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I saw Baryshnikov dance, heard Kathleen Battle at her prime, and was twenty feet away from Yo-Yo Ma as he played the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites on the stage of Orchestra Hall. And now this.
Back in the early 1990’s, I lived near Chicago and had some truly life-altering opportunities to see and hear the best of the best in the arts. Certain memories are seared in my mind—with all of the accompanying sounds, lighting, and emotional expressions.
The slight squeak of Baryshnikov’s foot as he landed a jump. The ephemeral—and yet seemingly eternal—hover of the note-after-the-note of the ring of Ms. Battle’s final syllable. Collectively, as an audience, we held our breath to urge it on for one more intoxicating second. And to be seated on the stage, just a few feet away from Yo-Yo Ma, and not only hear but see those fingers, that smile, that bowing?
Well. Truly. These are not things that I will ever forget. And I use the term “ever” quite intentionally because I believe that, regardless of the state of the soul of the people creating this level of excellence in art; regardless the purpose or history of the forum that shelters both artist and audience; such transcendent beauty must be (even just the tiniest sliver of) a reflection of the Eternal Godhead. Because these moments. These breaths. They are so other-worldly that they remind us of our True Home in Heaven to Come. They lift us out of the doldrums and monotony, fears and worries, horrors of life in this fallen world.
And man! Is true excellence in the arts fun! Edifying. So, so good.
Last night, in a tiny venue, in a tiny city (OK, the largest city in our state, but tiny nonetheless), I had one of these eternity-stepping-into-time moments. It was remarkable. I will never forget it. And I never would have expected it because our family is pretty fried right now with Fred doing two extra jobs on top of his full-time job while Sophie and I work hard to prepare for our service this week at the PCA Women’s Leadership Conference in Atlanta. I really just volunteered to help with tickets at the door because I wanted to serve the inimitable Janny Kirk (who is the only reason why two such outstanding, world-class musicians would be doing a workshop and concert for our small community).
Due to our sheer exhaustion, Sophie and I planned to leave at intermission. As the concert began, my mind was spinning with so many packing lists and to-do lists that I assumed I would spend 90 minutes keeping a polite look on my face, but only half being present and half-listening.
I could not have been more wrong.
When Nathaniel Smith and Jeremy Kittel played their opening notes and I heard the haunting, ethereal harmonics and overtones? The clarity of well-placed, well-bowed notes? Every chord perfectly (perfectly!) in tune (or brought to perfection by microtuning and even peg tuning—sometimes even while in the middle of a note)? Time stood still. Even my prone-to-race mind calmed down. I closed my eyes or stared, transfixed, at pegboards and bows. I could not believe that my daughter and I had ears to hear and eyes to see this level of excellence in this tiny room with cinder block walls and folding chairs—but with acoustics and sight lines that would rival box seats at Carnegie Hall.
It was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard in Montana. Sophie is too young to know it yet, but it was the most beautiful thing she has ever heard—save the preaching of the Word and the voices of her father, mother, and sister who adore her. Apart from real love communicated through people, it was the most beautiful thing Sophia has ever heard in her young life.
Yes. Sure. Of course. These young men are known for their fiddling and their fiddling was quite fun. Nothing like the blur of fingers and bow that make it abundantly clear why their bows require complete rehairing every two weeks. But it was the slow music that had me transfixed. Ensorcelled. Edified. They played a pavane that touched me so deeply I could not stop hot tears from streaming down my cheeks.
So if you ever have the chance to hear Jeremy Kittel and/or Nathaniel Smith in concert? Run, don’t walk. Break into those extra-special-saving-for-something-really-important funds and invest in the little glimpse of glory that your soul will experience.
God really is the Lord of All Creation! He generously and lovingly gave us eyes to see and ears to hear the beauty and splendor of HIM on that One (Good! Best!) Day. Until then, while with creation we wait and groan in longing, every once in a while, we get little breaths, little aromas of Him. This was my night last night and I hope that you get to experience something similar in this coming year.
What a generous God! I am grateful for the arts and for the Artist behind them all.
Blessings to you as you head into worship today!
When I woke up before 4AM thinking about this topic, I wanted to anchor myself a bit in the Word re: the arts because I am a complete novice and layperson regarding such things. So I was grateful to find this article by Randy Randall, an apparent alumnus of the seminary where I am currently studying. It was a good read and I am grateful for it. I particularly enjoyed this quotation that he shared towards the end of his thesis:
Great art is “something like revelation. What is revealed has been there all the time, but it has gone unnoticed in our humdrum everyday experience. It needs the sensitivity of the artist to bring it to light, so that we notice things for the first time.” John MacQuarrie
I did not expect great art to meet me last night in my humdrum everyday experience. But it did. And I am grateful.
