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.

Meanderings on BEING

When I read the following post to my husband (he and my mother-in-law serve as a sounding board for nearly everything I put on the blog), he responded, “I’ve never ever asked myself the questions you wonder about in this piece, but I’m assuming that if you’ve wondered it, someone else has, so, yes, post it.” I then asked him, “Do you think I’m out on a theological limb in this one–just a bit?” At that he grinned, half-shrugged, and said, “Maybe a little, but not too much.” (I’ve done some adjusting since I first read it to him, and I think I’ve moved closer to the trunk.) SO, if you choose to read on, just know I am NOT claiming this is solid theology but simply, as titled, my mind’s meanderings on my being/personhood/individuality.

It all started with these questions: If I am accepted ONLY in Christ, then does God love ME? For that matter, who am I? If I am called to become more and more like Christ, then WHO am I becoming? How can I still be ME and yet be like Christ? And WHO, exactly, is God loving? Me or Christ in me?

Scripture tells me I have no “good” in me, but it also says I am made in the image of God. I have value as God’s creation in general (like the sparrows) and, to a greater extent, because of that image.

I still wonder, though, do I have value simply in being myself?

But, wait, without God, I do not exist.

Now my head is spinning!

In Him we live and move and have our being. So is there part of God’s being in me? Well, if there is no good in me, then, no, there is no “divine” in me. God is good to His core–no, that’s not strong enough. He IS good, so not only is He never unsure about what is right-wrong/good-evil, He is never tempted to do anything that disagrees with His pure nature. Well, that doesn’t describe me at all. So what does it mean that I am “made in His image”?

I go back to my earlier statement: without God I have no being. I am NOT.

Yet I am. Even in a state of alienation from God—my pre-redeemed state—I have been given being. I am able to think and reason and love and hate and feel pain and joy.

I certainly do not FEEL like a puppet.

Nor did Jesus Christ–very God/very man–treat people as puppets. That, right there, wows me. Each person He encountered was His own creation. He could have chosen NOT to create any of them. In one sense, they were nothing more than clay in His hands.

Yet He treated each person as an individual. He treated each with respect as a human, as an individual. Even when He came down hard on a person or a group of people, it was never belittling but related to the choice they had made to set or follow their own standard/to be their own god–and they were definitely faced with the option of choosing differently. (I think of Nicodemus as a particular example of this.)

We are not only treated as individuals; we ARE so individual—down to our fingerprints, as if God is saying, “I am so big I am able to put a unique image of myself in every single one of you, and I will never have to duplicate or repeat.” (We get a beautiful picture of this in Psalm 139, in which the writer, David, imagines God being present–right there–shaping him in utero uniquely and specifically–no cookie cutter “creation” going on.)

This brings me back to my original question: Who am I? But now I realize that there are two ways to ask that question, one good and one bad. The bad way is when I am wanting an individuality/personhood that is separate from God, from being His, from being linked to Him as the Source and the Sustainer.

And isn’t that the same desire Satan had?

Lucifer wanted to be Lucifer on His own. He didn’t want to maintain his being as an angel OF God. He wanted to be Lucifer, just Lucifer. He didn’t want God to be linked to his being.

God granted Lucifer’s request. I know Lucifer was cast out of heaven, but he wasn’t annihilated. Can anything that God creates ever by truly annihilated?

So Lucifer “won,” in the sense that a rebellious child “wins” autonomy. He was allowed to separate. We see the consequences. Lucifer has lost all good. He has NO good impulses. He never creates, only destroys. He destroyed Eve–and then Adam and all their offspring–with the same temptation.

When I want to be MYSELF (and I am speaking here as one who is following Christ), am I trying to separate from Christ in me? Am I trying to fill the God-blank inside me with ME (pure self-focus). And in so doing, do I, like Satan, ironically, become capable only of destruction, never creation?

Hmm. I am imagining the “God-blank” as a sphere within our souls that has a beautiful, unique shape but which is un-filled. It is merely keeping a portion of my soul from being tainted with the selfishness/self-focus that permeates the rest of me. That empty sphere will either be filled with God or be overtaken by all the rest. In its empty state, it has no power to DO good, only to keep space for Good to enter in. When Christ enters it, His Good has power and begins its work in me, renewing me.

My mind returns to Nicodemus here: is this somehow related to “being born of the Spirit”? When I surrender and say, I am Yours, God. You work Your new creation in me, exactly as YOU want to, then am I born anew to be the ME He originally intended? So, though I am becoming more like Christ, with more of God filling me, yet He is filling me uniquely so that MY becoming like Christ is wholly different than my husband or my children or any other person becoming like Him. Together we are His body, but each cell within it is individual.

He is too great to simply duplicate Himself or even a small portion of Himself. There is TOO much of Him to ever be exhausted.

So perhaps God says to each of us: “You are YOU. Yes, you are from me, yet you are you, and the more you surrender to ME, the more you become the YOU I designed you to be. I take joy in your uniqueness because you display ME uniquely.

“When you are focused on self, you are not YOU—the real YOU is being overcome. The real YOU is completely at peace in your being my intricate masterpiece. You lose self-focus and, in so doing, become more YOU.”

All this is too big for me, but I end in awe rather than confusion because I have returned to my Creator. I place my weary, addled head on His chest; I feel His loving arms encircle me; and my spirit is reminded that He is for me.

I rest my whole being in that.