Watching Somebody Love

“Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz

I love this line from Donald Miller’s book. Miller was talking about how some people learn to love something – like jazz music or God – because they witness someone loving jazz music or God and it moves you. You can’t argue with it and sometimes it doesn’t make sense yet the evidence is in front of you in how a person loves.

Hands holding sapling in soilA few summers ago our youth group worked with a guy named Joe while on mission in Oklahoma City. Joe was a volunteer with a food bank and was in charge of their community garden. Joe loves vegetables and dirt and compost. He loves worms and fish waste and all things organic. Joe loves sustainable living and the natural world. I bet, at Joe’s house, he powers his toaster with a bike and showers in rain water he collected in his back yard. I loved being around Joe in the garden because Joe loved the garden. When a tilapia would defecate in the water, Joe’s eyes would light up. So many beautiful, organic things happening around him.

Joe’s love for his garden made me want to garden. His love for pooping fish made me want a pooping fish. His love for vegetables made me ….  well, it was a start. By experiencing Joe’s love and passion for gardening, I was curious and even a little motivated to see if maybe this was something I could really love, too. And that, my friends, is rich soil where seeds are planted.

If we could fall madly in love with God in response to God’s mad love for us and just let that ooze out of us in every way possible, people will notice. The way we love is our most powerful witness yet Christians are often known for hate than we are love.  People who really love like Jesus are weird. People like Mother Theresa and Shane Claiborne weird. Like Jesus weird. People can’t help but watch them. And maybe these same people don’t love God. Maybe they even hate God. But they can’t argue with genuine love and when they see us loving others extravagantly and generously, maybe they will be a little curious and maybe even a little motivated to see if maybe this is Someone they could really love, too.  And that, my friends, is rich soil where seeds are planted.

Back in the Boat

Several years ago I attempted to learn to water ski. Some friends had the cabin and the connections – an awesome lady who was a professional water skier and a ski instructor. The plan came together with ease and I said yes – eager to try something to new.

Struggling to skiBut there was a big part of me that was afraid. I wanted to learn to ski but water skiing involves water apparently. I’m not a fan of water since a rafting trip went terribly wrong in 1997. I was on a youth mission trip to Wyoming and we were rafting the Snake River near Jackson Hole. My raft of youth and adults hit some the most intense rapids at the same time a gust of wind blew – flipping our boat and flinging us all into the water. Despite what I knew about using my hands to guide myself to the edge of the raft, the rapids moved the boat continuously, preventing me from getting a handle and from surfacing. When I thought I had absolutely no choice but to inhale water, I popped up in an air pocket created between the upside down raft seats. Gasping for air in that tiny space, I got my bearings. Thankfully, we all made it out fine. The only things that remain with me to this day are the memories, claustrophobia, and a fear of water. Seriously – even typing this causes a physical, anxious reaction.

Occasionally, I get the nerve to try and regain confidence in the water. This water skiing trip was one of those attempts. We boated out to a quiet cove area where the only sounds were the boat motor and my rapidly beating heart. I watched as my friends plunged into the water, strapped long, slender boards to their feet, grabbed a plastic triangle and then gave a “thumbs up” to the driver. Off we went and a few moments later, my friends stood up on the water with the elegance and grace of a Victorian lady. It was sickening and inspiring.

My turn came and everyone was handling me with kid gloves. So, I put on my bravest, most confident face because I hate looking weak. But there was not one ounce of confidence in me as anxiety flooded my heart and mind and my confidence sank to the bottom of the lake. As I assumed the position that I had seen modeled and explained, I gave a shaky thumbs up. As the boat soared away and I saw the rope straightening out in front of me, my panic rose. The tug met my arms and I knew that I simply needed to let the boat do the work and make sure I was in the right position to respond. But about half way up, the water would start spraying my face and I would panic, let go and sit back down in the water. Over and over. I could never get over the hurdle of fear. I could never trust the boat to do it’s job. I was never able to enjoy the thrill of flying on water.

