The Weight of Glory

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The toxic harpies from the Belvedere Tennis Club have been particularly loud and nasty these past months. They screech with delight over my every failing—every time I raise my voice or, God forbid, actually yell at my kids, they keel over in gloating glee. Every time I question my worth or my calling, they cackle and cry, “Poser! Fraud! Hypocrite!” Every time I feel overwhelmed by my life, they spit poison in my ears.

See, they hiss through their blood-red lipstick, you failed again. You’ll never be any better than you are now. You may as well give up. Despair and die.

After a particularly nasty bout with the witches one morning, I was driving my kids to the library. I apologized to Ben for shouting at him, and a soft, gentle voice wafted right under the harpies’ shrilling. At least you apologized. You can see when you’re wrong and admit it. Don’t despair.

I silently wondered if that might be the voice of Jesus.

I heard gentle laughter—gentle laughter—and a dare to believe that it was, in fact, Jesus speaking.

Even if it wasn’t, the point is: God is not a harpy. God would never tell me to despair. God does not speak with the voice of the Accuser. A bruised reed He will not break; a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.

How many times will I have to learn this same lesson? How many days will I continue to listen to the harpies and their hateful hounding? How long until I get mad enough to say once and for all, “Enough!”

I’m getting close, I think. I have become so disgusted with living in fear of the harpies and worrying if I’ve blown it and how to fix it and what to say or do to make it better that I actually wrote in my journal:

I am going to assume—expect!—that other people will respond to me with intelligence, respect, and grace simply because I am a human being. No other reason. Just that. I am human. Graceless people are the ones Jesus tells us to leave behind. ‘Shake the dust of their town off your feet as you leave,’ He told the disciples. In other words, don’t worry about them.

God will take care of the graceless people who cross my path, whose unkind words still scream in my ears. I cannot make them like me, love me, approve of me, or forgive me. And I want to stop trying. I want to shake the dust of their toxicity off my feet, off my heart, out of my soul.

And yet, I know my lifelong habit of seeing myself through the critical eyes of the harpies at the Tennis Club will not erode overnight. There are people in my past who have reinforced the harpies’ voices, who have embodied their nasty words and stabbed them deep into my soul. You have such people, too. Everyone does. It’s part of being human. Some people refuse grace—and there’s nothing the rest of us can do about it, except pray for them and refuse to listen to their lies.

Because they’re liars. They seem to speak truth, but it’s a mangled, twisted, graceless perversion—a kernel of truth mixed with mud and slime, just enough truth to get me to swallow their nasty pill. I must—we all must—fight the lies of the harpies in our heads (and the real life ones, too) with Truth.

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

But truth is not a what. Truth is a Who. Jesus is truth, and not just any old truth. He is The Truth.

And He says, “As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you. Abide in My love.”

Abide in My love.

That is how we fight the lies of the harpies. We cling to Jesus. We abide in His love. We preach to ourselves every minute of every day if we have to: God loves you. God lives in you. You are God’s beloved daughter, God’s beloved Son. You are the spitting image of your Father in Heaven, who loves you with an everlasting love.

And anyone who says otherwise is a liar. Anyone who acts otherwise is a liar.

Abiding in Jesus’ love, knowing that He calls us by name and loves us—this is power, friends! We are in a position of power—but we trade our power for a lie, and we cringe beneath the weight of that lie.

If we must be weighed down, let it be with glory. (Did you know the Hebrew word kavod means both weight and glory?) Let us feel the weight of glory—the glory of God, which is you, me, any human being…fully alive. That’s what Church Father Irenaeus once wrote: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”

What makes you come alive?

I bet you ten million dollars it’s not the harpies. So stop listening to them. Tell them to shut up. Or eff off. Whatever it takes. And then listen to your life. Ask yourself what makes you come alive.

For me, it’s the written word—both reading it and writing it. When it’s well-crafted and beautiful or captures an image or emotion or evokes a place or a person so vividly I can see it, smell it, taste it—that makes me almost giddy with joy. That makes me come alive as nothing else can. And whether I’ve written the words or someone else has, I want to share them with others, to say, “Look! Look here! Isn’t this beautiful?”

I am most fully alive when I write…and when I share what I write with others. This realization is part of what brought me back to my blog after so many months away. This is what finally jerked my head away from my navel and got me to quit moaning about how almost no one reads my writing and maybe it’s a self-indulgent waste of time. This is what made me realize that it doesn’t matter if no one else reads it. Writing the words makes me come alive, and what the world needs is people who have come alive.