I was super duper careful to check every post and FaceBook page to ensure I gave everyone their extra entry for sharing … and we ended up with 39 entries in our most recent WIN FREE STUFF GIVEAWAY.
Thanks so much to Resolve All Conflicts & Judy S. for the fun momentum to do a drawing. (I really DO love getting biblical and practical helps into the hands of women.)
Thanks again, friends!
Hope your Monday is off to a good start. I had a TERRIBLE night of insomnia last night so today is not going well for me. But God is still on the throne and my daughters are being particularly merciful to me, so hopefully I will sleep tonight and feel much better in the morning.
It was such a drag.
We had already been ’round the “gospel-discipline-prayer-counsel-gospel” bend this morning (hence our late arrival to Sunday School). And yesterday was one of those trying, exhausting, tempted-to-despair parenting days.
So I was discouraged. Deeply discouraged. And after I went through (what felt like!) just the motions of redemptive discipline, I was stuck there. Just staring at my beautiful, wretched, beloved, exhausting, precious child. Glued to our church library’s chair. Wondering if I could will myself to walk back into the sanctuary and return to the church service.
My dear theologian (emphasis practical theology) preschooler Ella threw her hands up in the air and said:
“Mom?! PLEASE! Let’s get back to church! I REALLY NEED TO WORSHIP!”
Oh, Ella. How right you are.
What she needed in that moment was the exact thing I needed in that moment–
- Not another pep talk
- No more resolutions re: controlling our emotions and stopping losing our temper
- No ten-steps-for being a better parent (or child)
- Not even another lesson on James 4 Monster Wants / desires elevated to demands
No. What we needed to do was run back into corporate worship and lay down our lives at the feet of the Cross and worship the One True God. Our only hope for turning away from our selfish, idolatrous hearts was and is to replace wrong worship with right worship.
And so. By God’s grace. That’s exactly what we did.
“… you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10 (ESV)
May God help us to continue in this way every moment of every day, or else there really is no hope.
Your beleaguered (but beloved) Momma-Tara-friend,
I included this photo of little Miss E as a toddler because it is a family favorite and such a perfect example of how we all are at times … proudly and defiantly standing there in our butterfly-laden-diapie-cover, shaking our chubby little finger in the face of our patient, loving father.
Oh oh oh. Who will rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 7) In Him, really do have redemption by His blood, the hope and assurance of eternal life. Alleluia.
I’ve recently met a really special woman whose title is “missionary peacemaker” (!). How great is that?
She quoted me on one of her Facebook Pages (“Resolve All Conflicts”) so I did a little WIN FREE STUFF GIVEAWAY to thank her and also to introduce my Facebook friends to her Facebook friends.
It’s not too late to join in the fun! If you leave a comment by midnight tomorrow (Sunday, February 9, Mountain time zone), you will be entered in a drawing for ONE FREE COPY OF ALL OF MY RESOURCES: Peacemaking Women, Living the Gospel in Relationships, and Redeeming Church Conflicts:
(You’ll have to scroll down my page a bit to find the giveaway—I couldn’t figure out how to link to an EXACT Facebook post.)
Hope this is fun for you and that the resources encourage you that even our most hopeless FEELING conflicts DO have hope because God is a redeeming God. And sometimes (not always, but sometimes), He really DOES resurrect seemingly dead relationships. To the praise of His glory!
Much love and Happy Saturday to you,
As always, NO Risk of SPAM! Our family will NEVER share your contact information with ANYONE for marketing purposes.
If you share the giveaway in any social media setting, just let me know and I’ll give you TWO entries. I think there is like a 1 in 10 chance of winning as of right now. So why not join in the fun? 🙂
Learning how to put away CLAMOR (“a loud and confused noise, esp. that of people shouting vehemently”)
I know I have blogged about this topic in the past:
But given the TRYING day I had yesterday and the EVEN WORSE day I am having today as I jump from airport to airport, airplane to airplane, trying to dance the “winter weather + mechanical failures” jig, the topic is fresh on my heart. Again.
Yesterday’s first trial was parenting-related (I won’t tell you anything more about that because it’s private); the second trial was CELL PHONE COMPANY related (and I’m happy to tell you about THAT one because MAN-OH-MAN did Verizon mess me over but good!). My temptation to GIVE WAY TO ANGER and blow it started with words that no person ever EVER wants to hear:
“Yeah. So. You know that “unlimited texting and unlimited calling” plan you THOUGHT you took your family onto way back in December because you figured that maybe it was time to join the 21st century and learn how this new-fangled-technology-stuff works especially because it would LOWER your monthly phone bill by $20/month AND rather than paying $.25/text, you could send as many as you want FOR FREE??
