The One Where God Smacked Me Upside the Head

I grew up in a church. My family was one that was in church any time the doors were open. We were in children’s choir, youth group, puppeteering, even clowning. *** My exposure to all things Jesus included all the best Bible stories. And there were some weird ones. Daniel hung out with some lions, Jesus turned water into wine. Kind of cool. And of course I knew Jonah and the whale. Or I thought I did. And then my friend Danielle delivered me a sermon.

In case you aren’t familiar, I’ll catch you up to speed.

So Jonah was a prophet of God, and God wanted him to go to Ninevah, which was the heart and soul of wickedness. They skinned their enemies and cut out their tongues, they terrorized the countryside, and they probably didn’t even wipe their sweat off the stationary bike at the gym. They were all around bad dudes and dudettes. And God wanted them to know it. Text messaging hadn’t been invented yet, except for that one time with some stone tablets on Mount Sinai, so God told Jonah to get a move on and tell the bad guys that God was going to shake things up if they didn’t change their ways. And Jonah said no.

Here’s the part I didn’t understand. Jonah said no, not because he was afraid he would be skinned, detongued, and forced to sit through spin class in a puddle of someone else’s sweat. He didn’t want to go because he didn’t want God to forgive them.

See, Jonah knew God. He knew his goodness and his mercy and that God kept his word. And if God keeps his word, that would mean that if the bad guys said sorry and meant it, God was going to forgive them. FORGIVE THEM! And Jonah basically said in his head “Are you kidding me? God wants me to share heaven with these heathens? Yeah, no thanks!” So he jumped on board a ship to Joppa, which is, like, a gajillion miles away in the opposite direction. Because we can hide from God and all, right?

Another phenomenal BC drawing. You’re welcome.

As I sat in the sermon, God hit me over the head with a giant, soggy fish. Danielle was preaching to ME. And God and I had a chat.

God: Yo, Jonah.

Me: That’s not my name.

God: Might as well be. Hey, how ’bout handing out some of that forgiveness I’ve given you?

Me: But, they… I mean… what about… Okay, NO.

God: Seriously? Do it.

Me: But they –

God: Do it.

Me: But when-

God: *facepalm* Kid, Imma say this slowly so you can understand. You don’t deserve grace. But I gave it to you, right?

Me: Right, but-

God: You’re a sinner.

Me: I got that, but they –

God: Who forgave those sins?

Me: Um, you, but-

God: Who?

Me: You. You forgave my sins.

God: You’re a sinner. They are sinners.

Me: You got that right! Do you know what they –

God: *sigh* Let me explain it another way. You don’t deserve grace any more than they do. And they certainly don’t deserve it any less.

Me: …

God – Hello?

Me:…

God: I’m glad we had this little talk, aren’t you?

And here’s the beauty of it. I AM glad we had that talk. Because it has changed me. Suddenly, I could let go of that perceived slight. I didn’t worry over someone’s misdeeds because I, too, had been given a gift that I didn’t deserve. I fall short of God’s glory, and He gets that. He’s got grace in abundance and stands in the gap for me, and if he will do it for me in all my brokenness, who am I to stand in the way of other people receiving the same gift? So I say thanks and move on when I didn’t think moving on was even a possibility. God is good that way.

Have you ever felt like the message (from sermon, book, movie, music video, etc) was directed at you?

***Don’t knock it. We were paid $10 an hour in the 80s to don the clown suit and terrorize entertain children at picnics and such.

 

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On Stillness

So I last wrote about my church’s study titled “Unhurried,” and specifically Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” Being still and letting someone else be in charge are almost antithetical to my being, but I committed to try. And so of course the next day there was an ice-fest that resulted in yours truly being over two hours late for work.

Guess who doesn’t handle work delays with grace? If you guessed me, you’re RIGHT! I paced. I checked the roads about every ten minutes in the hopes that a warm front had melted all the ice. In the end, I had to wait for a salt truck. I don’t like not being able to go to work, but there was nothing I could do about it. Not one little thing.

This was me. For two hours.

This was me. For two hours.

When I had a desk job,  a snow day wasn’t a big deal. It was a rare project that couldn’t be put off a day or two. But zoos are different. The work has to be done. Animals need to be cleaned and fed, and if I can’t do it, it means… asking for help. I… might have a problem with that, too. I’ll work on that some other time. So today I was late. And I had to let it go.  I had to let go of not being able to drive on the roads, but also I had to let go of the worry about what my co-workers thought about me not being there. That kills me. My neighborhood is curvy, hilly, and gets more snow than the homes a half-mile away. Would people think I was slacking? And I had to accept that I couldn’t control that. And I feel like I need to go lie down after typing that sentence. I could not control it. Not my ship. Not my ship.

What do you MEAN I'm not in charge?

What do you MEAN I’m not in charge?

I let go of some other things, too. Today was good practice. When I was in a place that made me want to weep with frustration (which happened more often that I want to admit. I’m still raw from Sunday, ya’ll!), I dusted off the Serenity Prayer, reminding myself that some things don’t change. The siphon hose that refuses cooperate did the same thing last week and the week before. Why am I disappointed that it isn’t suddenly and magically different? And the siphon for the giant aquatic exhibit is going to inexplicably lose suction as I’m working.  (Siphons. I see a pattern here. Was the theme that sometimes things suck? Or things that are supposed to suck, but don’t actually suck, really suck?) So I let the water pour all over the floor rather than expecting the tube would stay in the drain. And I climbed down from the giant exhibit six times to restart the siphon. And I didn’t die from it. I didn’t exactly accept it, either. I whined and moaned a little, but I thought about it. And thinking is good. I can’t change how I see things without being constantly conscious of it.

