By this logic, to be strong is to be without emotion. Which, needless to say, is not what we see modeled in the Person of Jesus Christ.

But there is a reason for this: What often resides within many men in this fallen world is brokenness. So for most men, to be vulnerable at all is to run the real risk of showing weakness. The simplest solution for many of us men, therefore, is to cut ourselves off emotionally: Be tough on the outside, but unknown — and unknowable — on the inside, in order to maintain the appearance of strength.

This of course has its consequences. As InsanityBytes points out, “the number one reason for divorce today actually amounts to women feeling emotionally abandoned.” I would like to suggest the reason women feel this way is because men have abandoned their emotions long ago, and with it the capacity to relate. Relationships, in other words, require intimacy.

I have this crazy theory about women as it pertains to men — and perhaps not so much a theory as an idea. It goes something like this: Women are a tangible reminder to men of the intimacy they have lost. Women are both a reminder and an invitation back to the place of intimacy they once shared with their Creator, and were made to share with others.

And I am convinced that it is only by returning to that place of intimacy that the real strength men possess can be made manifest — a strength they were made to demonstrate to their wives, to their children, and to rest the world.  A strength that does not merely dwell on the outside, but dwells deeply on the inside. A strength like Jesus demonstrates to us: Wide open and vulnerable, deeply passionate, unhindered by brokenness, and characterized by unyielding sacrifice.

Going through some of my belongings this week, I found a poem I wrote to my wife that  that touches on this subject, which I now share with you in closing. Be blessed — and may all of us learn the strength and power of vulnerability.


The Bottle

I wrote this message and, in a bottle, threw it from the shore
that you and I might live as one, not two, forevermore.

I take you not to merely have or you to merely hold.
I take you as a dwelling makes a shelter from the cold.

I bear you up as one might bear a pearl within one’s hands
that ends the weary traveler’s search throughout the oceans’ sands.

I place you in your rightful place: A setting for a stone
That with its underneath embrace its beauty might be shown.

And if beat down the elements upon our vessel’s prow
along our sacred journey home, I will absorb the blow.

For I am yours and you are mine, and we are one, not two.
The dreams this bottle now contains are not for me, but you.


Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Good Grief

I had the opportunity last weekend to take a road trip with my daughter. Our destination was Bethel Church in Redding, California — our former church for several years. But the trip gave us the opportunity to detour ever-so-slightly to a hidden gem of a place called Lake Almanor.

Nestled in the California Sierras, Lake Almanor is a quiet vacationing spot just south of Mount Lassen National Park. Besides being absolutely picturesque, it also carries sentimental value for us: We lived there for two years, enjoying about 140 inches of snow each winter. Days before Christmas one year, two feet of snow fell, transforming the landscape into everything you would imagine a white Christmas to be.

Our visit to this mountain community last weekend was brief but memorable. While I cooped myself up in a book store in town finishing up work, my daughter journeyed around the lake, visiting some favorite spots to take in the scenery. In her words, she had one of the best times of her life.

I suppose I mention all this because lately I have been thinking about mystery in the Christian life: That dimension of our experience that defies explanation. Most of my readers know, for example, that my wife and closest friend of twenty-five years passed away unexpectedly less than three months ago. That would qualify as one of those mysteries.

But what is also mysterious is that my daughter and I would retrace the steps of our past, clearly embedded with memories of now-departed mother and wife, and not be overcome with grief. Instead, we had the best time of our lives. That, too, is a mystery.

There is such a thing, I am discovering, as good grief. Good grief is a grief that processes the loss of a close loved one but does not succumb to despair. Now in saying this, I must make two disclaimers. The first is that everyone processes grief differently. And based on what I have observed on the grief support groups I joined on Facebook, some are downright distraught after the death of their loved one, even years later. So if that is you, I mean no disrespect and am deeply sorry for your loss.

The other disclaimer is that by good grief I do not mean grief without tears. I have had my share of tears. I have made it a point to shed them. In fact, I have made it my goal to allow myself to feel all I am feeling, and to think all that I am thinking and express it, good or bad, to God. So the grief process, whether good or bad, comes with tears — and must, as far as I can figure, in order for the loss to be processed.

But I have been witnessing some strange things during this season. For example, my daughter was feeling very sad one day over the loss of her mom and asked God for strength. God spoke to her and said, “You are sad not because you miss your mom but because you are believing the lie that your mom is gone and your relationship with her has ended. She is not gone, and it has not ended; you still have a relationship with her, and you will see her again.” Immediately her sadness lifted.

