More Than These

Five Minute Friday prompt: Excuse

This morning I practiced lectio divina before I took the dogs out for a walk. From John 21, I heard “Do you love me more than these?” and “Follow me.”

It was the phrase “more than these” that really caught me.

The resurrected Jesus has appeared to his disciples on the beach after a long night of fishing. They caught nothing until he called out to them, offering instructions to switch their nets to the other side of the boat. That might have seemed crazy to experienced fishermen after so many fruitless (fishless) hours. Still, it worked. Of course it worked.

So what is Jesus asking Peter? Do you love me more than the other disciples love me? Peter couldn’t have answered that. Do you love me more than you love the other disciples? Unlikely he would stir up rivalry … the disciples have mastered that game so well they need Jesus’ help unlearning it. Do you love me more than fishing? Bingo! Because following Jesus will be harder, more challenging, more rewarding, and will cost Peter way more than fishing.

Like Peter, I’m certain Jesus knows that I love him. Like Peter, I repeat: I love you, I love you, I love you. I have followed Jesus since childhood.

But “more than these?” Hmm. What is my version of fishing, the things I could offer as excuses to not follow Jesus, or not follow as closely? What excuses do I put before him?

Anxiety. A hard day. Stress. Comfort. So many big emotions, all my drama. Other responsibilities on the To-Do list. Hobbies. Fatigue. Occasionally, even boredom. I have been around God’s house forever, have seen and done and heard it all, and sometimes it feels too familiar. Lackluster.

I can offer lots of excuses, but the real issue is this: what am I willing to put aside to demonstrate my love for Jesus more than anything else? Because nothing else measures up.

I cling to his promise: Jesus came to give life, abundant life at that. I want complete joy, overflowing love, a full life that only following him can offer.

I’m gonna make myself a note and tack it up as a reminder: More Than These.

What excuses do you make, and how do you remind yourself to put Jesus first?

Cover Image by Elsemargriet from Pixabay

Tune In

Over the last few years I’ve been learning to develop healthy boundaries around the voices I listen to.

I stopped listening to the news and read carefully instead.
I implemented care in my use of media and social media.
I made the difficult choice to walk away from relationships that had become crusty, toxic, bullying.
I also tuned out the voices that lingered in my head, refusing to have conversations with people who weren’t physically present.

And I’ve done some serious relationship work with my inner critic. I call her Grumpamonk, sometimes Grumpamonkey, because either name makes me laugh and helps me take her less seriously.

So those are the voices I’ve tuned out. I’ve also tuned in to other voices, voices that speak encouragement, motivation, justice, and love. I’ve allowed myself to feel uncomfortable when necessary for the sake of learning and growth. Even my Grumpamonk’s voice has changed her tune, surrounded as she has been by a choir of voices singing in harmony.

The most important voice I’ve been listening to? The voice of the One who sings love over me.

Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

Since Holy Week, I’ve been using the free version of the Ritual phone app to practice lectio divina several times a week. Lectio is a way of listening to the Spirit through the reading of a short Bible passage. You listen for a word or phrase that stands out, and then invite the Spirit to tell you what that particular word might mean to you. You listen to the passage three times (it’s short, so it doesn’t take long) while having a quiet conversation with God. I’ve done lectio with groups, but I’m thrilled to have this simple tool guiding me regularly at home.

During Holy Week, as I listened to the passages from Isaiah commonly called the Suffering Servant passages, I anticipated challenging words related to my sin for which Jesus died. Instead, I heard that God is pleased with me.

Other times I have heard words such as: have life, come to me, see the Son, become, and complete joy. All encouraging, all relational invitations.

This has led to a significant realization: as much as I believe that God is love and God is good and God has good plans for me, I have also expected to hear judgment. I have expected to hear that I’m not measuring up, doing my best, or living as fully as God intends. Each time I’ve been surprised to hear God’s gentle voice loving me and calling me forward because somehow I’ve been anticipating rebuke. I know God doesn’t weigh our sins on a balancing scale, but if sins could be weighed, I’m sure my bad attitudes and inactions could get heavy.

Where did my presupposition come from? How had I internalized the voice of an angry, at least annoyed, God? I don’t know, though I can guess. All the voices of spiritual leaders who have emphasized personal sin without challenging the fallen systems within which we commit those sins, wagging fingers generally and sometimes pointing directly, combined to make my humanness seem a bigger deal than God’s love. It shouldn’t need a spoiler alert: God’s love is way bigger than any word or action on my part. Or yours.

Talk about spiritual seismic activity! I’ve been following Jesus since childhood. I have degrees from a Christian liberal arts college and a theological seminary. I can teach and preach and write about God’s love from here to Jesus’ return.

Yet I’m learning anew to hear God’s voice, the voice of love, a voice I want to hear again and again. Thanks be to God.

Cover Image by CSTRSK from Pixabay

“I am Pleased…”

When was the last time you experienced God’s pleasure?

Yesterday I slipped outside to enjoy a few minutes of late afternoon solitude before dinner. I parked myself under the trees that shade our deck and opened the Ritual phone app I downloaded months ago but hadn’t yet explored. I was delighted to find a short lectio divina meditation specifically for Monday of Holy Week.

Lectio divina is a form of listening to and meditating on the Bible. If you’ve used a Headspace or Calm story meditation, it’s similar, but with God’s Word at its focus. You listen for a word or phrase that jumps out at you, something to chew on over time.

The leader read from Isaiah 42:1-7 while I gazed at the tall, strong trees. The phrase that offered itself to me: “I am pleased…” [note: other translations substitute delight for pleased]

I’ve been pondering Holy Week and Jesus’ decision to walk toward Jerusalem, as he must have known full well the painful events ahead. The betrayal and torturous execution awaiting him. He walked toward Jerusalem anyway … for love of us.

This week is hard, sad, painful. We know Easter is coming, but it’s not here yet. We can’t skip the grief for want of glory.

So God’s message of pleasure in me, his pleasure to be with me, surprised me. It wasn’t a message of suffering, for which I had been primed by the choice of a passage commonly referred to as “The Suffering Servant.” It wasn’t a message of conviction for the wrongs I’ve committed or the rights I haven’t. To the contrary, I received a message of delight in who I am and in our time together.

As the leader read the passage again, and again, I alternately watched the sunlight weave its way between the branches and closed my eyes to experience it dancing on my eyelids. I felt its warmth mingled with just a touch of breeze. I heard birdsong. I inhaled and exhaled deep, contented breaths. I replied, “Yes, Lord, I am pleased, too. Thank you.”

I experienced God’s pleasure in my mind, heart, and body. Later, the family gathered around the table for a satisfying meal. We migrated to the couches to watch a movie that had the young people laughing uproariously as I again slipped away, this time to read a book. I slept fully, not a given these days, and had pleasant dreams of waking dreams fulfilled. I awoke with a smile on my face, aware that all of this mundane and wonderful life is wrapped up in God’s pleasure.

I pray that experience of God’s pleasure for you, too.