A Dear God letter

Nancy and I took a drive Sunday afternoon. In the middle of traffic on I-75, I was telling her about my current lack of emotional margin. A number of projects and issues are running in the background of my heart these days. Personal, family, work, connections. I can tell when this is happening by a simple test: how frustrating are little inconveniences?

After a bit, we focused on getting through unfamiliar streets. I thought through the projects, weighing them one by one to see what should be eliminated. None of them. And I suddenly realized that this isn’t a workload issue. This is a worryload issue. It’s not the tasks that fill my heart, it’s the implications. Or better, it’s my concern about the implications.

I smiled.

Not four hours before, we had been listening to a sermon pointing to a text about worry.

Paul is writing to a group of people he loves deeply. “Don’t worry about anything,” he tells them. But he doesn’t stop there. Which is good. Because every time someone tells me to stop worrying, I argue. Every time someone says, “It will be okay,” I argue.

Paul says, “Don’t worry about anything. Or everything. Instead, make your requests known to God.”

Later, on my own, while not driving, I took a sheet of paper. “Dear God,” I wrote. “Here’s the list of what is eating away at my heart. Promise not to show anyone?” And I wrote.

On paper in front of me, the fears were a little more real, a little more clear, a little less abstract. There was a little more peace. It could be a mind game. But Paul’s words suggest something else is happening.

“And the peace of God, which makes no sense, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”

One good thing.

Sometimes I ask people a simple question: “What’s working?” Sometimes I say, “Talk about a time when things worked.” Sometimes, when people are in the middle of confessing the sins of others, I say, “What’s good about them?”

Often when I do that, the mood shifts. People that were stuck on one side of the story begin to see the other. People who are irretrievably negative usually walk away.

I don’t ask these questions often (enough), mind you. But sometimes.

Whoever wrote Psalm 96 was all about asking those questions about God. After inviting “all the earth” to “sing a new song” to God, the songwriter invites people to talk about what God has done.

Think about the times that God has rescued you. Talk amongst yourselves. Think about the times that God has shown his hand, or left traces. Think about the sheer glory of God.

That’s how the song begins.

But some of the people I know say, “But what about the exceptions? What about the pain? What about the times that rescue never came, that no traces were evident, that glory was diluted?”

I understand.

But I think that Psalm 96 isn’t a conversation or an argument or a defence. I think it’s an anthem.

It’s the kind of song that you put on repeat while you are trying to get your heart caught up from disappointment. It’s the kind of song you play during third shift when you are looking sunrise. It’s the kind of song you play when you need to remember the framework that gives you support.

It’s the kind of song you sing to yourself.

And it’s the kind of song that needs to be heard, not read. On paper, it’s repetitious. It needs to be edited.

But out loud, in the middle of the night, it’s courage.


How to deal with bad news

Last week, I was hit with some bad news. A major change happened, and I felt like it was a huge setback. As I was lying awake in the middle of the night, thinking about it all, I remembered that God is still in charge. God still knows what’s going on. He didn’t suddenly forget about what was happening.

Cat sitting on top of flower potOne simple reminder came from my cat, Floof. What a totally amazing creature. He has thick luxurious fur that somehow sheds in the summer and thickens in the winter—automatic climate control. He jumps from the ground up to a window ledge that’s about 5 feet above the ground—to remind us to let him inside, so he can enjoy breakfast. He loves being around people and yet makes it seem like he could care less if we existed.

God created Floof. And God knows what’s going on with small things as well as big…

In Matthew 6:25-27, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”

When I get all consumed with life not working out the way I want it to, I am saying to God, “I know more about this than you do. I think you aren’t really in control.” God gently reminds me through my purring cat that He knows how to keep the universe in order. It’s not my responsibility to keep everything running. He will.

Paul Merrill writes here every first Friday.

Thinking about Jesus and Walmart.

We’re going to Walmart for retail-inspired spiritual formation?” Jane asked. “Is it a case study in what not to wear for becoming like Jesus?”

I had started talking with her about spiritual formation a couple weeks earlier.  I told her about my idea  of  building reflection about spiritual formation in visits to Target instead of visits to a classroom. What I hadn’t told her was that I knew that among some Target people, Walmart was socially unacceptable.

“So what do you think Jesus wore when he went shopping?” I asked.

“That’s the oddest question,” she said. “How could we even answer that?”

“And where, exactly, would Jesus shop?” I said.

“I have no idea,” she said. “Did he even need to shop? I mean, he could multiply fish and bread, and he could transform water, so did he do shopping?”

“At least once, his disciples were grabbing grain while walking through a field because they were hungry,” I said. “Remember when Becky was talking about that? So I’m sure that  he didn’t always do miracles for food. And he taught his disciples to ask the father for bread daily. And he regularly stayed at people’s houses for food and he never turned down a dinner and he talked often about the gap between the rich and the hungry, coming down on the side of the hungry.”

Jane was quiet for a minute. “So was Jesus actually poor?”

“He was acutely aware of the needs of the people on the edges of society,” I said. “He noticed and healed beggars. He noticed and mentioned widows. He noticed and touched sick and dead people. He noticed and celebrated children. He noticed and talked to Samaritans.”

“So did Jesus shop at Walmart?” Jane asked.

“I’m guessing he still does,” I said.

Running for a reason

I’ve tried to figure out how to do fundraising with running. Actually, I’ve wanted my running to be helpful for someone other than me. And I wanted to get something figured out for my 57th birthday in July.

Along came the #iworkoutbeCAUSE 30-day charity running challenge. Complete at least 12 20-minute workouts in 30 days and raise $150 for your charity and you can qualify for a drawing to receive $2000 for the charity.

am walkingThe workout part is easy. Nancy and I walk that much almost every day, and I’m in day 35 of a series of consecutive days of running. Many of those runs are long enough to qualify. So I’m running for Tiny Hands, International. They work to eliminate child trafficking, particularly in Nepal. (More on Tiny Hands). I’ve got an affinity for Nepal. And if you want to join on the fundraising side, I’d be grateful.

Of course, if you want to join on the running side, I’d be grateful, too. Most of my running happens alone. In the past year, I’ve had someone running with me four times. Two races, two workouts.

Part of the challenge, of course, is that I run in our neighborhood at night. There aren’t many people that run in our neighborhood at night.

I could probably ask around. I could adjust my schedule. I could ask. But I mostly just run on my own.

I’m pretty sure that if I ran with someone, an individual or a group who could encouragement to push a little harder, to go a little further, I would be stronger. And I could help them be stronger, too.

Because community is helpful for taking on hard tasks. Or even daily runs.

And maybe it’s not just about running.