Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Not My Words

[what's brewing: something from another pot]

One of the books that made its way into my bags nearly a year ago is a small prayer book that I found on the shelf in a used Christian bookshop I used to frequent. It’s the only prayer book I’ve ever owned, which I now know is a shame. There are times when my own thoughts cannot create the words I need to express myself before my Maker. I pray similar things in similar ways most of the time, and I find written prayers express familiar experiences and thoughts but in a new way that allows me to process them differently.

I don’t read it every day, but more often than not, when I open it up I find exactly what I need to hear. Today was one of those days. Fraught with anxieties about the future (distrust, as the prayer would lead me to see) and wondering if I will ever be confident of what God is calling me to do, this passage and prayer were waiting for me.

May you be encouraged by the truth reflected in these words as well.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways,
and My thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:6-13

Everlasting and ever-working God, who makest the acorn into the oak and enterest into the rib of the leaf, who lightest stars upon their way, and bringest forth the sun to lift up the heads of flowers, be near also to Thy servant and enable me to walk the whole path of this life – in joy and sorrow, in achievement and failure – without distrust, submissive to Thy will, and assured that, by reliance upon Thee, neither temptation nor mortal loss can overwhelm me, and that all things are secure finally in Thy care and keeping. Amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


[what's brewing: just water today, I need the bottle for...]

One of the things I find inspiring here is the demonstration of human ingenuity that I see on a daily basis. These daily observations make me keenly aware of the limitations of my own mind that have been set by my preceding life of convenience. Human needs do not differ greatly across cultures, but our means of meeting them do.

Here are a few of my favorites:

In the absence of a sprinkler to water the grass, a repeatedly punctured two-liter size plastic soda bottle fastened to the end of a garden hose, resulting in the same sprinkling effect that tempts children into its range around the world.

In the absence of mop heads, old t-shirts wrapped tightly around the end of a broom stick(and at times, tied around the foot with the leg serving as the broom stick!).

In the absence of shin guards to protect the legs of determined soccer players, pieces of cardboard fashioned to stay in place with rubber bands around the calf and ankle.

What things do you see that demonstrate the depth of human ingenuity in your area? Have you adopted any of the practices you’ve seen there?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lurking in the Silence

[what's brewing: something to keep me going]

“The irony of this is that I often push these aside when I don’t feel I have the emotional energy to enter into silence and solitude – as if I am simply too thirsty to invest the energy in filling my cup and lifting it to my lips. Yet without taking these steps, I can only be filled with water that leaves me thirsty again.”

These two sentences capture the real conundrum that I am faced with in this struggle to give silence and solitude the role I believe they deserve in my life. I don’t have the emotional energy to be filled up. I have been encouraged by your comments this past week, affirming that this experience is not unique to me. I know that I need to consider this tension more if I hope to find lasting change – life giving change.

I say I don’t have the emotional energy to be still before the Lord, but what does that really mean? For me, I know that I am holding my fears closer to my heart than the healing truth I need. I choose to expend my emotional energy on protecting my fears rather than addressing them in moments of stillness. And what is it that I fear?

I am fearful of losing control of my emotions, fearful of crying – fearful of losing all the ground I have gained in my adjustment to the loneliness I’ve encountered here. I spend my days focusing on the positive elements of our life here, celebrating my decreasing feelings of homesickness, and enjoying the new aspects of life in a different culture. I am afraid of slowing down enough to the point that my guard will be let down and in my honest reflections, I will be an emotional mess, sliding backwards into the pain that I am trying to overcome.

I am fearful also of being still and silent, expectantly wanting to encounter my God, and to be left empty and dissatisfied when it is done. I sometimes fear that my well is so deep and so dry from the demands of my everyday life that it cannot possibly be filled in a comparatively brief period of rest; I would rather accept that and keep going than expectantly open myself up and be left dry.

For those of you who understood the dilemma of being “simply too thirsty to invest the energy in filling my cup and lifting it to my lips,” I would love to hear more from you. Do you fear something that may be waiting for you in the silence and solitude? Are you afraid of being asked to forgive someone, to love someone, or maybe to love yourself?

