Kneeling on Needy Knees

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Neither this picture nor the one below is the one I remember from my childhood, but I found these interesting!

The work set before me

—Before all of us, I imagine—

Is that of kneeling down.

The picture in the old copy of Pilgrim’s Progress I read as a child comes to my mind

(an illustrated, much-shorter-than-the original copy!):

Christian, stumbling all the way, has finally gotten to the cross

And dropped to his knees.

And that big old lumpy pack he’d been carrying on his back

Is rolling off.

Seems to me this is not a one-time occurrence in the Christian life.

imagesI used to think it was.

One bow, real low,

And then I had to be off,

Standing tall,

Pulling on my own bootstraps and

Figuring out how to be a “little Christ” all on my own.

I think all this because I was reading Second Peter,

and I got to this verse:

“His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness,

through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

I’ve spent a lot of time pursuing godliness in my own power

And all it’s reaped me is a bitter, narrow spirit focused on myself.

But when I bend myself to the work of humility,

To the acknowledgment of my own inexhaustible bent toward self

And my inability to do a darned thing about it.

When I embrace my constant need for pardon, for help,

Oh, this confession is so wonderfully good for my soul!

Still danger lurks,

In the very act of kneeling I begin to compare my sins with another’s—

Particularly those sins I see as being against ME!—

and in doing this I unconsciously pick up the pack and stand up,

laden with its weight, knees locked against the strain.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

I’m learning it’s not a conditional statement so much as a necessity.

If I don’t forgive, I cannot humble myself,

And the burden cannot roll off my back.

My Lord will not wrestle me to the ground;

I must do this part myself,

Bend my stubborn legs,

Bow my head,

Sink low.

And let Him lift the load, lift me.

Life and godliness gifted to me

Through and by the Glory and Goodness,

The One I know best from my needy, dependent knees.

 

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Telling the Story to Myself

BT pic, cropped

A Bible Telling session with children: I’ve already told the story a couple times; the kids have acted it out; now we are creating a Way to Remember with pictures so they can tell it, too.

My work as a Bible Teller (telling the narratives of Scripture and helping others to learn them, too) means I carry Bible stories in my heart. There is obviously an outward focus to this as I tell and teach stories, but I’m finding incredible inward blessing as the Holy Spirit uses these stored stories to speak into my life. For example…

The other morning I was nursing a grudge about a situation in my life. It felt good to feed this little monster. After all, hadn’t I given enough to the person in this situation? Shouldn’t I be justified in feeling offended, feeling a little used?

I pushed the grudge off to the side (like putting a pot to the back of the stove to simmer) and listened to my audio devotional as I chopped vegetables for the crock pot. The Scripture was a story: Luke 13:10-17, in which Jesus heals the bent-over woman on the Sabbath. The leader of the synagogue is indignant about this healing and tells the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Jesus rebukes him for this and calls him and others there “hypocrites”!

I was feeling a little smug as I listened—Yeah, Jesus! Preach it!—until I heard the end of the passage: “…all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.”

Ah! All the people rejoiced at the glorious things Jesus was doing!

I suddenly remembered the grudge that was still simmering and realized, Jesus is preaching to ME! I’m frustrated by this situation in my life–but I should be rejoicing! God is at work doing some pretty amazing things in this person’s life, and I’m feeling “used” because this work of His is involving me in some uncomfortable, past-my-boundaries ways (just like the synagogue ruler was miffed that Jesus wasn’t staying within the traditional “boundaries” set for the Sabbath). Jesus isn’t following the script I have written for this situation, and this is making me anxious and upset.

And here’s where the Bible Telling—all those stories hidden in my heart—was used. One scene after another played across my mind.

First came the scene from Mark 3 in which Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. Those watching also disapprove of this healing on the Sabbath, and Jesus is angry and “grieved at their hardness of heart.” Yes! My heart was hard toward this person–and toward Jesus and his radical work!

But, right on the heels of this came the phrase from the story of Abraham putting Isaac on the altar: “The Lord will provide.” Ah, some understanding of my frustration: my sense of being “used” was based on my belief that I was the one providing. Not true. The Lord will provide. The Lord is the source, not me. I get stressed and self-focused when I begin to think I am the source. He is the source of all I need—salvation and beyond; therefore, he is the source of anything I offer to others.

Another phrase, this one from the parable of the unforgiving servant: I showed you mercy! Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant as well? This reminds me of my true place. In my current situation, it might seem I am the one continually giving, but in reality, we are both at the foot of the cross, both equal recipients of God’s great mercy.

