Practicing Awe

Sorry for the poor photo quality, but I took this on my phone on an early-morning jaunt a couple weeks ago. The sunrise reflected on a patch of ice in a field. Definitely a moment of awe!

Sorry for the poor photo quality, but I took this on my phone on an early-morning jaunt a couple weeks ago. The sunrise reflected on a patch of ice in a field. Definitely a moment of awe!

I continue my “crawl” through the Bible, and a phrase from Jeremiah jumps out at me. It’s from the fifth chapter, in which God is reminding the Israelites they have broken the covenant He made with their ancestor Abraham. Verse 24 is but one piece of His evidence: “They do not say from the heart, ‘Let us live in awe of the Lord our God, for he gives us rain each spring and fall, assuring us of a harvest when the time is right.’”

“Live in awe!”

What an incredible phrase.

They didn’t do that.

Much of the time, I don’t either.

The consequences of their awe-less life were concrete and strong. Verse 25 reads, “Your wickedness has deprived you of these wonderful blessings. Your sin has robbed you of all these good things.”

The consequences for my oft-times awe-less life tend to be more abstract.

I have the concrete “good things”: food to feed my healthy children, a warm, snug house, enjoyable and fruitful work. A lack of awe does not always result in the gifts themselves being taken away, but we do lose some of the blessing and goodness of the gift when we do not see it as such, when we let it become commonplace, something we believe we deserve, or something less than a gift—a burden.

So, this day, I am going to practice “awe” for the gifts surrounding me in the moment. I will journal my practice. Here goes…

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As I write this, I am secreted in my bathroom, the one that has one door that opens into my bedroom and another that opens to the den. Patrick and his friend, Ben, are having a rock concert in my bedroom; Jake and his friend, Josh (Ben’s older brother), are in the den playing on the Wii. I can hear both sides.

They’re. Loud.

Much of the time I forget awe at these amazing gifts: two healthy sons with good friends, toys for them to play with when the weather is such that I can’t simply kick them outside all day, more than one bathroom (that’s HUGE!), a warm house, and bathroom doors that LOCK! Woohoo! I am in awe at these gifts of God in this very moment, and the goodness of this moment is revealed, and I can view the chaos and noise as a blessing.

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It is now ten minutes later, and I am no longer in awe.

I am fixing mac ‘n cheese and dishing up bowls for five children so they can go out and play in the snow with full bellies (and not come back in 15 minutes later because they want snacks). I’m feeling hounded by questions of “Is it ready yet?” “Where are my gloves?” and “Mom, I think I left my snow boots at school. What should I do?”

How quickly I move from awe to frustration. It doesn’t even feel deliberate. I don’t remember making the choice to get frazzled: I just slid right into it.

Choosing awe, on the other hand, requires, well, choice, requires acknowledgment of need and cries for help—and then requires the entire process again only moments later.

Awe is clearly not my natural state!

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It is now three hours later—three loads of laundry finished, three loaves of bread made, children out to play in the snow then back in (with another neighbor friend in tow), the two brothers picked up by their mother, two of mine sent to a friend’s house, one quick run up to the high school to pick up Judy, who is exhausted from all-day play practice, and snacks fed to the only two young children left in my house—and they are busy with non-destructive play—Yay! Someone actually remembered to charge my laptop after they played on it during the three-hour interim, and I am sitting down to write this—because writing is how I meditate on truths God is teaching me.

As much as I would like awe to be a constant state, it simply isn’t, and that really has nothing to do with the chaos of my family. If I lived in a monastery, and everyone around me had taken a vow of silence and peace, something would still cause me to slip from awe.

Perhaps that is actually a good thing—not necessarily the slipping, but the struggle it pushes me into (which reveals my helplessness and ends in my crying out). The battle for awe, for joy, for peace—for God, ultimately—strengthens my desire for Him. I see the contrast between awe and “regular life” more clearly as I wrestle my way back to awe time and time again. Is this what James was suggesting? That my ongoing struggles will build endurance, that patient endurance will open my eyes to see God’s “good and perfect gifts” and see Himself as the Father of lights?

Maybe? Like my struggle for awe today, all my spiritual sight is shadowed and grows clearer only in small increments.

And that is all right.

Manna and character

My oldest is now 12!!! I can’t believe it. Here she is cutting her cake while a very anxious Jake looks on.

Some roles and jobs/careers are so much a part of our lives that we have a hard time knowing what we would be like without them. Would we be different people? Yesterday I wondered what I would be like if I’d never had my children. (I have to admit that I sometimes ask this question and think, “I’d be more peaceful!”)

Maybe I would be more peaceful, but I think I would also be less flexible, more uptight, more serious in a not-good way. I’d be less aware of my own faults, less willing to seize joy in the unexpected, and less willing to expose my messiness (literal and figurative) to others.

God has given me an amazing gift for my character in the form of my children.

In any role that is so much a part of us that we can’t imagine life without it, it can be easy to forget that this role is a gift, not just a gift for others or a gift that brings enjoyment to US, but a gift that is meant to shape us and remind us.

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, gathering manna morning after morning (except on the Sabbath), they forgot that the manna was a gift. They forgot that it was the very thing that kept them alive. They forgot that the manna was teaching them some incredibly important principles:

  1. To trust God in the moment. He was already providing direction with the pillar of cloud/fire. Now He was taking it to an even deeper level and reminding them that even their daily food was a gift from His hand. Without Him, they would not survive, but He had promised to provide for them—and that promise applied to even the food they ate.
  2. To believe that God will continue to provide. The Israelites tried to do what we ALL do when we’re given a gift: they tried to hold onto it, to hoard it. They thought of it as THEIRS. But hoarding the manna didn’t work. The extra had worms the very next morning. It stunk!
  3. To be grateful, to remember it’s a gift and not take it for granted—or worse, to complain about it. God told Moses to preserve some manna in a jar. “’Let … it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” Ex. 16:32.
  4.  To be creative with what God gave them. He told them they could bake or boil, even shape it into cakes. Maybe some of the Israelite men even figured out how to grill it! God knows our tastebuds. (In Deuteronomy 14:26 God talks about celebrating the tithe to the Lord. He tells the people to enjoy “whatever [their] appetite craves.”) The manna was good to the taste already, but God gave them freedom to create other flavors with it.

That certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but I can learn a lot from just these four things. After gathering manna for years upon years, the Israelites got pretty used to it. They thought of it simply as a job they had to do every day. It gave them food. It had to be done, blah, blah, blah.

Sometimes I have the same attitude toward my roles—my gifts. Being a wife, mother, writer, tutor, friend, neighbor… These are GIFTS to me, and with each gift come lessons that are meant to make me more and more like Christ.

Lord, help me to trust You in each moment for all my roles. Help me to trust that You will never leave me on my own to accomplish the work that You’ve called me to do. Help me to be grateful for it, and help me, please, to be creative in it, to take great JOY in it. And, finally, Lord, may I be shaped through it to look more like You.