What fears are lurking in the silence for you, or what specific things keep you from entering into the solitude that can fill your cup?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Drawing from a Dry Well

[what's brewing: refill, please.]

Silence. Solitude. Rest. Renewal. These words have begun to feel almost as foreign to me as the lists of new vocabulary I review every week as part of my ongoing language learning. Without knowing it, I seem to have left these things behind when we made our move into cross-cultural ministry. Perhaps they were confiscated by the customs agents when we entered as residents, not merely tourists. Or perhaps they arrived in our home, but have been pushed to the shelves that hold my disregarded nail polishes and facial masks – items which certainly haven’t been touched since they were originally unpacked!

Other words now describe my state of being more accurately at the end of a day. Exhausted. Drained. Reclusive. Weary. By the time we have gathered our things from around the Children’s Home, dealt with the urgent matters that seem to present themselves only when we are trying to leave, and pulled out of the gate to head towards home, my emotional energy has been spent. Undoubtedly the cell phone will ring soon after we leave; needs will develop in the evening hours that require additional support and guidance. We came here to offer this support, but I’ve come to subtly resent these afterhours phone calls that snatch us away so immediately from any personal matters.

Walking through the front door of our home brings some relief just in knowing that I am entering my space – a significant place for an introvert like myself. Yet there are things to be done here as well: phone calls to be made, emails to return, domestic duties to be faced. I find that physical work can be easier to face than the phone calls and emails; interacting with others, even friends and supporters that I want to connect with, requires drawing from my emotional well which has often run dry at the end of a day.

I find it curious that I develop a sense of guilt in admitting these things. I believe strongly in the importance of self-care and the need for quiet, restful periods of renewal. Yet something inside of me remains sympathetic to the lie that I should be capable of pouring myself out continuously without a need for rest or renewal. I seem to believe that the more I can do, the better I am; therefore, the more I feel a need for rest, the more disappointed God must be with me. I say I don’t believe that to be true, but my dismay at the emptiness of my own emotional well betrays me.

I often find myself staring down into my dry well and wondering how I can fill it again, just enough to pour out and make it to the end of my day. I have tried the best of chocolate or caffeine therapy, but neither have done the trick. I have done my best to muster up the last drops in my emotional well and then faked enough energy to make a phone call and satisfactorily cross an item off of my to-do list. Even if the other person was convinced by my performance (which I find unlikely, quite honestly), I feel frustrated by the dissonance within me.

As my own efforts have failed to add any depth to my well, I have gently been led back to the source of living water. Initially, I felt I lacked the emotional strength even to face my Creator at the end of a day; I lacked the emotional energy to put into that relationship as well. But as my own efforts have left me wanting, my perspective has begun to shift. I do not need to gather my emotional reserves in order to come to the Lord; I go to Him as I am – weary and burdened – and He will fill me.

If my prayer is to be poured out as an extension and reflection of the God I serve, I must allow myself to first be filled by Him. This filling didn’t happen just once when I accepted the Truth; it happens continually as part of my own process of sanctification. The source of living water is within me, yet I attempt to draw from the well that runs dry. Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman were different to me when I read them with this in mind:

"Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep.Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank form it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” ( John 4:11-15)

I know this Jesus, and I have tasted this living water. Yet I, like the Samaritan woman, am again on my knees, crying out – Sir, give me this water so I won’t be thirsty again, so that I won’t continue trying to draw water from my own dry well.

How can I be filled with this water? How can I combat the crafty lie that the more I do for Him, the more loved I am by Him? Through the very means that have been curiously pushed aside since we arrived: silence, solitude, rest and renewal. The irony of this is that I often push these aside when I don’t feel I have the emotional energy to enter into silence and solitude – as if I am simply too thirsty to invest the energy in filling my cup and lifting it to my lips. Yet without taking these steps, I can only be filled with water that leaves me thirsty again.

The same King who entered the world in a dirty manger, washed the feet of His disciples, proclaimed the weak to be strong and the poor to be rich also pours living water into those who will cease in their striving to serve Him and simply be with Him.

[Editor's note: Drawing from a Dry Well also appears in the May/June 09 WOTH onlineMagazine.]


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