And finally, the image of my little preschool students acting out Psalm 23, tiptoeing through their classroom, pretending to be afraid as they enter the valley of the shadow of death and then whooping and throwing their hands in the air as I proclaim, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me!” Yes, this situation has me feeling over my head, but I don’t need to fear, for you, my Lord, are with me!

All this from stories! They, too, are part of God’s Word–a very large part of God’s Word, and they are powerful and powerfully used by the Spirit!

If you have any questions about Bible Telling, please feel free to message me below! (It will come to my email account.) I love to talk with people about ways they can learn the narratives of Scripture.

The Good Shepherd

darkest valleyNext week I will teach preschoolers the story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, incorporating Psalm 23. I will use objects and songs and movements to help these little ones remember that Jesus leads them and cares for them and finds them if they get lost.

I am meditating on Psalm 23 and John 10 as I prepare for this teaching, and the pictures that keep rising in my mind are not of green pastures and still waters but of the wolf and the dark valley. I find myself singing phrases from two songs based on Psalm 23: Audrey Assad’s “I Shall Not Want” and Marty Haugen’s “Shepherd Me O God.”

These two songs are expanding my understanding of the dark valley and the wolf.

Not long ago my youngest child and I were talking about the wolf, the evil one. My child wanted to know how the evil one feels about people, specifically about him. And we talked about a depth of hatred that is beyond what we can understand, a desire for our destruction that is so great it will not be satisfied except by the complete separation of humans from all that is good and right—from God.

We talked about the varying tactics of the evil one, how at times he appears as an angel of light—as comfort and safety and self-interest and belonging—how at others he beckons with the dark seduction of power and fame and revenge. How the effects of the evil one’s deception might be more obvious in the broken families, high drug use, and violence of at-risk neighborhoods but the complacency, independence, and aloofness of well-off neighborhoods is just as much his work.

Both distract us from our greatest, deepest need. Both blind us to the goodness of God.

This past week I told the story of the Fall in church and then taught the children to tell it. “Did God say…?” the evil one asks, casting doubt on God’s truthfulness, on God’s goodness. God has lied to you, he suggests. There is a way for you to be like God, and God, being greedy, does not want that. He wants you stupid and grateful and content in not knowing what you lack. He has tricked you.

We have believed this lie ever since. It has its many variations—for the evil one is forever subtly and craftily undermining the goodness and trustworthiness of God toward us.

In the prayer of St. Francis, these lines appear: “O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console/to be understood as to understand/to be loved as to love.” I see these same ideas in Assad’s “I Shall Not Want.”

From the love of my own comfort/From the fear of having nothing/From a life of worldly passions/Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood/And from a need to be accepted/From the fear of being lonely/Deliver me O God/Deliver me O God

From the fear of serving others/Oh, and from the fear of death or trial/And from the fear of humility/Deliver me O God/Yes, deliver me O God

The needs identified—for comfort, provision, passion, understanding, acceptance, belonging—are good. They are among our deepest desires. It is these needs the evil one taps into, magnifying and twisting them. We cannot, do not trust God to fulfill these needs. He is either not big enough to or not good enough to want to. He is not the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. So we must take matters into our own hands; we must prize our own needs above those of others; we must lose our good sense of smallness—as one among many created in the likeness and image of God, as one of many, many beloved sheep. We leave the fold and strike out on our own.

We cannot, will not trust the perfect love of God to provide our needs and wants, and, ironically, only that perfect love drives out the fear that keeps us from trusting.

And this brings me to Marty Haugen’s song “Shepherd Me O God,” with its chorus that puzzled me the first time I heard it: Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants/beyond my fears, from death into life.

Beyond the shallow wants that distract me from my deepest needs.

Beyond the fears that blind me to true goodness and faithfulness.

It is in the “beyond” that we are fully satisfied.

And it is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who takes us there.

The chorus of Assad’s song looks to this “beyond.”

And I shall not want, no, I shall not want/When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want/When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want

Our Good, Good Shepherd did not abandon us to the wolf but laid down his life for us, so we could be his own, could be his known sheep who know him, who live in his goodness and in the fullness of life.

And in this life, there is no want.

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside still waters;

He restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths

For his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil;

For you are with me;

Your rod and your staff—

They comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

In the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Forever.