Thank you to everyone who read, liked, and commented on yesterday’s post. Each one is a treasure. I was afraid I would be rather alone with my thoughts on this Lenten journey. Not everyone is interested in longreads on religion, so I appreciate everyone who took the time to spend any time here at all. It’s good not to be alone. And tomorrow? You get baby tortoises. See? Good trade, right?

 

The One Where I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

Today was not my first Lenten service. But it was the first one that made me cry.  I used all the tricks at my disposal when I felt the tears welling up. I quit listening to the minister and told myself a story. I stared at the floor. I counted all the spotlights over the left side of the church (16), and all the chairs in the center row that I could see without turning my head (ten across, six deep). I even went through the alphabet using the Bible verse projected on the screen (It contained 17 different letters. Am I the only one who does this?). I was mostly successful, I think.

The storm didn’t abate when I got home, either. It broke over me, and I locked the bedroom door and sat in my closet on my Bertie Botts beanbag chair (don’t judge; you know you wish you had one, too) and cried and prayed for a long time. I was blindsided by the depth of my feeling, and the kicker is, I’m not even sure what that feeling was. It was far too tangled to parse, and it wasn’t just one emotion. Anger, frustration, fear, a profound hopelessness all blended with an unhealthy mix of mystery ingredients.

And what spawned this whole mess? A Bible verse that I’ve known for a lot of years. It’s the focus of our Lenten devotions. It would make perfect sense if it pertained to sin, and guilt, and hell. Yeah, not so much. The verse? Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Not the merest whiff of hell fire therein contained.

One of the most difficult admonitions that I know of.

One of the most difficult admonitions that I know of.

Be still.” That phrase right there is what got to me, shocked me, rocked me to my very core. Be still. It is terrifying in its  simplicity. How do I do that? I don’t even pretend to know. I’ve heard this verse a thousand times. Why is it so earth-shattering now?

The verse holds even more meaning when taken in context with the verses immediately before and after. Imagine the ground crumbling into the sea, mountains imploding, the world as we know it turning literally and figuratively inside-out and upside-down. God says, even then, even in the midst of complete and utter chaos, we’re to trust Him.He’s got this. He can speak the Word, and the world will melt. That’s an image, isn’t it?

That picture of the world? That’s me, inside my head, every minute of every day for the last year or so. Inexplicable anxiety chews me up, as if I can change the world by worrying about it. My brain moves at about a thousand miles an hour, my thoughts ricocheting off one another like pin balls. Those thoughts dash away from me, leaving me empty-handed, forgetful, to the point where I am completely ineffectual as a wife, a parent, an employee, and I despair of ever getting back on the right track. What if this is as good as it gets? That thought right there is enough to send me right on over the edge, friends.

What if I just spend Lent sitting here? You can buy your own thoughtful place here.

What if I just spend Lent sitting here? You can buy your own thoughtful place here.

Stillness is not the same as paralysis. I’m often stuck in the latter, so many weird useless worries drawing together, it’s like all four of the Stooges trying to cram through a doorway at once. Things get blocked up in a jam that’s only remotely funny from the outside.  How can I be still when I can’t even seem to move forward? If I were any more still, I tell myself, I’d be going backward. I’m full of self-love like that.

Being still feels like giving up any hope of productivity. The image in my brain is a tortoise sleeping through the winter. They barely move, the very picture of stillness. I mean, they don’t even poop. Being still maybe means not dropping projects on my to-do list, but instead handing over all the things I am not actually in charge of , demanding of myself that I quit trying to steer the ship when it ain’t my ship. I am not a fan. Can I separate what is mine from what is God’s, or my husband’s, or my church’s, or my kids’? What if everything falls to bits because I take my foot off of the gas? How do I wait when I don’t trust? It’s not God that I don’t trust, it’s the humans into whose hands He has put his work. Potato, po-tah-to. Not my ship. Not my ship. Not my ship.

As long as you can't see me, I'm asleep!

As long as you can’t see me, I’m asleep!

I gave up two things for Lent: sweets, and backseat driving. The irony that I am willing to let my husband navigate the Buick without my input but I’m struggling not to micr0-manage God is not lost on me. Stillness is a foreign concept, and the notion of consciously seeking it during this season of Lent is overwhelming. Already I feel like I have no control over so many things, so how do I just turn over the reins? My honest answer: I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to try.

The what-ifs pile up, thoughts to chew on in that stillness – what if I discover my head is really just full of tumbleweeds? What if this downward spiral of mind and body is the beginning of a terrible end? What if Windows 10 is the best that Microsoft will ever do? But maybe I can counter those thoughts with the tiniest glimmer of hope. What if I didn’t have to be in charge of it all? What if I can sit in the stillness and have peace?

My thoughts are too big to fit into a single blog post. I’ve already sailed past my personal maximum and had to slide this into the long-reads category. Imagine how long it would be if I hadn’t whittled some stuff out. But this idea of stillness is just way too big. It also reaches well beyond religion, and doctrine, and creed? Stillness, giving up steering other people’s ships, might be a good prescription for anyone.

How about you? When is the last time you quit backseat driving the universe? Was it difficult or liberating? I really want to hear about your experience. You can answer in the comments, on Twitter, or just email me.