Wow! That was quite a sales offer! I can see why you (thought you) accepted it and made the change back in December. It must have been so fun for you and your husband and your pre-teen daughter to jump in and happily join the ranks of people who text for convenience and who text for fun and who text for no other reason that it’s a sweet and silly way to connect. Cool!
(True confession: With supervision, we’ve even let our four year-old self-entertain by sending us texts while we were lying right next to her in our bed, all of just playing away. In case you’re curious, this is what a text from Ella looks like …)
Yeah. Well. Anyway. BAD NEWS! You actually DIDN’T make the change to this unlimited text/call plan. All THREE of your text-for-fun-happy-smartphones have been on THE OLD $.25/TEXT plan. Yup. Every. Single. Text. $.25/each!”
I assume you can do the math with at least an educated guess based on just ONE of Ella’s little “playtime texts” above. Add in legitimate Momma Tara / Event-related Tara / husband-wife Fred & Tara texts and ZINGO! This was DEFINITELY a day that tempted me to A.N.G.E.R. (helped along by a healthy dollop of F.E.A.R. and DEEP DISAPPOINTMENT IN MYSELF FOR MESSING UP!)
Doing my best and still having it be messed up. Trying trying trying and failing failing failing. Yup. That is a HUGE temptation for me to FREAK OUT and respond INAPPROPRIATELY. I can bear up under a lot of things, but kick me in that area of shame and perfectionism? WHAT a HUGE “button” for me!
But God was SO gracious to me. I still felt all of those feelings. My heart was still racing/pounding out of my CHEST. I was embarrassed. I was afraid. But in my anger, MIRACULOUSLY, I did not sin. I spoke calmly, but clearly. I expressed my shock and concern, but I was not disrespectful. It was a TERRIBLE PHONE CALL! But I didn’t have GUILT to layer on top of it as well.
Jesus lives. He really does.
‘Course today’s air travel GRAVE inconvenience is tempting me anew … but so far, I have been sad. I have been angry. I have been a little frightened, but mostly just annoyed. And I have not sinned.
I know this is no big deal for most of you. You don’t CLAMOR (to use the exact term from Ephesians 4):
“Be angry and do not sin … give no opportunity to the devil …. do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
Clamor—a loud and confused noise, especially that of people shouting vehemently. That’s a great description for all three of the airports I have already been in today (with two more yet to come—-but not until tomorrow because if I ever get there, I’m going to have to overnight in Atlanta! Blergh!). I’m definitely hearing LOTS O’ CLAMOR all around me. But praise God—not from me. By God’s grace alone, not from me.
When Judy made me draw that diagram and told me that advice and encouragement those many years ago, I didn’t really believe her. It felt so impossible! To be that frightened and just say, “I’m frightened.” To be shaking that much and that overwhelmed and sad and just admit that I am sad and scared?” This is grace. This is growing up.
Sure, most of you learned this when you were like 2 or 3 years old. Grownups parented you and trained you and helped you to turn away from childish tantrums as you learned to “use your words” and express your feelings “appropriately.”
For some of us? These lessons take longer to learn. But praise God! HE really IS growing us up in conformity to His Son. There is hope! There is help! And I am grateful.
Sure, I’m still stuck in these airports. Yup. Nothin’ I can do about that.
But God is with me and His presence comforts me.
I pray for you that same comfort too!
– We resolved to not overspend, but we did. So now our credit card debt is worse than before.
– We promised ourselves that this year our (mother-in-law / daughter-in-law / father / sister / brother / grandparent) would not tempt us to anger or escapism or despair. But there we sat at the family gathering—seething, responding with harsh words and a harsh tone, hiding out by the candy bowl in front of the television.
– Some of us sinned sexually. Maybe in ways that we never would have thought we would. Others of us overindulged in alcohol. Food. Drugs. Rather than facing our frustration, fears, anxiety, or boredom, and bringing them to the Lord, we tried to bury them with mood-altering substances. But then it was morning and we had to face the consequences of our actions.
January 1 sure can often feel like a big ol’ morning of facing the consequences of our actions. How will you respond?
If you are really going under the water of some big, huge, habitual sin with big, huge, daily consequences, you may be tempted to give up the fight. You might think to yourself, “Why try? Why care? I’m never going to change.” There really is nothing like looking back over a calendar year and seeing things get even worse to kick you in the teeth and knock you back and tempt you to give up before you even try again.
