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

 

Rest

 

I awoke this morning in Long Island. Our cousins were sweet enough to open their home to us as we, this week, celebrate a family reunion with Catherine’s side of the family. I have never been to their house and so my first order of business was to wake up before anyone else, of course, and explore every room in the house.

That may not exactly be true, but it is what I did — at least downstairs. And I had the assistance of the two or three cats who live here, and who were more than happy to oblige.

As I did so, I was struck by how peaceful it was. We West-Coasters tend to think New York is all about the city, and it is if you are in Manhattan. But escape just across the water and you find a different world, a small piece of Heaven nestled among trees: A place which despite the busy trappings of modern life has a memory long before you and I were born, let alone before the smartphone was invented, a place inviting you to rest.

I come from a long line of religious followers who believe devotion to God is anything but restful. On the contrary, it can be quite stressful: Making sure that the Creator of the Universe is happy with you. It may not be too stressful if you avoid Him in the hallways of life. But run into Him in a private room and things can be quite tense. You can wish you were someplace else.

And this can be true even in the “best” of church traditions. Some traditions of course seem to enshrine this distance, keeping God in a place of unrelenting holiness and us in a place of fearful and reverent devotion. But I am thinking of those traditions who have embraced the message of the Bible that God, in His holiness, actually chose to come close in mercy: Becoming a man and taking upon Himself the reason for the discomfort we feel in His presence.

For the church traditions I have in mind, “faith” is a big topic. All the blessings of Heaven are available to us through faith, and so a lot of emphasis is upon “having faith.” But more times than not, be it the way they have approached it or I have received it, “having faith” has been more stressful than the standard “fearful and reverent” devotion. If I am already having difficulty at the religious duty thing, I will certainly fail (trust me) at the faith thing.

But here is the amazing thing: God requires neither. Whatever act we feel we must do or moral quality we feel we must possess in order to feel perfectly comfortable in God’s presence, Jesus has provided. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthains 5). He has made the private room comfortable.

The natural outworking of faith, then, is rest. It is not the solemnity of a cold cathedral instilling a sense of uneasiness, nor the tireless striving of faith-based Bible-believer attempting to “live by faith.” It is the quiet of a Long Island morning. It invites us.

Such rest causes me to see things differently, though nothing in the fabric of my circumstances has changed. I see beauty where I could not see it before: In the early sunlight, in the dew that covers the grass, in the birdsong — even in the cat that nuzzles up against my leg. I realize this beauty was made for my pleasure — for I am deeply loved.

And then something begins to happen — I cannot explain how. The polarity in me shifts from my fearful and futile efforts to reach God, to God’s inexhaustible ability to reach me. My heart, my mind, my body — my very circumstances are all candidates of His unfathomable love. And no matter where I am in life I realize: My life has just begun.


Photo by Tucker Good on Unsplash

 

 

Beautiful Creatures

I cannot get away from the idea that life is an expression of God’s beauty and that his most beautiful work is our very lives. It continues to cast reflections upon my heart and mind as I go about my day.

I made mention of this briefly in my last post, but I must elaborate. Two weeks ago, the thought struck me that the words I write are sacred, but I realize now it goes much deeper: Everything I do is sacred. All that I say and do matters: All that you say and do matters. This is because, from Heaven’s perspective, all things matter.

Every star in the Universe is known by name. The very number of hairs on your head are numbered. Every tear you shed is collected by God; every thought you think is known before it is said. And you and I: We were created to be a reflection of His beauty.

I really hope to convey this idea without it becoming in the minds of my readers yet another “have to” in the course of life. We do not “have to” find a way to reflect God’s beauty; this essay is not a “have to” lesson.

With the events that have transpired in my life in the past several weeks, I realize I am way beyond “have to.” I am at the very heart of “need,” with an occasional wandering into “want” and “desire.” “Have to” is the farthest thing from my mind right now.

Which — if you ask me — is a very, very good thing. And I wish the same for you. For there is something precious about life that has nothing — and I mean nothing — to do with “have to.” Life, if you are willing to accept it, has everything to do with “need”, “want” and “desire.” That is, It is about what we, as human beings, ultimately need. And more and more I realize it is about coming before God and pouring our hearts out before Him with all that we want and desire. We were simply not created for obligation; we were created for passion.

Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” And he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22). The interesting thing about this commandment that we often overlook is that it is absolutely impossible to fulfill it by adopting a life of obligation. I cannot oblige my way into love. I can only fall in love.

And when I fall in love, I am not thinking about “have to” at all. I am thinking about another person, and how I can lay down my life for that person. I am thinking about spending every moment with that person. I am thinking about opening my heart wide, coming to know them just as I wish to be known. This is love.

So when I think about the fact that everything you and I say and do matters and and that we were created to be a reflection of His beauty, I am not thinking about obligation; I am thinking about love. I am thinking about being loved, and being in love. And I am thinking how that is possible with God because of Jesus demonstrating to us the greatest act of love the world has ever known.

That by humbling himself and becoming flesh and willingly taking all my sins upon Himself — taking my place to die on a Cross that I might be found innocent before God the Father — He demonstrated a love so profound that every other expression of love we see in this life is but a dim reflection.

I cannot help but think of the woman in the Bible who poured out an alabaster jar of precious perfume upon Jesus’ head and washed his feet with her tears. Professor Brian S. Chan of Biola University is quick to point out three things Jesus says in response to this. He says, first of all, that this woman has done this in preparation for His burial. He also says that wherever the Gospel is preached, what she has done will also be told. Most importantly, He says this woman has done a beautiful thing.

When we are in love, we are inclined to do beautiful things. And if I think, “I am afraid I am not in love with God,” then I must recognize this is not a deficiency but an opportunity. For we love by first being loved. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4). We love by coming to know the God who is love, whose love is unfathomable, whose mercy is inexhaustible. We love not by trying to love but by falling in love.

And when we do, we cannot help but love in return. We become beautiful creatures. And though it may not be our goal, the world takes notice.


Photo by Xuan Nguyen on Unsplash

The Christian Soul: Mindfulness

This is our final essay in the series The Christian Soul. Look forward to our new series on The Christian Mind, coming soon 🙂


mindfulness:  noun. The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis; also such a state of awareness. Continue reading “The Christian Soul: Mindfulness”

The Christian Soul: Miracles

I doubt there are many believers in Jesus who have not experienced at least one miracle in this life. 

For me, there was the time when my sister was sent to the hospital because she was hemorrhaging internally. The doctors could not stop the bleeding, and things were becoming critical. My parents called for the priest to administer the Prayer for the Sick. Which, if you know anything about Catholic doctrine, you know is the sacrament you often receive just before death. Moments after the priest prayed, however, the bleeding inexplicably stopped.

Continue reading “The Christian Soul: Miracles”