God wants to take us on a ride – an amazing ride that is a transformed life powered by His grace and His Spirit. God instructs us on the right posture to take and He waits for us to give a thumbs up. Then, God takes it from there. God is the one who makes transformation happen; we just need to be ready to respond and allow God to pull us up and forward. But I catch myself giving a timid thumbs up and then, when things start to happen and water starts to spray my face, fear sets in and I let go, sinking back down to the safety of the water. I can hear God cut the motor and we both bob for awhile; God being patient with me, compassionate with me. God doesn’t give up or leave me in His wake. He waits. He prods. He asks, “Ready to try again?”

We insist on carrying around so much baggage and we try to hold onto all of it and get up at the same time. We can’t. The baggage weighs us down which is why God insists that we let it sink to the ocean floor. It causes us to fear, to give up and to let go of the rope connecting us to God. Instead, we need to let go of the fears so we can fly. We need to assume a posture of readiness, grabbing the bar with both hands and trusting God to pull us up and help us really live.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Psalm 37:3-6

Back in the boat. A few years ago I found myself back in a raft, going down the Clear Creek river near Golden, Colorado. I had taken my youth group to Denver for a mission trip and this was the fun day option for the majority of youth. I knew there was no way I could stay on land and send them down the river without me.

Some of our crew rafting on the Clear Creek.

I’ll be honest. Part of my thinking was the captain must go down with the ship. Morbid thought, I know, but if something was going to happen, I could never live with myself if I was on the shore or on the bus in a fetal position sucking my thumb. The reality was I knew although there are always risks, this was a safe, beginner CREEK and odds were very slim that anything serious would happen. So, I got in the boat …. the boat with the only adult male sponsor who was a certified EMT, lifeguard, and had enough muscles to haul me back in if I fell. I needed the extra confidence boost and Mark’s presence in my raft provided it. I won’t lie. It was a tough trip. Only one minor panic attack along the long route was a win in my book. But I did it. I got back in the boat, lived to tell about it, and made some amazing memories.

I learned something really valuable about trust on that 90 minute ride down Clear Creek. Trust had a name. It’s name was Gabe.

Gabe was blond, bronzed, full of charm and our guide. He wasn’t just any guide. He was the head guide for all our rafts. I understood that to mean he was like the quarterback on a football team or William Wallace in Braveheart. If Gabe wore a kilt to raft in, not only would no one make fun of him, they’d all be wearing kilts by lunchtime and REI would be selling rafting kilts a day later. He was confident, in charge and he was guiding my boat.

And I trusted him. If he yelled, FORWARD ONE, I rowed FORWARD ONE.  If he yelled, LEFT BACK TWO, I sat there. Because when I held up my hands and made the little “L” sign with my left hand, it reminded me I was sitting on the right side. That meant I sat there whenever Gabe yelled “LEFT”.  I trusted Gabe from the beginning but my trust grew exponentially as he maneuvered us through tight channels and around imposing boulders. Even when it looked like we weren’t going to make it or that Gabe should have yelled FORWARD THREE instead of FORWARD ONE, I trusted him. And he was right.

As I was floating down the creek, I thought about how I was trusting Braveheart Gabe more than I trust God. 

I question God a lot. He’ll yell FORWARD ONE and I’ll row BACK TWO. God will tell me to stop paddling and let Him steer us along the current and I’ll stick my big ‘ol oar in anyway and get us off course. Now we are going downstream backwards until I admit I don’t know what I’m doing and let God straighten us out again.

Gabe was there in the flesh. It was a 90 minute ride on an inflatable. Even with the possibility of death accompanied with tremendous fear from a bad past experience, it was easier for me to trust this stranger who didn’t know me from Adam for a short period of time than it is for me to trust a God who has been faithful for generation after generation. A God who was here in the flesh. A God who has experienced the certainty of death and has defeated it. A God who calls me His beloved.

Yet, I struggle to trust Him. 

For someone who struggles to trust others, I’ll gladly admit that it felt great to relinquish control to Gabe. It was refreshing not to feel like I had to be in charge or to know what to do. I listened. I obeyed. I enjoyed the ride. I think one of the biggest motivations that I had for letting go was that I knew how very little I knew about rafting. Gabe was the expert. I was not. Gabe knew this creek. Every rock. Every current. All I could see was what was right in front of me. And it was only for 90 minutes. Not a lifetime.

