The Thin Places

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  

Recently, my husband told me that he had sort of adapted the Jesus prayer.  He told me he had been moved to pray instead, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, your loved one.” 

I don’t really remember having much of a conversation about it at the time, but I will say that his adaptation seeped into my prayer language over the next few weeks.  I hadn’t necessarily been praying the Jesus prayer regularly but his version, the one in which I was speaking words of life into my own heart, became a bit of a drum beat in my soul as I moved through my days. 

Lord Jesus Christ, 

Son of God, 

Have mercy on me,  

Your loved one. 

That small and seemingly insignificant shift in focus started a shift in me.  What would it mean to live my life more focused on the good work God was doing in me, through me and with me, and less focused on all the things I’m not, all the weights and sins I haven’t conquered?  What would it look like to give my sinfulness a ride in the backseat while my belovedness drives for a while?  

In college, I really got interested in theology.  Not God Himself, so much, but rather the studiable, understandable, quantifiable attributes of God as put forth by Manyoldwhitemen.  I read a lot about God and rather enjoyed thinking about myself as a serious student of God.  None of this helped me to know God, unfortunately.  It did, however, help me to become arrogant, empty and disappointed.  Because, you see, I wanted to understand God so that I could control Him, or at least control my circumstances.  I developed a borderline obsession with reading the right Oldwhitemen and using their vocabulary and being familiar enough to have an intelligent conversation about this doctrine or that way of raising children or being married or stewarding resources.  I wanted to look and sound and act like the Christians I idolized.   

But none of that information gathering and Bible thumping taught me how to know God or how He meant for me to live and move in the world. 

Suffering did. 

It wasn’t until I lived a little bit of uncertainty that I started to get comfortable with a God about whom I couldn’t always be completely certain.  It wasn’t until he met me in the places where life was wearing me thin that I really began to know who He was. 

New town, no friends, no idea how to make any with two babies and an unreliable Ford Taurus. 

Long hours, many toddlers, husband working many jobs. 

Married young, both of us dumb and very self-centered. 

Over drafted checking account, 10 days from payday. Again. 

Is this depression?  Do I need medication?  Do you?  This can’t be normal.  Tell me this is not normal. 

Caring for another mama’s child for months, giving her back, uncertain of the future for any of us. 

Miscarriage. 

Marriage is hard.   

New baby, new darkness, new loneliness, failure, regret, new dread at each sunrise. 

These worn-through places where I was stretched to near breaking were where the Light ultimately broke through.  I found a community of women who were nothing like me.   They were nothing like the far-off pictures in my head of the women I had idolized.  They were hard working, truth telling, hands-and-feet-of-Jesus women.  They laughed without fear of the future, and they changed me forever.  Knowing these women and letting them know me has helped me know God because I heard his words on their tongues and I felt His presence when they prayed and prophesied the darkness out of my life.   They taught me about my belovedness in the ways they met my needs with food, spiritual and physical.

One night during that awful period of depression after my baby was born, my friend knocked on my door knowing full well I didn’t want to see her.  She risked rejection and embarrassment to elbow her way into my house that night after I had ignored her calls and texts for days because she knew I needed her, even if I didn’t.  She set in motion the cascade of events that led to my deliverance and healing and I know God better because I know her.  Another woman knew how physically depleted I was and juiced a half gallon of fresh vegetables for me every other day until I could see in color again.  Another friend arranged for my 3 big kids to have a ride to and from school every day for the entire year.  She will never know what a gift that was when I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to plan or execute a carpool. They gathered me up under their wings like mother hens and I know God better because I know them.  And again, I was beloved by God and believed it because of their tender care.

Time after time, God has met me in suffering. Not so often in my planned Bible studies or evangelism time, not so often in my long-winded speeches about what is right and wrong and who was in or out.  No, he met me in weeping, in raising up to try again, in learning to reach for the light when all I can see is dark and learning to whisper his name when the wind is knocked out of me again.  

I do not welcome suffering by any stretch, nor do I use any of what I have learned from it to try to justify the suffering I see around me.   

Instead, I am learning to see the suffering of the weary world as an invitation to look for those thin places where light breaks through.  I am tempted to turn away when I am faced with intense suffering, especially when I know I can’t fix it.  I know you are, too.  But what if the way to know the heart of Jesus is to be willing to walk the way of suffering, wherever it leads and for as long as it takes?  No sermons to preach, no judgments to cast.  Just a simple, abiding presence and persistent engagement.  I can’t fix our immigration system, but I don’t have to bury my head in the sand.  I can give my money to an organization like RAICES that is providing legal representation to families affected by zero tolerance policies.  I can’t solve global poverty, but I can engage with it by purchasing Christmas gifts from organizations like Preemptive Love that partner with people in Iraq and Syria, teaching them to make marketable goods to sustain their futures.  These small acts do little to change the world, but they do change me, call me to pray and invest my heart. I am neither all-powerful, nor altogether powerless.  Belovedness begets belovedness on and on forever, amen.

There is a subgroup of Christians who tend to get a little nervous when conversations turn to social justice.  These people are my dearly loved brothers and sisters and I hesitate to hint at criticizing them.  If my former life as a know-it-all taught me anything, it’s that I can certainly try hard to be right and get a lot of really important things wrong.  But.  What if Jesus really meant that the way we treat asylum seekers is the way we are treating him?  What if the Biblical texts instructing us how to treat strangers and sojourners are really the ones we are supposed to apply literally and without question? If God meets us in our suffering, aren’t we safe to assume He is present in the suffering of our brothers and sisters, near and far?  And if our thin places of grief and suffering are the places God breaks in and transforms us, how much more transformation will we know if we stop steeling ourselves against the suffering of others, and learn to engage with it right where we are with just what we have?  What if the first really are last and the last first and all this justification and posturing is as counterproductive as it feels?  He is near to the broken-hearted, the binder of wounds, the One with the bottles full of tears.  To be near to the suffering is to be near to him, to join Him in His ministry of bringing good news to the poor is our greatest honor.  If we love Him, we will feed His beloved sheep. In this presence of God practice of moment by moment making declarations of our belovedness and theirs by our words and our actions, the upside down is being turned right again and we get to see the Kingdom is coming.

 

You, O Jesus, are not disquieted 

by such news of cruelty and terror and war.   

you are nether anxious or overwhelmed.   

You carried the full weight of the suffering 

 of a broken world when you hung upon 

 the cross, and you carry it still. 

When the cacophony of universal distress  

unsettles us, remind us that we are but small 

 and finite creatures, never designed to carry  

the vast abstractions of great burdens, 

for our arms are too short and our strength 

is too small.  Justice and mercy, healing and  

redemption, are your great labors.  

And yes, it is your good pleasure to accomplish 

 such works through your people,  

but you have never asked and one of us 

 to undertake more that your grace will enable is to fulfill.  

guard us then from shutting down our empathy 

or walling off our hearts because of the glut of  

unactionable misery that floods our awareness.   

You have many children in many places  

around this globe.  Move each of our hearts  

to compassionately respond to those needs 

 that intersect our actual lives, that in all places 

Your body might be actively addressing  

the pain and brokenness of this world,  

each of us liberated and empowered by  

your Spirit to fulfill the small part  

of your redemptive work assigned to us. 

Excerpt from A Liturgy for Those Flooded by Too Much Information 

Every Moment Holy, 2017