Well, it’s that time of year again. That time when the hope-filled signs of Spring hint all around us; that time when we look outside and wonder what will pop through the ground first. It’s that time when we look around the rooms inside and consider the task of clearing out the accumulation of debris that has collected over the autumn and winter seasons. No? Cleaning deep into corners and under carpets? Wiping and washing away grime on screens and window panes? Culling away single socks and mitts and transparently worn sweaters and leaky boots?
No? No dusting out, shaking out, washing out, cleaning out?
Ah, cleaning house.
There are so many times when I choose to do just the cursory cleaning: a light dusting of the surfaces I see, a light sweep of the floors and quick wipe out of the sink. I procrastinate doing the larger task. Yet oddly, I always seem to look forward, even yearn to get the deep clean done. But whether it’s the thorough cleaning of one room each week, or the larger full-scale Spring cleaning, that first step sometimes seems to be cloaked as a threatening dare rather than a warm and encouraging invitation.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.
I don’t know about you, but all too often I adjourn early or postpone the Divine Deep Clean altogether rather than stick around and help clean out the gunk – even though I know I really want what’s on the other side. And then I wonder why I have to tip my ear closer to hear what He might be saying to me. Oh yes Lord, I want to hear you, but your voice is a bit muffled! Can you speak up? And in today’s day and age, I think we all want more than ever to more clearly hear. And while I definitely believe that God is speaking to us all the time whatever the condition or circumstance, I think that sometimes we occasionally, okay more often than not, need to work with Him to clear away some debris to hear Him better. Sometimes we need to clean house. And God in His goodness not only does the illuminating of those dastardly dust bunnies, but also stands ready with two buckets, mops, sponges and brushes.
But oh that step. We want it, but we don’t.
Part of the problem, I think is that we’ve been conditioned by this world to not take the step at all, in fact to do the exact opposite; taught that accumulating to insulate and protect ourselves is the best way to live the ideal of keeping unscathed, repeatedly warned to make that wall thicker if you have been scathed, beaten, battered, bruised and hurt. To refuse to do so, gasp!, to put yourself out there when you have been clobbered is just a masochistic invitation to a whole lot more hurt. Nah, it’s better to keep that brave face, keep it together, hold in tight, build that fortress wall thicker and harden that shell. Suck it up, cover up and survive. But surviving is not living, and it seems to me that it’s actually this very attitude itself that is the cruel and sadistic invitation to the whole lot of hurt, because rather than helping us to grow, it stunts us, shrouds us, suffocates and isolates us. It seems to me that this kind of outlook needs to be shaken from our hearts and minds like we shake dust from curtains, or our hands dry after washing them.
I submit that defying this attitude is the very way out of what precipitated it; reaching out to others even when we’re hurt and hurting will not draw life out of us, but with draw life back to us. When we abandon the wall-building, when we forget appearances, about saving face from the sneers of others and instead seek to share all that we have – or have left – with others; when we reach out in our own nakedness and hurt to another to tenderly clothe them in the ways we would hope could have been or could be done for ourselves; when we stand shoulder to shoulder, protect the lost, the aching, the shunned, the outcast – we are caught up in the mystery of how the unseen fills. We find that while we fill others, we ourselves are filled up to overfilling with what had previously been snatched from us in hurtful ways. And more. And as we are, our spirits agree ‘yes!’, and the more we do it, the more we want to. The filling and refilling increases and expands in breadth and width and impact, and lifts us on its current, moving us far enough away that whatever cluttered our hearts truly no longer has any hold on us.
Wishful thinking? I don’t think so. What’s more, I contend that each of us has that deeply rooted desire, that light to give of ourselves within us – even when we’ve been tragically hurt, even in the midst of it – and it serves to not only carry us out of it, but build us back up in the process. And if you can see evidence of it in others, then you can be sure that it flickers in you too, without exception. And I see the evidence. Everywhere.