Please hear me if this describes you: you don’t have to listen to those voices of hopelessness and despair. You don’t! Really, you don’t.
Over the course of my 43 years (around 30 of which have been as a Christian), I know how hard sexual sins, financial burdens, relational strife, and addictive behaviors associated with food, drugs and alcohol can be. I know what it’s like to try and try and try again—only to fail and fail and fail again. When you’ve blown it purity-wise at this level, why not mess up at this next level? If you have $73,000 in debt, who cares if you spend another $20 at Applebees? If you’re 110 pounds overweight, what does it really matter if you drink that next Coke or eat that next dessert? I mean, seriously. What does it matter?
Please hear me again: it matters. It does. And there really is grace to help you in your hour of need.
But there are no quick fixes and no fast cure-alls. You’re not going to change if you keep faking being a “good Christian” while you sin in secret and dig yourself into deeper holes of consequences. You’re not going to change if you keep hiding your head in the sand and ignoring the reality of your situation. And you will never change if you don’t understand the nature of the battle: you have three real enemies (Satan, the World, and the Old Man) and you need to engage in faith’s fight against sin on ALL THREE LEVELS.
- Your battle is spiritual. Are you a faithful, prayerful, engaged member of a true church (faithfully preaching the whole of Scripture, administering the sacraments, and actively disciplining its members)? Do you read God’s Word before you look at any technology or social media each day? How are your other spiritual disciplines? What is your prayer life like? You will never overcome habitual sin or destructive habits if you do not go to the source of Life and Living Water and purposefully fight the fight at the spiritual level.
- How much does your life reflect your infatuation with and love for the world? Seriously. Don’t jump to some pat answer here. Look at how much time you spend in front of the mirror or focusing on any external, performance-oriented thing and then ask yourself how proud you are (or how depressed you are) when you compare your looks (or your car / home / marriage / children / job / degrees / “success”) to other people. Are your eyes on the Lord continually because you live and move and have your being for Him and for His eternal purposes? Or do you love the world? Be concrete. Read your credit card statement and look at your eCalender and make an objective analysis of what matters most to you because you will never push back against the current of worldliness until you first understand how much you love and live for the dirty water in broken cisterns of your culture.
- Do you take your sin seriously? Do you see sin for what it actually is? Do you remember that your fallen heart is deceitful? Every moment of your life, are you aware of just how ignorant and blind and desperately needy you are for God’s work in your life? Do you see your union with Christ as the only hope you have for heart change and behavioral change? Or are you still thinking that a great spreadsheet, weight-loss/addictions group, budget, or “plan” is going to “get you there.” This time. For SURE. Oh, friends. We really do think of sin too lightly. We never get to real solutions because we never admit the problem is what it really is: complex. Spiritual. Physical. More serious that we really ever want to admit–but we must. That is our only hope for lasting change.
So if you’re stuck. Frustrated. Despairing. If you’ve gone ’round the bend to not caring or feeling at all because it’s just too hard to face—please. Don’t Give up. Don’t be afraid to try again. Just be sure that you try in a new way if you’ve been focused too much on outward change rather than inner change; if you’ve underestimated the strength of your three enemies; if you’ve failed to bring your struggle out into the light and get help from wise and spiritually-mature men and women.
You’re really not alone! We all struggle with ongoing sin. (And the person who thinks they don’t is even worse off than we are!)
Christ’s blood really is the remedy for our sin-sick souls. One Day (for sure in Heaven! but hopefully also in this life!) you will “live to see thy lust dead at thy feet” (to quote Packer quoting Owen).
I hope for you a Happy New Year’s Eve and a happy (hessed/blessed) 2014!
My favorite books on this “battle” as it were are:
- The Mortification of Sin (Owen)
- Addictions – A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel (Welch)
- The Enemy Within (Lundgaard)
- How People Change (Lane & Tripp)
- Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Plantinga)
I put the photos at the beginning of this post because honestly? Just seven months ago when the first one was taken and I saw how HUGE I really was in that (ill-chosen) purple outfit, I SWORE I would never show anyone that photo. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin; I didn’t feel comfortable in my own body. My chronic knee and back pain was keeping me up at night and tempting me to never move (which only exacerbated the pain). I hated the way I looked but even more importantly, my misery physically was mirrored by my misery spiritually. I felt terrible and finally, in May 2012, I felt terrible enough to try again. Again again. Again for the zillionth time of trying again to be more spiritually awake and disciplined and more physically active and healthy. Again.
