Sunday, April 20, 2014

Widow's Weeds

"Don't grieve that it's gone, wonder that it was. 
Laugh that you lived and dance that you dared. 
Inhale that it happened - and it was grace."
Ann Voskamp

Last week, someone told me that God wanted to bless me in so many ways, but that I was resisting receiving from Him. They challenged me to press in and ask Him to show me where my resistance was. And He did.

When I first became a Christian, God placed me into a church that was like an incubator for my weebly, newborn self. God always seemed so near back then. So obvious. And He surrounded me in people who poured into me - love, teaching, encouragement, belonging. I had never in my life experienced feeling peace or safety, yet there it was. Things were definitely not perfect, but that time was precious to me and I made many memories.

When the time came to leave and go to another church, I did not want to go. He was clear, but I white-knuckled my home church's doors for about a year. Then I straddled both churches for another year or two. Eventually He made me an offer I couldn't refuse: He told me, "If you let go and leave it all behind, I will give it all back to you...and even more." And so I took a deep breath, let go and went.

And now it is almost 3 years later and it seems I haven't seen the fulfillment of that promise. And the longer I wait, time has begun to tint those sweet, early years even more golden than perhaps they were. Just like the Israelites who were initially so eager to leave their slavery in Egypt. After a few weeks of eating manna, they started remembering the "glory" of Egypt. They had meat! They didn't have to walk all day! Life was so good!

I have always has a very nostalgic personality. When I have a good experience of any kind, I carve out a sort of hollow in my heart to make a space for it because it is precious to me and I want to keep it close. And I revisit it from time to time. But when changes come and that thing is no longer there, instead of being grateful for what was, I feel sad for what is no longer. And nothing new, even great things, seem to satisfy. They seem more a disappointment. Because I am fixated on what I feel I have "lost".

I realized I had created that hollow in my heart for What Was those early years of my life with God. And in my head, I know He can fill that space with What Is and What Will Be. But I think God showed me I have blocked off that hole in my heart with yellow caution tape that reads, "Reserved for What Was Only". I didn't want to open that space up to new things because what replaces it would be different. And my heart assumes that means not as good.

I once saw an episode of What Not To Wear, the reality show where someone nominates a person for a head to toe makeover. In this particular episode, the selected person was a young woman who had lost her husband several years before. Very beautiful, but overwhelmed by the loss, she shut down and stopped caring for herself. She had long hair, out-of-style glasses and frumpy clothes. With the help of the show's makeover team, she had picked out new outfits and gotten great makeup tips. But when it came to the haircut, she put up a fight. Increasingly frustrated, they said to her, "What is the big deal? Just let us cut your hair! If you hate it, it will grow out!" But she began to cry. As she held on to the ends of her now long hair, she said, "He was alive when this hair was at the top of my head. He ran his hands through my hair. That means, this hair right here, he touched it. If I cut it off, all the rest is new hair. Hair he hasn't touched."

I am not sure who cried more: the woman, the hosts or me. She didn't want to let go of this last crumb she had of his presence. But because she was holding on to the past, she had no free hands to grab ahold of the future. She was stuck.

I realized I have been living like a grieving widow wearing black clothing, or "Widow's Weeds" as they were called. So trapped in the memories of what I had that I wasn't open to the next thing God wanted to give me.

So, I had a funeral. Literally. I wrote down all the things I missed about my past. And then I said goodbye. I buried the list in my garden and planted a beautiful plant above it. Then I asked Him to open my eyes to see the new provisions He has coming for me.

Rob Bell did a video that speaks to this very topic and says it much better than I ever could. Here is the transcript:

"I ran into this guy recently that I knew in college. And he started telling stories about this person and that person, and 'Remember we went here?' and 'Remember that?' and 'Remember when that happened?' and he's getting more and more excited. And partway through our conversation I had this thought: 'That was years ago!' It seemed in some way as if he's still back there, like he never left. As if those were the best years of his life.

"There's this fascinating interaction in one of the accounts of Jesus' life. It's right after he's been resurrected. It's the central event in human history. It's the event at the center of the Christian faith. And Jesus has just risen from the dead and the first person He sees is Mary Magdalene. And He says to her: 'Don't hold on to me.'

"The first thing Jesus does after being resurrected is He tells someone not to hold on to him?