O God, make haste

I’m struggling with worry right now. On the other side of this move, with some things settled (like Dave’s teaching position), other things are still very much up in the air: a job for me that brings in more income but still allows me to homeschool Em and “mom” my kids well; Em’s schooling—is this the best path longterm?; soccer and friendships for the kids; church; adjustment to a decreased budget…

I finger all the strands in my mind, till it’s simply a snarled mess and I’m hopelessly tangled in it.

In very low moments, I ask, “Are you there, God?”

In other moments I know He is. I remember His faithfulness, the fact that he has never, ever failed, that the darkest moments of the past have then turned into seasons of watching and marveling at the creativity and goodness of God.

I feel like I’m cycling through the lament psalms, repeating the psalmist’s rhythm of despair/crying out/remembering God’s faithfulness/hope.

By the time I get to the remembering part, I’m ready to dump my entire snarled mess in God’s lap. “Please take this. I can’t do it. I can’t figure this out.” This brings relief, because his lap is large, big enough to hold me as well as my mess.

But, just a day or two later, sometimes only a few hours later, I find a fresh snarl of yarns in my head and the cycle begins again. Who knew my mind could gather fluff so quickly and spin so much so fast!

God has used my neighborhood to help shred my worry web, to help me move past myself to others. When I get out and about in the neighborhood and pass mothers waiting at bus stops, holding children on hips, others by the hand, I think, How many of them are running a rat race that feels hopeless? How many are working minimum-wage jobs, trying to feed and shelter a family on $350 a week, with childcare swallowing up a huge chunk of a paycheck? And, comparing these struggles to my current light-in-contrast worries—which I’m flattened by pretty easily—I wonder how long it would take before the hopelessness of that kind of grind would wear a person into the ground.

My husband’s work also shapes my perspective. The other morning he got a text from one of his student’s mothers, asking if Dave has heard from her son, that he ran away the night before and she’s hoping against all the fear in her heart that he shows up at school, that he hasn’t succumbed to some gang that’s promising him belonging, that he’ s not using, that… oh, the darkness that can swallow up all our hope.

And so my prayers change, and when I say, “O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us,” I do not have just my family in mind but my neighbors, my city, beyond.

As I recite Psalm 143, I imagine myself standing before God linked hand-in-hand with a long line of people: “Hear (our) prayer, O Lord, and in your faithfulness give ear to (our) supplications; answer (us) in your righteousness.”

And for those who are so burdened they cannot even whisper the words, whose heads are bowed low, whose knees are week, I change the singular pronouns to plural; I speak louder; I raise my voice: “Our spirit faints within us; our heart within is desolate. We stretch out our hands to you; our soul gasps for you like a thirsty land.

“O Lord, make haste to answer us; our spirits fail us; hide not your face from us lest we be like those who go down to the Pit. Let us hear of your loving-kindness in the morning,

For in you we put our trust.”

Working through poopy

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Em’s lettering–and Em’s photography (I think she’s amazing!)

My friend B calls it “working through poopy.” I think it’s a very accurate description. I worked through a little bit of my own poopy this morning: some jealousy, the desire to be noticed more/sought out more, some self-pity and fear and insecurity…

I’ll stop there.

After I spilled it all out in my journal, I felt better: ready to pray, ready to confess, ready to be grateful for the oh-so-much that has been gifted to me.

But God had one more step, one more gift.

I got up from the bench in the park where I’d been writing (so Chai [dog] could be outside) and noticed another woman entering the gate. She, too, had a dog. We exchanged pet names and then our own. In the chitchat that followed, we discovered we are both writers and the chitchat became conversation, with the shared language that comes with a shared vocation and shared concerns/frustrations/struggles/fears.

It was time for both of us to go, and as I walked toward the gate, I remembered, again, that we all—not just my fellow writer and I—are working through poopy. We’re all wondering about our purpose. We all want to be seen/known. We all struggle with identity. We all have very deep fears.

The second half of the St. Francis* prayer came to mind (another gift, that St. Francis!): Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

 

*Technically this poem is “attributed to St. Francis.” Here is the full text (also seen in the picture above):

“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Moving grief–and greed

I wrote this piece a week or so before we closed on our house, but Dave (husband) told me I couldn’t post it till after we were completely out of the house! 🙂 Seriously, though, despite my awful thoughts during the selling process (which you’ll read about later in this post), we do hope and pray the very best for the new owners of our old home. 

I wouldn’t normally consider greed as one of my besetting sins.

But when we decide to move, and we begin the process of selling our home…

the green-eyed nasty comes out.