It was horribly hard to get started. I needed spiritual and physical helps. I needed accountability and prayer and friendship and a plan for fighting faith’s fight. But now I am in the battle and I am (slowly!) making some more progress in living in the Spirit and also getting some of my extra 110 lbs off of my knees and back. And I just wanted to particularly encourage those of you who are struggling with overeating and obesity (like me) that there is hope for change. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers (“You can’t lose weight after 40!” “You’ll never keep it off!”). Don’t listen to your own, condemning, internal voices (“Why even try? Why even care? You’ll just blow it again!”). No. Don’t be afraid to try again. Your Savior lived and died to set you free from Satan, the world, and your ruling lusts. He works in you by His Spirit. He has won and He will win. Believe it.
On any given day, I love being an early morning riser. I used to love it as a child, when I would follow my dad around the house as he went through his morning routine—I’d even tuck a handkerchief and old men’s wallet and little black comb into MY pants pocket too because I wanted to be just like him. I loved not being tired at 6:30AM jazz band and swing choir rehearsals in high school. And I have always loved the freshness and encouragement of super early morning walks—it’s such a perfect time to be outdoors, take deep breaths, and think, reflect, pray, and enjoy. (My non-early-morning-riser friends undoubtedly disagree with that statement. I assume you feel in the morning the way I feel in the late evening—blurry, slightly miserable, like all you want to do is lie down and not think or move.)
Yes, I am a morning person and Christmas morning? Well. This is probably my favorite early morning day of the year. I get to turn the twinkle lights on and smile at the overflowing stockings and quietly listen to Handel’s Messiah while I wait for the pitter-pat of tiny feet. It’s great. Except that something is missing this year, just like last year.
I miss my mom.
She was also an early morning person and we used to talk pretty much every morning. Especially Christmas! Even at 4:30AM my time today (when I was wide awake and drinking in the pre-dawn Christmas deliciousness), I would have absolutely called her because I would have known she would be awake too—-drinking her coffee, smoking her cigarettes, listening to the talking heads on television, while reading the newspaper, doing a crossword puzzle, keeping her zillion FaceBook games going, and probably listening to talk radio too. (Yes, all at the same time. My mom liked to do a lot of things all at once. Including talking to me.)
It’s good to miss her. I’m glad that I miss her. It means that we were true friends and that we loved one another. To love is to risk and to love is to grieve. And one year after her passing, I’m definitely still grieving. Just like a lot of people.
What is it about Christmas that brings about so much loss? Is it just in my head? Because it sure doesn’t feel like it. I have so many friends and acquaintances who share similar stories of loss that all happened right around the holidays. Let me tell you about just three that I learned about all in ONE day (last Monday):
- My dental hygienist totally related to my sharing how glad I was that my mother’s passing was December 18th rather than December 17th because my oldest daughter’s birthday is the 17th and even though I knew the dates would be close, I was really hoping they wouldn’t be a complete overlap. She really “got it” because her oldest child’s birthday is December 12th and her father passed on December 13th. Weird! And sad.
- After waiting quite a while in the long line of fellow procrastinators at our little local post office, I was surprised when the manager (Mr. Dean) waved me out of my place in the queue and had me wait a little longer so because he insisted on my being at his station. I had no idea why, but I really enjoy and care about all of the workers in our post office (we’ve spent a lot of time together over the years), so I just stood and waited quietly while he finished serving the people ahead of me. When it was finally my turn, even though there were still a hundred people all around us in line, he started to cry as he told me that his beloved dog (whom I knew was JJ because we talked a LOT about our dogs and because he always particularly loved it when Lilikoi accompanied me to the post office) had died in the night. Mr. Dean is a single man and JJ was his dearest canine friend! I cried with him (and the girls and I came back later with cards and flowers)—my heart broke for him at his loss.
- When I was on the phone with my 90 year-old neighbor, coordinating the details of our taking her to the airport and watching her home when she was traveling for the holidays, she told me that six people she loved had died in the past 36 days. Six people in 36 days! It was unimaginable. I had never heard anything like that except in movies or war or some massive act of terrorism or murder. Certainly not in the daily-ness of life in our quiet neighborhood with my sweet little widow who lives next door. But there it was. True. All at the holidays. All in the span of just over one month. I heard about each person and how they had impacted her life and how devastated she was by the funeral after funeral, loss after loss.
And I could give lots of other examples, of course, as I’m sure you could too. Husbands die. Fathers die. Children die. It’s terrible and worthy of grief. And it makes me long all the more for the redemption of Heaven and the defeat of death forever by the coming of the Lord in glory because this life really is not the way it’s supposed to be.
The older I get, the more I rejoice in the hope of the glory of God—that One Good Day, there really will be no more tears. I cannot wait for this day! And I am so grateful for the Incarnation of Emmanuel—God with us!—Who makes it all possible.