Someone very near and very dear to me was very cruelly and cuttingly hurt, their tender and generously loving heart devastatingly betrayed. I mean grievously. Yet, while, yes the memory still lingers and rears an ugly head once in awhile (and I say ugly, because it’s such a contrast to the renewed beauty and brightness I have come to witness), while the struggle out of the shambles has been arduous, that deep desire to give to others, to cheer others, to reach out to others has and continues to persist. It was there even when the pain began, through its apex, and remains even now as heads lift to walk out upright. That deeply rooted desire defiantly endures and prevails, and it has brought and continues to bring freedom – freedom from the jumble into growing peace, and from that peace into living and giving outward – even as it came from a place that began as inward suffering. Joy and hope have not been snuffed out; nope, they have persisted, been recalled to memory and been revived. And the how is as creative as the Creator Himself.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Sometimes I think the Spirit helps and heals and restores joy and hope by redirecting energies to our uniquely given humble passions. In this beloved’s case it happens to be fixing beaten-up or useless cabinets that had been discarded: in devoting time and energy and focus on each one at a time, painstakingly working step by step on their renewal, and then offering them up for sale. But the real joy has not been in the transaction of the sale. No question that this too is steeped in gratitude, but honestly it really is just a bonus. The very obvious, real and lasting joy has been found in the taking something that others had discarded as worthless, seeing its potential, investing in time and resources of energy and devotion in fixing it up, refreshing it, transforming it and garnering delight in returning it to its purpose. … 🙂 …
Cleaning house with humble instruments. Cabinets. Moving within the passions that He planted; moving in and re-softening the heart, progressing from room to room to clear out clutter, to untether from circumstances that have littered each space, to shake out, to wash away grime, to reorient and rehabilitate and repair and renew spirit and soul and mind. Re-firing breaker switches of hope wired to the deeply rooted desire that connects us to Himself. Flooding the rooms of the heart with the light of His passionate delight and joy in His child and His yearning and focused desire for our inmost fulfillment. Soaking in His joy that reanimates our affections and yens. Filling the lungs of the spirit with the vigorous fresh air of His Spirit, infusing and brightening our own to do, to go out and share, offering oneself again, and again. And again.
So good Lord! Whoo! You’re just so good!
No matter our circumstance, do Joy and Hope always remain? Look carefully beloved – they do. They must, for the One Who cannot be moved created them. The One Who is both created you and soaked you in His DNA in which Joy and Hope are strands – strands that can never be broken or washed away from Himself. They are there, whether buried under the clutter, or evident when they alone remain in the room; they are there when you see them in the hearts around you, and so then in yours too my friend.
Look for them. Seize them, shake them free and live them out loud!
“.. do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”
“Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”
Soil and Seed
Doesn’t it delight and surprise you when, amidst a vast vista of concrete, steel and glass, a lone perky flower unexpectedly and bravely peaks through? It can’t help but make you smile! Even if it’s a dandelion! When you consider that all our communities, large and small, are built upon a garden of some kind, I guess it makes sense that we should see evidence of its life sprouting up once in awhile. But, what more could be under there? Have you ever wondered? Life surely bustles underneath: worms still burrow, ants still march, roots still strain and spread. There is vibrancy that whispers from below, and if we were to remove what covers, it would surely spring up with energy and enthusiasm, a fertile ground that takes in, and stretches with gleeful purpose. That little flower is but a hint to tickle our imaginations to what lies below, and its defiance to the nature of its strength.
One of the first steps we undertook in our new garden was to remove the ocean-liner of concrete slabs that cut a path through our back yard. Fledgling but fainting wild daisies that dared to slip around its fortress walls were gingerly transplanted. Hunks of concrete were heaved and removed to stacks elsewhere. No glamour here. Muscles were pulled. Mud was flung. Colorful expressions discovered. Hot, hard and heavy work! Phantoms of what had been were manifest in the bleached strip of shriveled and starved limp grass, its pale and frail roots bare to the unrelenting and blistering sunshine. We quickly pulled out the dead, liberally scattered grass seed, covered the raw wound with cool and soothing enriched soil, and saturated it with refreshing water.
