Are you empty? Good. You are completely normal. The things happening to you should deplete you. The pressure of this moment reveals your natural limits. You are finite. You only have so much to give and then the vessel is empty. No man is God.
But emptiness is not an easy state. It leaves you:
For much of the United States, there is a polar vortex assaulting us with cold air. We are in the depth of winter. When the cold bites your nose as you walk out the door, you remember how harsh life can be. At the same time, there is a beauty to winter's austerity.
Seasons are necessary components of nature, a natural cycle. So too, our lives consist of seasons. There are times of abundant fruit. There are times of barren loss.
Are you in a winter season right now? Some thoughts on winter in nature, and in your life:
I know. You’re tired and stressed. We’re in the middle of a long, multifaceted crisis. It’s not just COVID and health. It is a crisis of convergence – medical, societal, racial, economic, and political. Any one of these would be a burden to carry. All together, they feel like an elephant on your shoulders. Here are seven pieces of godly wisdom for living faithfully under stress. (Some of these arose from a Zoom call with Rick Warren. A story for another day . . .)
This last Sunday, I didn't feel like preaching. The theme was "joy," and I didn't feel joyful. It’s really hard for me to be fake. I’m a bad liar. I’ll always tell you the truth, and the truth is that joy cannot be forced.
You can try to create a little Christmas joy: Put up lights. Buy presents. Have a drink. Those things may bring happiness for a moment, but not genuine joy. You can’t make yourself be joyful.
As I was preparing to preach on joy I was talking with someone in an absolute miserable situation. And I thought, “It is inappropriate for me to talk about joy right now. Hope, faith, love – yes. But joy would come across as insensitive." I’m not sure if this is the time for joy. Should we just skip the joy candle in 2020?
Here's what flipped my perspective on joy. Maybe it will bring you some joy in a season of darkness.
It's election day in America. Many Christians are freaking out, as if the kingdom of God depended on the outcome of a vote. Both political parties have said this election is for “the soul of America.” I don’t want to diminish its importance. If you haven't already, vote! But the kingdom of God does not depend on the ballot box.
Your calendar reflects your priorities.
Your treasure reveals your heart.
Your schedule shows what you value.
Five months of crisis have blown up our old schedules, habits, and patterns. We have an opportunity to start over. Set a new path. Build a structure that reinforces what is most important.
The soil is tilled and turned over. It's ready for planting. Will you plant seeds or weeds?
Personally, I've been using a "daily pattern" to center myself on God and his word each day. It's not rocket science. It's not a new liturgy, but drawn from Christians gone before me. As a church, we're looking to start new daily patterns like this in the fall.
Would you help me? GO HERE to see a week of the "Daily Pattern." It's a short order for daily devotion and prayer. It's simple. It's adaptable. It can be used individually or in a group.
Try it for a week. Let me know what you think and if it helps you set a daily pattern in the middle of disruption.
Oh, to return to January 1st, 2020. Do you remember when the biggest news was impeachment? I was with some teenagers recently. I asked them, “Use one word to describe the first 6 months of 2020.”
Destruction. There seems to be a dismantling of everything we thought was secure. Assumptions about health, education, economics, and racism have all been challenged. Everything has been blown up in the span of four months. Now we are all trying to make sense of the rubble, wondering if we can put things back together the way the were. Or, do we start from scratch?
I wrote this in 2016. These days, every day might be a "tenth day." Maybe you can relate.
"How are things going?" I'm asked.
"Every ten days I want to quit." I've given this answer a few times in recent months. Am I really going to turn in my keys? Probably not . . . but maybe.
Anything of significance is worth sacrificing for. And anything worth sacrificing for will leave you with a "tenth day." Nine days can be good, even great. But about every tenth we are sobered by harsh reality.
I was doing some video recording in our church building last night. The building was eerily empty. It will be quiet on Easter as well. Is it really Holy Week if no one gathers?
I believe this will be the most authentic Easter in your lifetime.
Keep death before your eyes daily.”
This instruction is found in the Rule of St. Benedict (chapter 4) which provides direction for monastic communities of the Benedictine order. Why so morbid? Aren’t Christians to be hopeful?