As you go throughout your Christmas day today, I truly hope that your acts of service and your celebrations of fun are all deeply joyful and beautifully love-filled. And that if you are grieving, I pray for you comfort. True comfort. A balm for your soul from the Only One big enough and strong enough (and compassionate enough!) to make everything right one day.
With love from your friend,
I was able to relate to Mr. Dean’s grief (about losing his beloved dog at Christmas) in a particular way because we lost our first Golden Retriever just before Christmas in 2006. As I processed through the shock of her death (she was young and she died from an accident), I wasn’t sleeping well and one night I forced myself to learn how to use YouTube (a big technological jump for me because I’m not that savvy at online stuff and YouTube was a little “cutting edge” way back then) just so I could share some of her videos. One video? “The World’s Most Patient Dog” has had over half a million hits. It still cracks me up every time I watch it. 34 seconds of hilarity if you’re a dog person—especially if you’re a Golden Retriever dog person—and if you want to see a super cute video of when Sophie was a wobbly little toddler:
The words “God is not dead nor doth He sleep” keep reverberating in my heart this morning, so I thought I’d grab the whole Henry Longfellow poem for you too:
- I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play;
In music sweet their tones repeat,
“There’s peace on earth, good will to men.”
- I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’ unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
- Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep,
For Christ is here; His Spirit near
Brings peace on earth, good will to men.”
- When men repent and turn from sin
The Prince of Peace then enters in,
And grace imparts within their hearts
His peace on earth, good will to men.
- O souls amid earth’s busy strife,
The Word of God is light and life;
Oh, hear His voice, make Him your choice,
Hail peace on earth, good will to men.
- Then happy, singing on your way,
Your world will change from night to day;
Your heart will feel the message real,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Oh oh oh. Why don’t I ever remember how terrible this feels for myself and DECLINE this invitation to serve when it rolls around each fall? Is it because I adore the conductor? She is, beyond a doubt, one of my favorite people in all of life and yes, I would pretty much walk through fire if she asked me to. (But this FEELS like fire! So why don’t I remember THAT and tell her no?! Hmmmm.)
Is it because I really love our Christmas Eve service? That’s true. I do. I think our Christmas Eve service is worshipful and God-centered and a beautiful, reflective, and happy celebration. I love Alfred’s preaching and I love the eclectic music that Trudy always pieces together. And OK, sure, yes. I admit it. None of us is necessarily the best musician making the perfect, ideal music. I’ve been in churches with 300 voice choirs and music conservatory professors and students staffing the full orchestra, all backed by a million dollar pipe organ with soloists who sing at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall. I have. And I like it. But I like our little family gathering service more.
If I had to pick, I’d pick the heartfelt, best efforts of men, women, and children who have taken covenant vows to one another and who are living and dying together over musical perfection any day. So why do I get so freaked out when my 43 year-old brain and fingers just can’t play at the same level I could play at 25 years ago? Why is it so painful (and anxiety-producing) when I miss a few chords here and there and I can’t sight-read tens of thousands of notes at lightning speed with near perfection?
Playing the piano is like a sport. It’s not just physical, it’s mental. But it’s not just mental, it’s physical. The only way I could possibly have the mental and physical dexterity to confidently and competently “nail it” each and every time is if it were the 1980’s and I was playing the piano in rehearsals and high-pressure performance situations for hours and hours every day. That’s the truth. When you do something that much for that long at that level of intensity, you get pretty good at it. But when you try to run a triathlon once a year in your mid-40’s by relying on the physicality and mental strength you had in your mid-20’s, you’re just kidding yourself.
So what are my options?
- I could just never say yes to my sweet friend Trudy again when she asks me to accompany the choir. Ooooooh. I’m really liking that option right now since it’s December 21st and the Christmas Eve service is looming large. But. I really love serving and I really love Trudy AND I really love (trying to) make music with my church choir. They are fabulous people and I would miss them terribly. So maybe option 2 …
- I could keep going like I’m going and be miserable and be such a freak at rehearsals because my anxiety spills over onto Trudy and the choir and then they have to bear with me. I hate this! I hate this more, I think, than my stupid musical clunkers. Every single year I resolve to be patient and calm and NOT freak out. And every year, I fail in this regard. I really don’t want to be a burden, I want to be a blessing. Plus, whenever I get this internally anxious, I stop sleeping and THAT is never good for anyone. So I’m thinking option 2 is not a good plan. How about …
- I could get over myself, work hard, practice hard, do my best, and LET. IT. GO.