Or the time I was feeling distraught, but something did not feel right about it. And I know enough by now to know that when I am feeling that “this does not feel right” feeling, God is wanting to say something to me. So I asked Him, and pretty clearly He said, “This is not the type of grief I have for you. You will grieve, but your season of grief will be characterized by hope and joy.” Immediately any feelings of being distraught lifted, and they were replaced with joy for my wife for where she was now, and hope not only of seeing her again but also the future that lay ahead of me.

Experiences like this have, needless to say, dramatically changed the grieving process.  It has given us the ability to leave the house and go on a road trip retracing our past and have the best time of our lives. Yes, my wife’s absence has left so much empty space in our lives. But I am absolutely confident God intends to more than make it up to us. He knows how to bind the brokenhearted; He knows how to empower those who sow in tears to reap in joy.

We are all affected by grief at some level. It may not be the loss of a loved one, but we have all lost something. We all are familiar that dimension of life we could not explain called mystery. To this I would like to suggest that whatever your loss, God is more than able to sustain you through it, and is also able to more than make it up to you. That area of your life shrouded in mystery is not over: No, it is just beginning.


Photo by Levi Bare on Unsplash

Faith is not a Statistic

In the past several days God the Father has been taking me to a place past the point of words — or at least my ability to freely express them. I have regularly and literally been pinned to my chair (or bed, or floor) by the tangible presence of God in utter silence and  tears. It has made penning a new blog post difficult. Continue reading “Faith is not a Statistic”

The Women of Bethel Music

In the past several weeks I have found myself listening to a myriad of worship songs. In the process, those that have been most meaningful (life-changing actually) have come from Bethel Music.

And of those, interestingly enough, nearly all were songs with —as the movie industry likes to say — strong female roles. That is, the lead vocalist and worship leader was a woman.

Now I am in many ways rather orthodox in my view of men and women compared to what passes as modern views on gender roles. Put simply, I believe men and women are different, and they are created different. And that difference is, for lack of better words, by design and beautiful.

But I also believe women were created to lead. They simply lead differently. That is, when they enter the world of society (be it corporate America, church or otherwise), they do not lose their uniqueness.

By saying this of course I have touched upon the primal fear of our modern culture. We are really afraid if we recognize any differences between men and women, it will be used by men as basis for oppressing women. And so what we find is a desperation to claim, and portray, women to be just like men, and men just like women.

But uniqueness does not mean oppression. I hope we can slow down our modern brains long enough to recognize this. That is to say, women were not uniquely created by God to be oppressed, nor were they created to be men; they were uniquely created by God to be the full and complete expression of who they are.

I mention all this because in the modern climate of debate over women leadership, what has arisen within the revival church culture especially in the area of worship is a strong presence of women leading with the full expression of who they are. And to be honest, I am not sure any man could lead as they have led. And their contribution in this area has had a tremendous impact upon me personally in this season, so this is my tribute.

The Women of Bethel Music

I think of Gretzinger
Carrying the presence more than anyone can handle
Lit up like a Roman candle
Reckless as the love of God
Tearing God knows what darkened worlds apart
to take us deep into the Father’s heart

Or Helser, declaring a child of God
Am I: No longer slaves,
With an audacity — like Cooke — with David to go
Out beyond the shores into the tossing waves

Or Dimarco, who can tell
us there is a love hidden deep inside waiting
to be set free, a hope realized
And through it all to trust and let go
for they still know His name: The wind and waves
And no matter what my present situation: It is well.

And then there is Walker-Smith who reminds
Me how jealous God is for me:
His love like a hurricane, and all my regrets a tree
Which loomed so large but suddenly finds
No more root, cast into a drowning sea.

And McMillan — who among this lineup should
be included — who says You are good, good, good
Like a steady battering ram unending
Reminding us that when the night is holding on,
God is holding on harder still: All my fears rescinding

And Jobe, and Heiligenthal, and so, so many more,
Not least of which Johnson, who from the beginning
Her voice piercing the darkness like a punch to the gut
and for at least ten thousand reasons more —

I thank you. For through it all,
With uncompromising violent voice and song,
You have led us, led us, led us all:
Led us all along.


Photo by Courtney Clayton on Unsplash