I get insulted by offers that are lower than the asking price; I want to quibble (I don’t actually do it, but the impulse is there) over the inspection results; I begin to think of the homebuyers as “those people.”

Case in point: Two weeks ago, when we got an offer on the house—and it was a good one and such an answer to prayer—my first response was greedy.

Dave, very excited, got off the phone with our realtor and turned to me. “We’ve got an offer!”

He was ready to rejoice, but I wanted to know the amount. He told me.

My first words?

“That low?”

Dave wasn’t even mildly surprised. He laughed and called me out. “You get so greedy when we sell a house.”

Yes, I do.

And even though I try to fight it, it’s a constant all through the process. When the home inspection report from the city comes back, I say things like, “Shouldn’t the inspection report from when we bought the house have revealed this?” (What I’m leaving unsaid are these words: “…so the previous homeowners could have paid for the repair?”) When, during this current home-selling process, we got the request from the owners to provide two working garage door remotes, I said, only partly joking (I’m embarrassed to even admit this), “Someone told me that if an automatic garage door opener isn’t on the house listing, you can just unplug it and say it’s a manual.” Dave just stared at me after that one.

Every time this greed rises up like bile in my mind or actually vomits out my mouth, I’m appalled, and I try to figure out where it’s coming from (as if it simply can’t be a part of ME!); I pray about it; I try to talk myself out of it; I remind myself how really awful it is. After all, in this current sale, our home was on the market only two weeks—incredible!; the offer was good to begin with; when our realtor countered, the homebuyers accepted it; and their “fix-it” requests have been minimal. Knowing all this, I ask myself, “Jen, what is wrong with you?”

About a week after we sold our house, I was reading the novel Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (fantastic book, by the way) and I came to a line that was so good, so applicable, it made me stop and put the book down. The narrator of the book, John Ames, a pastor, is reflecting on the long, lonely years following the death of his young wife and their only child. In particular, he is remembering when, during that time of singleness, he christened his best friend’s child. He said the correct words, he blessed the child, but his inward thoughts were quite different.

“…my heart froze in me,” he wrote, “and I thought, This is not my child…”

The line that follows that statement is the one that made me set the book down.

“I don’t know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else’s virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it.”

Oh.

Yes.

There is a grief in moving. I am leaving behind friends whom I love, neighbors whose stories I’ve learned, a house which has been a home, memories of Dave and I and our four children and our two international girls becoming a family…

…and there is a part of me that is flat-out jealous of the new homeowners. This right here is so good, I think, and what is ahead for us is so unknown that I’m simmer-level jealous of these people who are moving into what we are sorrowfully—though willingly—leaving behind.

I am, in John Ames’ words, taking offense at someone else moving into the happiness I’ve experienced here.

To be honest, I think there’s a good dose of penny-pinching, old-fashioned, straight-up greed involved as well.

So confession is in order; repentance is in order; but also in order is acceptance of the forgiveness of God.

Because it is in times like this–when I see some of the twisted nature of sin, its stem reaching deep into self-focus, its branches weaving through hurt and fear–that I remember I need absolution from Another, that there is no way I can ever pluck something like this from out of my heart.

A few days after I read the passage in Gilead, I read a section of Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz Weber, a Lutheran pastor, in which she was writing about this very thing. Forgiveness, she said, is not like a dry erase board that we are frantically trying to keep clean so God will be happy with us. Rather, it is freedom from the bondage of self, wrought for us by Christ, who is fully aware of our deep sinfulness, more aware than we ourselves are.

We need to know this truth about forgiveness, she says, and then she writes about the Maundy Thursday practice of individual absolution. In it she lays her hands on each congregant’s head and pronounces, “In obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I proclaim to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, Amen.”

Jesus—not my efforts or repentance—sets me free from my sins, so that I may, as the prayer of confession says, “delight in (his) will, and walk in (his) ways, to the glory of His name.“

Amen!

Guest post: Clay

Sus's bowlThe theme of the potter and the clay is a popular one in Scripture. Isaiah and Jeremiah both used it, as did Paul in Romans, and many have learned from and written about the metaphor. My friend Susanna, a nurse, missionary with Kids Alive International (the link is to her missionary page on the KA Int’l website), artist, and oh, so many other things, just wrote about clay on her blog, and I asked if I could share her piece through my blog. (She said yes!)