"Perhaps a little background would help. In the book of Luke, it says that Jesus had this group of women who travelled with Him and supported Him and that they learned from Him, and they were actually the ones who paid His bills out of their own pockets. And it's written that one of these women (her name was Mary Magdalene), that she had had seven demons but Jesus had delivered her from them. Wait, seven demons? I mean come on, this is one of those passages that I could use a little more information here! But whatever it means, it's safe to say this woman has a story.

"Her life has been drastically transformed because of this Jesus that she's met. She owes Him everything. I mean imagine spending that kind of time with someone and then watching them killed on an execution stake? No wonder she stays around after everyone else has deserted him. And then she's the one who comes to the tomb a few days later and finds out it's empty, and so she goes looking for the body. And she's the one who's in the garden looking for the body when she runs into this man who she thinks is the gardener. And then all of a sudden she realizes it's Jesus! And He's alive! And He's back! And so she goes to embrace Him and he says 'Mary, don't hold on to me.'

"I mean, wait, this is Jesus. Like, the divine embodiment of love and compassion. And Mary goes, it looks like, to hug Him and He says 'Don't.' I mean, are we missing something? Mary assumes that He's back, right? That He's back and alive and so things are going to go back to how they always were. Back in the good old days when they would all eat these big meals as a group. When they would travel and tell stories and laugh. But Jesus hasn't returned to make things how they were. Things have changed, Mary. Things aren't gonna be how they were.

"My friend has a daughter, she's in junior high and we were all at a party recently and she started talking about the boys at her school and my friend is saying, 'I don't want to know this! Please don't tell me this!' and she's laughing and he's laughing and we're all laughing. But there was something else going on there, because my friend's little daughter isn't a little girl. She's turning into a woman right before his eyes and for a Dad that isn't easy. So, he does the 'Don't tell me this! I don't want to know that you're noticing boys or that boys are noticing you!' so it's funny and we all laugh, but the truth is it's's painful. Because life isn't static, is it? It ebbs and it flows and people grow up and move away and graduate and lose their jobs and people that you love die and some people get married and others don't and some get divorced and some get cancer, and things aren't how they were.

"Now, after Jesus talks with Mary Magdelene, He goes and appears to His other disciples (the ones who deserted Him) and He tells them that it's time for them to take His message to the ends of the earth. He tells them it's a whole new day, everything's changed and God's gonna give them everything they need. He essentially tells them they are going to receive a new spirit (one for today), and He promises them that they're going to have everything they need for their new life.

"Think about the couple who have been married for years and they speak with longing about the early days when they were just starting out. And after a while you begin to wonder, would they go back there if they could? Or the person who is the star athlete 20 years ago and they're still talking about it. And there's this kind of faraway look in their eyes and there's a longing in their voice. And you begin to wonder, do they believe that their best years are behind them? Or maybe you've been part of a group where there is this impulse to long for how it used to know back when we were starting out, back when it was the first time, back when everything was new. But it's not. Everything isn't new. We aren't who we were and things aren't how they were. I mean, how much energy do people spend wishing things were how they were?

"If you need to celebrate how good it was, then celebrate. If you need to remember how great it was when they were alive, then remember that. And if you need to grieve, grieve. If you need to apologize or make amends or you need to do something to make peace with how it was, then do it. But then, move on. I mean there is a certain kind of despair that sets in when we believe that things were better back then. You know...when we're stuck back there and when we're not fully present. When we're still holding on to how "things were" our arms aren't free to embrace today.

"As it's written in the book of James, you don't even have a guarantee about tomorrow. I mean, we can't change how it was and we have no guarantees about tomorrow. All we have is today. I mean, if you live in the fantasy that you'll get around to it tomorrow, that you'll get around to them tomorrow, you will wake up and it will not be tomorrow. It will be yesterday and you will have missed it. You will have missed them. And if you're a parent, a Mom or a Dad, the answer isn't to freeze your kids in time so that they don't grow up, you know, and try and keep them younger than they are. The answer is to be so fully present here and now that you don't miss a thing in THIS day. And then you can let them go and you can let them be who they are because you don't have any regrets. Because you were there the whole way.

"Jesus, when He was talking with Mary Magdalene after the 'Do not hold on to me' part, you know what He tells her to do? He says, 'Now go, and tell everybody else what's happening.' He gives her a part to play. There's a role for her now. Is Jesus saying that to you right now about anything? About anybody? About any time? 'Let go, and receive a new spirit'?

"So, may you accept the path for what it is. May you celebrate what needs to be celebrated and grieve what needs to be grieved. And then may you receive from God a new spirit, one for"

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