So I choose not to listen to the harpies who tell me I can’t or I shouldn’t or I’m wasting my time or who do I think I am anyway, who say I’m a fake and a fraud and a poser. It’s a daily choice, sometimes a minute by minute choice. I choose to call them what they are: liars.

I choose to listen to the Truth of Jesus who says I can and I should and life is short and why are you wasting it listening to lies when you could be living freely and fully and utterly alive in My love? I choose to abide in His love—again, a daily, hourly, minute-ly choice.

I choose to be alive. I choose the weight of that glory.

 
 
 
Photo by Aiden, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Church_ruin_ireland

After almost five years of blogging twice a week, I have been more or less silent on the internet front these past six months. In that time I have written poetry (actually, it doesn’t deserve that name; it’s merely word-play, but such fun!), my first short story in four years, and the beginnings of a children’s novel.

The temptation is to keep these things to myself. The world hasn’t exactly rejoiced with singing over my last two books, and I want to protect these new words I’ve written, protect myself, from the pain of putting them out there in the world only to be ignored. It is not a wholly petulant response, though I admit there is a bit of pouting involved.

Then a friend lent me his copy of Share Your Work by Austin Kleon. After I read it, I thought, Maybe I shouldn’t hoard what I’m writing.

And then Sarah Clarkson wrote a beautiful post over on The Rabbit Room. (If you don’t know Sarah’s writing, click this link and sign up for her blog. She writes 2-3 posts each month, and every word is honey. Or gold. Or both.) Sarah first quotes Denise Levertov:

I believe poets are . . . makers, craftsmen: it is given to the seer to see, but it is then his responsibility to communicate what he sees, that they who cannot see may see, since we are ‘members one of another.’

Then she reflects:

[T]his idea of Levertov’s startles and even stings me. She seems to class writing with spiritual imperatives like loving your neighbor and telling no lies…I’ve never thought of sharing my writing as a duty; perhaps I’ve seen my best pieces, the ones I actually like, as glimpses of beauty I simply must pass on, but I’ve certainly never thought of that sharing as an imperative in the same class as adherence to the golden rule. I like the luxury of considering my inner world a private one to be shared only when, and if, I desire.

(You simply must read the whole thing.)

Sarah’s post felt like a providential nudge, pointing me in a direction I was already starting to look.

I see writing for the joy of writing as a great gift, as in a gift to me. But she spoke of our obligation to show those words to the world, to help others see what we see, those of us who require of the world depth and meaning and beauty.

At some point in the not-too-distant past, I knew that. I knew that my writing isn’t really mine at all. At least I think I did. But then I wrote a book. And then I wrote another book. And I saw my name blazoned across the top of each one, and I was elated, even proud.

But very few people besides me cared about those books with my name across the top, and I curled up into a ball and licked my wounded pride. (St. Augustine called this inward-curving posture incurvatus in se. He also called it sin.) I won’t say the whole of these past six months of internet non-engagement have been pouty. They’ve been really rich, as I said above. But I’m beginning to see again that these months have been rich not so that I can hoard what’s been given to me, but so that I can share what’s been given to me. Sarah (and Denise Levertov) would say that I am obligated to share what’s been given to me.

And I’m slowly, feet dragging (and sometimes kicking) coming to believe they’re right. I come to this reluctantly because there’s a catch here, and I don’t like it:

My obligation to share is not the same as readers’ obligation to read. They’re under no such compulsion. Poets and prophets are compelled by their vocation to speak what they see. But their hearers’ response they cannot control. Whether hearers respond in numbers or not, the call remains, and I cannot expect that my obedience to that call will mean success, at least not as the world sees success. So far, it hasn’t. And it’s possible it never will.

But that doesn’t matter. What matters is obedience. If I am called to write—and I am—then I must write. Whether people read is not my problem, not my responsibility, not my business. As my friend Cindy says, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

And here’s why:

The good shepherd went in search of the one lost sheep. The prodigal father threw a big party for the one son who was lost and came home. The sweeping widow rejoiced over the one lost coin that she found.

I think Jesus’ favorite number was one. He was all about the one. Not the many. The one. He didn’t have a huge following. His Twitter numbers were modest, at best. He called not the people, but the person: Peter, James, John, Andrew, Matthew, Martha, Mary. Each of them, by name.

It is so hard in this bigger-is-better, fame-is-all culture to believe that expending hours and weeks and years of work and sweat and tears to change, or even simply touch, one life is worth it. Hard to believe, and even harder to live.