Hard and heavy work too for the Gardener of my heart and soul, as he removes the weights and rigidity that afflict and burden heavy upon the growth he has nourished, upon growth he further envisions. But he has never stopped, nor ever will, working in the underneath. That little flower only hints at the much more that he wants and anticipates to carpet the world with. More. Our God has and wants more for his children. Splendiforously more. More within and outwardly to be extravagantly seeded, to be nurtured and grown, to be spread beyond in the tag-team of relationships to light up the world. If only I would agree to remove the slab to expose the effervescent glory, to absorb his much more! Thankfully, he is not one to stand aside and watch me do it alone. Nor is he one to stand on top to make it an impossible task. No. He helps. Whether the soil, the fainting flower or the limp grass beneath the weight, I can be encouraged that he is actually willing to get hot and sweaty and do some heavy lifting. But he won’t do it alone.
As we work, I can be assured that I am the love of his heart, that he is eager to lift that little bloom out from under, to uncover others ready to push upward, to scrape away the lifeless, to lavishly scatter seed for new. But for goodness’ sake, Erin, let’s lift that comfort-zone slab off of all this potential! I can choose to believe and know that he will soften and break the surface that has been hardened by my ego and pride and their thorny relatives, to uncover, to scrape away the deadwood of my own misguided doings, the misguided doings of others upon me, and my chosen reponse to their misguided doings. But for heaven’s sake, Erin, let’s get this slab of hurt, resentment, anger, fear, snap-judgements, hopelessness and faithlessness out of the way to let the sunshine in to truly heal, and render this patch fertile soil for new seed! I can choose to believe that these very difficulties are his affirmation that there is always something glorious, surprising and persistent deep beneath to be sown, watered, and ready to push through resistance in perky bloom. Will I get out of my own obstinate way to let him in?
Can I muster the strength to push aside my ego, hurt, fear and stubborn willfulness, to invite the Gardener through the gate, to survey together and to begin? Will I agree that a condition rarely stays the same but is always dynamic, and when I look back, grows into something good? His good? And when I do, will I trust his hands to bring me there, trust him to judge whether the slab needs to be gently lifted, ripped in whole away, or given a good, hard wallop to smash it into a layer of dust that serves to somehow fertilize future growth? Can I find hope that he could choose to open floodgates of tenderness and love to wash over the ossification and wear it down to powder?
Will there be pain? I don’t care for pain. I’d rather not. But have you found like me that avoiding pain only seems to prolong and actually intensify it, propagating like a poison? That it takes little to unexpectedly trigger it and send you into its dizzying spiral all over again that seeps into everything you think and do? But what if I were to turn it on its head, to use it as an opportunity to tune into a truth – that it can be a whistle and wink to the truth of our Gardener’s pure nature and heart and his desire to see a change in me? Could I lean into his heart, to agree that he wants only what is best for me, that he will accompany me through these moments into a healthier, new direction? What if I held a vice-grip on that assurance that he will face it with me, prescribe according to the condition of my condition, and take my heart into his own and move me ahead? If today is a living and breathing testament to his past work in me, I will live to tell of that day, and tomorrow will yet again. In fact, I think he delights in each moment of victory right along with me!
“Let’s do it,” whispered with unexplained and newfound determination. Erin, keep eyes on the well-equipped and deftly skilled Gardener, no matter his prescription and method. Eyes on him who grieves deeply out of love over my hardness, and to spare me its outcome. Eyes on him through the pain, and as he and I work together, uncovering the shriveled seedlings and starved roots of dormant resplendent beauty. Eyes on him as he gently removes the deadwood, soothes with the rich soil of his love, seeds with his lavish abundance, waters with his tears, and cools with his grace. Eyes on him as he softens and tenders, transplants and prods growth to infuse and spread across his masterpiece creation. Eyes on him as he rejoices with me, with us, at each interval!
“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.”
Matthew 13: 18,19 (The Message)
All the days of the poor are hard, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast.
Proverbs 15: 15 (New Revised Standard Version)
Jesus was angry as he looked at the people. But he felt very sad because they were stubborn. Then he said to the man, “Let me see your hand.” The man put his hand out for Jesus, and it was healed.
Mark 3: 5 (International Children’s Bible)