I tend to forget that God knows more than me. That might be a good place to start in trusting Him more. Maybe picturing Him in Chacos will help too.

Is it hard for you to trust God? If not, please let the rest of the class know your secret. For the other 99% that are honest, how do you practice trusting God? What encourages you to follow His lead rather than take the lead?

I Got This, God

Several years ago I went to a counselor for the first time because I had been struggling with depression for over a year. It took me awhile to admit I needed to see someone and it was only when things got really bad that I finally made the call. I remember clearly the first session in this nice woman’s office. I cried for quite awhile and then I said the only thing that I could say that would free me to share with her my struggles:

I just need you to know that I’m going to feel really bad about coming in here and talking about myself and not asking once about you. But I know I’m suppose to do that because I’m paying you for this time but I just need you to know that I do care about you and I hope that you are doing okay and that you have someone to go to, too.

Those were literally my first words to my counselor. She didn’t have to dig too much to discover my issues. At first blush, some might think I’m incredibly selfless and thoughtful. But the more telling piece is that I clearly have issues with boundaries and I’ll give you one guess as to what may have been a significant contributor to my emotional exhaustion as a minister.

I am a peace-maker by nature. I show love to others by creating “peace” in their lives. I’m supportive, encouraging, loving, your biggest champion, your strongest advocate – whatever is needed to help you feel peace. That is how I love. I’m a visual person and I often just see myself taking your heart in my hands to tenderly protect it, to heal it. (Really, it isn’t as freaky as it sounds. Okay – maybe slightly freaky.) If you leave an interaction with me feeling peaceful, I feel like I loved you well. If I created stress or didn’t help you experience calm or peace, then I feel like I failed loving you well.

This is an unhealthy way to determine whether I’ve loved well and there is no way I can keep it up. So, when I wear out, I struggle to love others well which makes me feel bad and then it is a vicious cycle. The other, perhaps, bigger part of it is that I’ve come to believe over the years that I am loved because of how I love. If I can’t love you well, will you still love me? Will you even like me? If my worth is in my ability to love others, then am I worthless when I fail to love well? Some people create an impostor self of being the life of the party; my impostor is the love of the party.

As is often the case, our relationships with others mirror our relationship with God. I often hold my hands up to God and say, “Don’t worry about me. You have so much on your plate. I can do it. Please don’t let me burden you. I got this, God.”  In my heart, I feel like I’m showing God the greatest love because I’m trying to ease His burdens. I can’t stand the idea of causing Someone I love stress or pain.

But I’ve realized over the years that I believe God will love me more if I don’t burden Him. It isn’t just how I show my love. It’s how I think I earn love. Could anything be further from the Gospel?

John Eagen wrote, “We judge ourselves unworthy servants, and that judgment becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We deem ourselves too inconsiderable to be used even by a God capable of miracles with no more than mud and spit. And thus our false humility shackles an otherwise omnipotent God.”

What is most ironic, I think, is that the kind of peace that I devote myself to creating and protecting in the lives of others and myself is a false peace. It is a subjective feeling of peace, a shallow peace, it is a ‘strings attached’ peace. My need to create peace keeps true Peace at bay.

God continues to teach me about His love for me and His desire to be the One that holds and comforts me. He’s also teaching me that as I trust His love for me, I will be free to love others better – with no expectations or co-dependency. Some days I believe this, other days I forget and relapse. But the relapses are part of the healing process.

A final thought from author Shauna Niequist which speaks to me each day and perhaps it will encourage you today to remember where your true worth comes from:

“When I begin the day drenched in God’s love, that centering awareness of my worth and connection to God, the day is different. I don’t have to scramble or hustle. Fear dissipates, and what I’m left with is warmth, creativity, generosity. I can make and connect and create and tell the truth, because my worth isn’t on the line at every moment.”
Let’s stop hustling, friends. Our world is in desperate need of more warmth, creativity and generosity – not at our expense but out of our abundance. That can only happen when we’ve banked everything on the truth that we are radically loved by God and His love alone constitutes our worth.