Yeah. I think ol’ option 3 is going to be our winner and it was actually Samara’s husband, Taylor Lynde, whom God used to really drive home this convicting, encouraging, “Ah-Hah!” thought.
During our recent trip to the Lyndes (to celebrate Sophie’s 10th birthday this week), I had the pleasure of spending much time in Taylor’s art studio—just talking, laughing, receiving impromptu lessons on art composition and art history. And receiving counsel and encouragement from a friend. Especially this nugget …
Right after I had returned from practicing my choir accompaniments at their little country church (which had graciously loaned me a key and allowed me access so that I could rehearse), I was telling Taylor all about my ongoing, internal turmoil related to THE GAP between how I wanted to play and how I could play.
Taylor was patient and kind. He listened intently and drew me out. He was empathetic and compassionate as he entered into my (true) suffering. And then he just asked one simple question:
“So Tara? Do you think this all has its root in pride?”
The truth was? I did! I could try to mask it with humility. (Look at sweet humble Tara who just wants to serve well.) Or serving others. (Really. I just want to serve well.) I could try to chalk it up to musicianship or diligence or discipline. But at its root, I was just proud. I didn’t want to make mistakes because I didn’t want to make mistakes. I wanted to look good and sound good. And that, my friends, is not loving God or neighbor and it most definitely is not a heart of service. It is just pride.
So yesterday and today? And tomorrow, Monday and Tuesday? I will keep practicing (and praying!). I will hope for no clunkers. And I will really try hard to not disrupt the corporate worship service.
But Lord willing, most of all, I will repent of my pride and get my eyes off of myself and just do my best and serve. For real.
Thanks, TJ. You are a good friend to me and I love you guys so much!
Back to the keyboard now—
“One reason people cling to the hurts they have received is that it gives them an excuse for being angry …”
My friend and one of my heroes of the faith, Ajith Fernando, graciously gave me permission to share this with you. It includes some of his key teachings from Reclaiming Love: Radical Relationships in a Complex World (which I just ordered and am looking very forward to reading).
Ajith has a particular burden for this topic because of the deep hurt that angry Christian leaders can cause.
A few days ago I realised that Paul used the words “rejoice,” “rejoiced,” “joy,” and “glad” a total of sixteen times in the Epistle to the Philippians. The great Bible scholar A. T. Robertson aptly named his classic exposition on Philippians, Paul’s Joy in Christ. This Epistle was written from prison. Paul was an activist with great plans for what he wanted to do for the gospel. But though he was confined to a prison cell for a significant period of time, he remained joyful. This emphasis on joy in Philippians lends credence to the claim of Christian writers like C. S. Lewis that joy is the hallmark of the Christian life. From prison Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).
Then why is it that so many Christians are unhappy people? I think there are several reasons for this. One of them is that many Christians harbour what I am calling “residual anger.” Bad things have happened to them, and they have not fully got over the anger over that. God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34); but they keep remembering the sins done against them. I am not saying that we will always have the supernatural ability to completely block out the memory of unpleasant events from our minds. But we can live as if they are no longer having an adverse effect on us. That is what is meant by Paul’s statement that love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1Cor. 13:5 NIV). The Greek word used here (logizomai), which we often translate “reckon” or “count,” can be used in the field of accounts, where bookkeepers keep a log of financial transactions so that they could be referred to at a later time. When we forgive, we refuse to reckon the harm done to us, that is; we refuse to keep recalling it as something that has a significant effect on us. Interestingly Paul uses the same verb in 2 Corinthians 5:19 when he says that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” Just as God does not count our sins against us, we must not count sins done to us against people.
We have good reason for refusing to reckon wrong done to us. Paul says, “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). There is no reason to harbour anger because God is going to turn what was done to us into something good. If we continue to keep resentment over these things we make a statement which insults God: that the person who harmed us is more powerful in our lives than God is. That is an honour that person does not deserve. When the Bible commands us to be joyful, it is actually commanding us to believe in God. It is belief in God that enables us to be joyful despite what happens to us. This is well expressed in Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” When we believe that God is with us and for us and will turn everything to good; we open to door to “joy and peace.” But that is not all. When we believe in God we “abound in hope.” Yes, bad things do happen. But because we believe in God we can hope that even these bad things will be turned to good. With such hope we can always be joyful.
A king once made a list of the names of all his enemies in his kingdom. And beside the list he marked the sign of the cross. People thought that he had done this with a plan to take revenge on these enemies. But he explained that he marked a cross beside their names in order to remember to forgive them as Christ did at the cross. He made a decision to obey the call to forgive.