I know. I live daily with the “failure” of both my books—failure in terms of numbers sold. And it is hard. But that is part of the deal. The calling to write does not include the guarantee of an audience, except the audience of One.

And who am I to scorn the audience of One? But I do. Oh, I do.

Yet—oh marvelous yet—when I sit down with a pen and paper or with fingers poised above the keyboard, I know that the audience of One is enough. Enough for me. Enough for anyone. It is only what my husband calls my “theology of scarcity” that convinces me I need more. I don’t. Here, now, writing this, I know that. Other days these past months when I have written out my heartache and anger and gotten to the end of myself, I have known it.

All the old saints knew it. They assure me that God alone is sufficient, that having Him and nothing else is all I need.

I believe this; oh help my unbelief.
 
 
 
 
Photo by Susan Forshey. Used by permission.

A Sign Post

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Several months ago, after I wrote a post about my need for silence, stillness, and solitude, I had an email exchange with an acquaintance from church—we’ll call him Ben—who wrote to me about his own need for solitude. By day he works in customer service; by night he parents and writes music.

What struck me most in his email to me was the horrible self-consciousness, the multiple-mindedness, the temptation to glory-hog, and the simultaneous desire to glorify God, all of which I share. But what really drew me up short, in the best way, was his assertion that our praise and shame both belong to God (I’d never thought of my shame belonging to God!). Those words are the capstone of his letter, which I have been pondering these past few months, and which he so kindly allowed me to share with you.

As an introvert who works a people intensive, customer service focused job, I relate to the need to find a peaceful space to think. And that space is never truly peaceful unless I am somehow able to forget to dwell on other people’s opinions of me. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted worrying about negative impressions I imagine I’ve created, situations I could have handled better, how I am being perceived by clients or aquaintances who may be evaluating my performance or judging my character.

I have memories, as a child, of playing a game of ping pong or soccer, and literally thinking of nothing but the game the whole time. The joy of top spin and angles across the ping pong table, the feel of the soccer ball as I dribbled and jostled (or at least attempted to do so) my way past opposing players—looking back, both of these experiences were instances of single-minded, single-hearted focus that was completely unselfconscious.

I also remember in college, playing piano in one of the music hall’s small practice rooms—door shut, building quiet except for maybe the muffled sound of others practicing—wondering if perhaps someone was standing outside my door listening … wondering if they were impressed with what they heard. I remember sometimes I would have to go and check the door before I could relax and just play.

Even now, I sometimes come home from work and am unable to concentrate on the games my children want to play, or the things they want to tell me, because my mind is still replaying problems or worries from work; the most intense worries always revolve around mistakes I may have made, problems I have yet to solve, customers who are not completely happy. The ability to mentally put something down when I am not working on it, to let it be until it is time to consider it again so that I can focus on what is in front of me, is something I crave. I am finding the only way this is remotely possible is to give my glory to God.

My glory (the praise that I receive, the praise I hope to receive, the value I hope others will find in me) is a weight around my neck. I can never hope to maintain the level of praise needed to sustain my self worth from the people around me.

The only way to escape it is to recognize the truth that any glory from some goodness that shines in me is really attributable to God’s work and presence in my life. It belongs to him and he is the rightful owner.

Likewise, any shame, incompetence, or lack of grace or patience that might cause others to think ill of me—belongs to God as well. This time, not because of his doing, but because he has claimed it on the cross and through his grace.

I am his workmanship, either way. I need to give him his glory, and spend my life reaching for his grace.

What do we really have, anyway, except right now? Of what value is fame? If the answer is to make a difference in the world, is not God the only one who really knows the pressure points that will advance his Kingdom? And doesn’t God often do his work in quiet ways that the world fails to recognize?

Yes, He does. But I confess: I have not wanted to walk the quiet, small way that the world fails to recognize.

I long for significance (we all do), and I have bought our culture’s bill of goods that fame equals significance, and so I have striven to be known, because the better known I am, the more significant I am. I have balked at the thought of Jesus’ paltry lifetime following of 12 or (by some accounts) 70. I have more friends than that on Facebook, thank you very much!

But Ben’s words were a sign post for me back in February. I wanted to share them with you because they speak of the matters that have been on my heart and mind these past months and because they pointed me further down a path I was already walking, a path that is leading me in unexpected byways, to unexpected places. More on that later this month. For now, it is good to be back, typing letters on this screen. I had almost forgotten how much I love that simple act.

 
 
 
 
Photo by Tim RT, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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