Susanna's bowlSusanna is a wonderful potter (the pictures with this post are of a bowl she made and gave to me), and what jumped out at me in her piece was her perspective on the potter’s attitude toward the clay. Many of the Scripture passages emphasize the truth that we, as the clay, should accept the potter’s intent. Susanna, whose journey to the mission field has been challenging and circuitous and downright hard at times, does write about this aspect of the metaphor, but she also talks about these passages from the perspective of the potter. Working with clay brings joy to Susanna. She loves crafting even the simplest pieces. Working AND reworking the clay brings her satisfaction, and she assumes the Potter feels the same!

The potter took what was spoiled and made it into something else. Not only did he take the time to do it, but he found it good to do. It wasn’t a hassle or pain. It was a process that the potter took delight in. I know that it is in the process of creating a piece of work that I take such enjoyment and I must be reminded that the great Potter enjoys the messy process that I am.  

Click HERE to read the entire piece.

 

 

Let me let you

dry flower 5Normal morning, but my boys’ running around/picking at each other/roughhousing scraped my nerves way more than usual, and I shot sparks like a cat whose fur has been rubbed backwards. “Can’t you take it outside?” I grumped. They subdued—momentarily. Then it all repeated, and I hollered, and they finally settled—sort of.
But my nerves were still prickling, and I could tell it wasn’t going to take much to set me off again, so after rough pecks on my boys’ cheeks and gruff reminders: “I still love you even when you’re driving me crazy, even when I fuss,” I pulled out Jesus Calling (the kids’ version) and read it aloud to all of us.
I could have stopped after the verse: “Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you,” but the second paragraph amped up the lesson with this: “…you may be tempted to go it alone. But that is when you are in the greatest danger. The evil one is waiting for you to let your guard down, to step away from My protection. Ask My Spirit to help you every step of the way—during hard times and easy
times.”
The kids’ ride pulled up as I read the last sentence, and they rushed out the door, and I turned to all the tasks that must get done this morning before I can sit and read and write—the other tasks that must get done before I pick up dry flower 2the kids from school and another sort of tasks begin.
I’d forgotten the lesson already. I hadn’t given it even a second to soak in, to penetrate my mood and my heart.
I zoomed from fridge to stove to sink, moving quickly, my thoughts zooming as well till I suddenly realized where my thoughts had gone.
I was bringing up little ways I felt slighted by people in my life. I was revving up to have a good old pity party, a time of “woe is me” while my physical movements would only get faster and I’d be left feeling worn out but also itchy.
Does anyone else do that?
The Spirit brought me up short—I know it sure wasn’t me—and I recognized what I was doing. Still I resisted.
Then this phrase jumped into my mind. “Let me let you rest.”
“Let me let you”?
dry flower 4The phrase stopped me. I got the first part: “Let me…” Yes, I was being stubborn. I needed to stop and let the Holy Spirit do Spirit work in my soul.
But the second part? “…let you”?
I left the kitchen, looked up “let,” and found these definitions:allow to, permit to, give permission to, give leave to, authorize to, sanction to, grant the right to, license to, empower to,enable to, entitle to.”
I bolded the ones above that made my shoulders and my will relax.
Let me let you rest.
The tasks still await me. But though my hands may be busy, my heart can be still.
I have been allowed, permitted, granted the right, empowered, enabled, and entitled to rest in the Presence of Christ.

More on “Rest”

NOTE: A few weeks ago, I posted this piece about the word “rest” in the book of Ruth. In the last week, I’ve encountered two things that have really resonated with me regarding that topic: 1. a quote from Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471); and 2. a song from church this past Sunday. Hope these are encouraging. ~Jen

  1. If you are constantly in search of this or that, wanting to be anywhere but where you are, believing that you will be happier having more or being somewhere else, you will never know peace, never be free of care. In everything and every place you will find something lacking. Adding things to your life, multiplying them, will not bring you peace. Only be cutting back and breaking their control over your life will you find peace. This applies not only to money and riches, but to the desire for honor, for praise, and for an undemanding life. Don’t desire what you do not have. And do not cling to anything which stands in the way of your freedom in God. Thomas à Kempis
  2. “Restless” by Audrey Assad and Matt Maher. Click on the title below to listen to Assad sing this song. The lines that spoke most to me are these: “I’m restless ’til I rest in you” and “Without you I am hopeless, tell me who you are/You are the keeper of my heart.”

