At 7, my oldest grandson is already a contemplative, a fellow who asks a lot of questions and registers an opinion on just about everything. Maybe that’s a family trait (for better or for worse), but a recent reading of Psalm 131 has given me good reason to rethink the merits of over-thinking and the meaning of soul rest:
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;Psalm 131:1
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.”
Things Too Marvelous to Overthink
In my journal, I challenged myself to come up with a list of those things “too great and too marvelous for me.” It took shape quickly with entries like…
*the passing of time,
*God’s purpose in suffering,
Within minutes, it was clear that there are far too many things “too great and too marvelous” for me to list. And there are very few that I could honestly place on a list titled “Things I Understand.”
Ironically, this does NOT conflict with my commitment to a sturdy theology based on God’s self-revelation in Scripture. I’m taking my cues from trail-blazers like Elisabeth Elliot who said, “Faith has to be exercised in the midst of ordinary, down-to-earth living.” Eugene Peterson described this mindset in his rendering of Romans 12:2 as a faith-practice deeply rooted in our “sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life.”
Rest in the Present
There’s nothing quite like the diagnosis of a chronic illness to jar a person into doing business with “ordinary, down-to-earth living.” It was called “the palsy” in my rural Maine childhood but has since been labeled by the medical community as Parkinson’s Disease.
My orientation to time is always toward the future, so it’s been a challenge to resist Googling the dickens out of this diagnosis and projecting into what’s ahead. However, God’s curriculum seems to require that I rest in the present, paying attention to this moment on the clock, this day on the calendar. I am learning to give thanks for strength and motivation to do today’s exercises–the only thing medically proven to slow the advance of the disease.
I don’t pretend to know the reason behind this curve in the road, but I am beginning to see that my message here and in my speaking and writing everywhere—that women can become confident Christ-followers and students of God’s Word–has been building a foundation. I’m learning along with my readers that confident faith happens through the formation of habits of holiness. Our minds need a place to go when anxiety threatens or hope seems like a remote possibility.
Rest as an Alternative to Anxiety
When I am tempted to project into a future of limitations, of not being able to DO-DO-DO, the expulsive power of faith over fear provides an alternative to panic. And so I sense that God is, at some point in the future, going to require that I become intentional about sharing my message of hope with others who have been diagnosed with chronic diseases, people who are living their way forward into unknown territory.
Would you pray along with me that I will have discernment for this? And if you know of someone who struggles with chronic illness, would you share this post with them?
The diagnosis I received in January has had a clarifying effect. I’ll be working hard on the discipline of rest as an alternative to anxiety. I’ll be paying attention to my family, the fourteen people of my inner circle, because I want to love and serve them well. I’ll continue to teach and lead at the church I call home.
For now, nothing will change here at Living Our Days. I’ve already cut back to posting once weekly, and I’ll continue sharing the books I’m reading and the grace I’m receiving. I’ll keep on sharing truth at other sites around the great wide web, and will still say yes to speaking engagements as long as I can.
The difference is that now I know with a little more certainty that there are things “too great and too marvelous for me” to comprehend, and those are God’s business. In the meantime, my business is to lean into this new curriculum called Parkinson’s Disease.
Are you managing life with a #chronicillness? When I am tempted to project into a future of limitations, the expulsive power of faith over fear provides an alternative to panic. #spiritualformationTweet
And Now, Let’s Talk Books!
Feathers of Hope
Character-driven fiction tops my list of favorite genres. It enables an author to go deep with a theme or a cultural trend as it lands in the life of her characters. Throughout Sharon Garlough Brown’s writing, her characters have dug deep into spiritual formation practices and the accountability that community provides. Katherine Rhodes has served as true north for the other characters, faithfully pointing them toward hope in Christ.
Feathers of Hope chronicles Katherine’s confrontation with an unexpected blind spot in her thinking and in her ministry. As she moves toward retirement from her role as director of New Hope Center, she runs head-on into her dismissive reaction to issues around racial justice. Thanks be to God, we are never too old to experience transformation!
Readers of Shades of Light will welcome an update on Katherine’s niece, Wren Crawford, her healing process, and her efforts to stay in healthy space with her thinking and emotions. Together, aunt and niece draw inspiration from the crimson feathers of a cardinal and live out the discipline of stewarding affliction.
Without fail, teachers find themes from ordinary, down-to-earth living make their way into our teaching, a process that takes Katherine well beyond her comfort zone. Reigning in “the rush to judgment” may well be the prevailing challenge of spiritual formation for those of us approaching Katherine’s age bracket, and she models the discipline in ways that manage to be both convicting and empowering.
It’s a rare work of fiction that has me dog-earing pages so I can revisit them later alongside an open Bible, but I’ve discovered this is the best way to take in Sharon Garlough Brown’s work. Stories with an undercurrent of poured-out wisdom invite me into growth and a more intentional surrender to the work of the Spirit in my life and my ministry.
Holding You in the Light,
Throughout Sharon Garlough Brown’s writing, her characters dig deep into spiritual formation practices and the accountability that community provides. #FeathersofHope via @ivpressTweet
Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.
And One Last Thing…
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