The British Methodist preacher William E. Sangster preached and practiced a philosophy he described as “remembering to forget.” Though he was often criticized, he tried to “remember to forget” the wrongs committed against him and to focus on serving God instead. His wife once saw him addressing a Christmas card to someone and was shocked. She exclaimed, in disbelief, “Surely you are not sending a greeting to him!” She reminded him of something that man had done to him eighteen months earlier. In truth, Sangster had entirely forgotten the incident! He had actually remembered to forget!
One reason people cling to the hurts they have received is that it gives them an excuse for being angry and for their unkind behaviour. Their anger results in them hurting others. They say hurtful things; they become overly critical of others. Finding errors in people helps buttress their belief that people do bad things. This in turn is an excuse for their ongoing anger. When someone makes a mistake, they pounce upon it with a reaction like, “See! See! See how dishonest these people are!” Paul says that love “believes” and “hopes” all things (1 Cor. 13:7). That is, it yearns to see people being good and doing well. It wants to believe the best about people. It wants to see the possibilities of grace enacted in people’s lives. But these angry people end up doing a lot of damage by giving the worst interpretations to people’s actions. They spread false stories about people based on their misinterpretations, forgetting how the Bible so severely condemns the sin of bearing false witness. The command not to bear false witness may well be the most neglected command among evangelicals today. Many of these unhappy Christians are leaders who have suffered because of their good principles: they are “righteous” people who act unlovingly and hurt others!
What is the answer to this problem? Let God love you! Believe what he says about his awesome love, and his ability to heal our wounds and turn our tragedies into triumphs. Then unencumbered by the weight of anger, you will be freed to love people and to face difficult people and situations with a positive outlook. A few days ago I told my wife that if we got really annoyed over each other’s weaknesses, our home would be like a war zone. As we get older some of our weaknesses, like forgetfulness, get worse! How good to know that God is the most important factor in our home, not us or our performance. He is strong and he is good. By being undergirded by his strength and his goodness we also have strength to show sacrificial love to people and to be patient with them.
When F. B. Meyer, a prominent twentieth century preacher, was travelling on a train, a lady with a very sad face was seated next to him. They struck up a conversation and Meyer found out that both the lady’s husband and her only child, a daughter, had died. She told Meyer how she had enjoyed caring for her sickly daughter. She said that, now with the daughter gone, she did not like going to her home anymore. Meyer told her something like this. “When you come home from work every day, and when you put the key into the keyhole to open the front door, say, ‘Jesus, I know you are here.’ When you light up the fire at home, tell God what happened during the day, just as you would tell your daughter. When you switch off your light to go to sleep at night, stretch out your hands into the darkness and say, ‘Jesus I know you are here.’”
Some months later this lady came for a meeting at which Meyer was preaching. Her face radiated joy rather than announcing sorrow. She told Meyer that she had done what he suggested and that it had made a huge difference in her life.
If only we would keep remembering how wonderful Jesus is; how wonderful his love for us is in spite of our continuing disobedience! Then we would not continue to harbour anger in our hearts. Yes, when we are hit, we will first react with anger. That is because of the God-given sense of justice in us and also because of the hurt we feel. It is natural and right that we get upset over wrong. But after an appropriate period of lament and groaning, faith takes over and affirms that God’s power and love are greater than the hurt we have received. Then, though the hurt may remain, the vision of the beauty and power of Jesus drives away resentment and gives us reason to rejoice.
Earlier I said that a key to overcoming our anger over what has been done to us is to let God love us. But sometimes in order for us to be open to his love, we may first need to have our wounds healed. We may need to get the help of another in whose presence we bring our wounds to the surface so that God’s grace can be applied to them and bring healing. Those who are serious about their walk with God would be so eager to overcome our resentment that they will seek out help to heal their wounds. Most of us have personality weaknesses which make us particularly vulnerable to the attacks of Satan. We must pay special attention to them and get all the help we can get to overcome them. Resentment is such an area in the lives of many Christians.
Don’t let residual anger take your joy away and cause to you hurt others! Believe God and let his love banish resentment over the evil things people have done to you.
When school reconvenes in January, I will be teaching our 5th and 6th Grade Theology Class some basic logic. I’ve been listening to podcasts and reading away to try to get myself ready for their questions. (Having never formally studied logic, I feel the weakness of my self-study and self-preparations. But I’m hoping I can stay at least one or two classes ahead of them.)
My confidence in this plan for our classes was bolstered this morning when I read this article by Pastor Kevin DeYoung:
In it, he not only summarizes some of the very arguments we will be studying, he concludes by stating:
“More and more, I’m convinced that one of the chief apologetic aims in our day is to get people to think. An introductory course on logic could really serve the cause of the gospel among younger generations.”
I couldn’t agree more.