RESTLESS

You dwell in the songs that we are singing

Rising to the Heavens, rising to your heart, your heart

Our praises filling up the spaces

In between our frailty and everything you are

You are the keeper of my heart

And I’m restless, I’m restless

‘Til I rest in you, ’til I rest in you

I’m restless, I’m restless

‘Til I rest in you, ’til I rest in you

Oh God, I wanna rest in you

Oh, speak now for my soul is listening

Say that you have saved me, whisper in the dark

‘Cause I know you’re more than my salvation

Without you I am hopeless, tell me who you are

You are the keeper of my heart

You are the keeper of my heart

Still my heart, hold me close

Let me hear a still small voice

Let it grow, let it rise

Into a shout, into a cry

“Restless” words and music by Audrey Assad and Matt Maher, © 2010 River Oaks Music Company, Thankyou Music, Valley Of Songs Music

REST

flowers on asphaltA few years ago, the pastor at the church we were then attending preached through the book of Ruth, and I got fixated on one word.

REST

I studied the word; read commentary on the Biblical passages where it appeared; and talked one of my friend’s ears off about it during our morning walks.

Let me review the context of that word in the story. Naomi, the mother-in-law, has lost her husband and both her grown sons while she is living in a foreign country. She tells her foreign daughters-in-law she is returning to her homeland, Judah, and instructs them to stay in their own country, where she hopes and prays they will each experience rest in the home of a new husband. One daughter-in-law, Ruth, refuses to let Naomi return to Judah alone and joins her. Back in Judah, the two women struggle to survive until Ruth catches the eye and heart of a wealthy landowner named Boaz who “just happens” to be one of Naomi’s relatives. Naomi then tells Ruth, “My daughter, shall I not seek rest or a home for you, that you may prosper?”

Naomi, sure Boaz will say yes, sends Ruth to propose to Boaz, and the two are married, giving both Ruth and Naomi the rest Naomi prayed for.

The commentary I read on “rest” in Ruth focused on either the rest we find in relationship with Christ (because the story is a beautiful picture of the Gospel) or the rest/security God wants husbands and wives to find in marriage.

All beautiful stuff, but somehow it felt incomplete for me, as if there was something more I had to learn.

Yesterday all my wonderings on “rest” came rushing back. I was reading The Healing Presence by Leanne Payne. Chapter 12 discusses the idea that when we are able to truly believe in God as REAL and all He says He is, we are also truly able to live as His creations. We let go of the idea that we can create or figure out our own selves, and we are set free to focus on God and on others—to turn our gaze outward rather than inward. Payne says we are then “free to be.” The phrase that popped into my mind was this: we are free to REST.

One paragraph in particular made me think specifically of Ruth and Naomi:

To be is to experience life firsthand, to live in the present moment. The person who has the disease of introspection, who thinks painfully, constantly, and in circles about life, lives always in the painful past and for the future. In this way, he squanders his present by trying to figure out a more secure or less painful future. The future, of course, never arrives, for it is in the present moment that we “live and move and have our being.” (p. 192) 

Rest, I thought, is freedom from what Payne described. Rest is being secure not in the moment/circumstances but in the One who holds the moment and circumstances. This is true rest.

Oddly enough, though Naomi prayed for rest for Ruth, the person who really needed it was Naomi herself. Ruth seemed to be one of those rare people who have the gift of “being/resting” even in painful circumstances. When we read her story, we see evidence that Ruth was at rest even in the pain of her widowhood, even in the pain of living and journeying with a sorrowful, broken Naomi, even in the uncertainty of living as a vulnerable foreigner in a strange land. She lived fully right in her present moment.

Naomi, though, was living in her painful past, as described in Leanne Payne’s paragraph above. She was focused on creating a different future because the present was unbearable. She even changed her name to reflect this. When she returned to Judah, her former friends were shocked by the change in her appearance. “Naomi?” they asked, making sure it was still the same woman they’d known so many years before.

“Don’t call me that,” she said. “Call me Mara.” “Mara” means “bitter.” Who can blame her? She’d lost her husband and both her sons. I cannot even imagine that kind of pain. My heart breaks for Naomi. So much had been taken from her.

But in the midst of her loss, God shone the light on an incredible gift she’d already been given: Ruth.

Ruth helped Naomi walk into rest, into grasping neither the past nor the future but in being in her present time and circumstances. I’m sure Naomi never returned to being the woman she’d been before she lost her husband and sons–she wasn’t meant to–but she was no longer held captive by her sorrow. She was able to rest in the present, experiencing its joys, knowing its gifts, “living, moving, and being” in her timeless Creator.