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In Pursuit of Peace

I began desperately asking God to teach me this principle of living easy and light He started to guide me through word searches in the scripture.  As I was looking at scriptures about peace, my heart stopped when I read the last part of Psalm 34:14: “Seek peace and pursue it.”

 

So simple it sounded…but how do you pursue peace? What does that even mean?

 

So at the end of last year I was walking around the sad little 70% off After-Christmas section “pursuing” cheap gift bags for the following year, when amid the bright Santas and decapitated snowmen and randomly orphaned ornaments a silver-glitter-edged, white wooden cutout stood eye-level with me. PEACE. That’s all it said. I walked past it the first time but I kept being drawn back to it. PEACE. It was like an invitation. And a question…How many times do I pursue cheap things instead of peace? I picked it up and assessed for a minute if what I was thinking was a result of the coffee I had obviously overdosed on or if this was actually a good idea. Yes, I will put it on my mantle…ALL YEAR LONG.  I brought it home and my husband made THAT face, you know the one he makes when I have done something ridiculous, but he thinks I’m cute anyway. So I unceremoniously shrugged and stuck the word PEACE up on my mantle and left it there.

My children, more observant than usual because they were practiced from looking for the elf on the shelf all December, saw the word right away and asked “Why is THAT up there?”  I told them that it’s because I have been praying for our house to be a place of peace and I put it up there to remind us.

After the garland came down.  After the house had returned to its “normal” state of…meh—it stayed. This one little sparkly word that sometimes taunted and teased me, sometimes anchored me, was becoming a part of our family’s pursuit.

The children would bicker and I would say “See that word on the mantle? What does that say?”

“PEACE.”

Sometimes even, I only had to point to the mantle and they would stop fussing (sometimes not). Pretty soon they started catching themselves and saying to each other with wagging fingers and a chiding tone, “See that word on the mantle? What does that say? PEACE (with a little air of condemnation). That’s what Mama wants.”

 

Who says you can’t buy peace?

I’m here to say you can…for $3 at Target after Christmas.

 

Seek peace. And pursue it.

 

That’s what David wrote while He was being pursued and oppressed by King Saul. When there was no place to rest. I love shows that depict police chasing the bad guys…you know how they always say into their radios “I’m in pursuit of a suspect…” We should run after peace this way.  Pursuit like how I run after so many things—like what God does to us.

 

David was seeking and praying for His own peace, communal peace, health, safety, and well-being— the end of the pursuit. He was tired and seeking rest and restoration of relationship so he could show his face again in public without fear for his life!  In fact, the warrior who killed Goliath and thousands of others in battle, eventually would move his capital to Jerusalem, an ancient city whose very name came to mean shalom “peace,” where peace was made possible in his Jerusalem by David’s conquering of the Philistine and Jebusite army.

 

What are you pursuing in your life right now?

 

If we want to live “easy and light,” we need to learn to seek peace and pursue it.

But when Jesus came into our world, He had a way of seeing right through people’s reputations and words—our modus operandi, our big talk and our small talk, and He saw our burdens, our hurts, our scars, our fears. He knew that shalom of community is not possible without first restoring relationship and having “peace” with God, and so he offers us the one necessary thing to meet our most crucial need—peace through His life. He humbled himself and became our shepherd servant, our sacrifice, our provider, our living water, our resurrection, our healing, our hope, our burden bearer, and yes, our peace.

 

Isaiah 53:5 “The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

 

HE took the punishment that brought us peace. He is the one who made peace possible. Before that, it was just a dream, a distant memory of a barely remembered past in a garden, where we last had peace with God. He brought us back.

 

When we pursue Jesus, it is a pursuit of peace.

When we pursue peace, it is a pursuit of Jesus.

 

He is our peace. For all of us who need peace with God, and peace in our storms, and peace within our families, Jesus is who we need to be pursuing. But how do we do that? I mean really? What does it mean to seek Him out?

 

Seek peace. And pursue it.

Seek Jesus. And pursue Him.

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The Invitation

Let’s start today with a story. Just imagine…

Two sisters are planning a dinner together, and sisterly dynamics are always really interesting right? The struggle for identity in their younger years made the older one “responsible” and the younger one a little, well, let’s just say she is more carefree.  Martha had invited HIM….Jesus…no pressure. Both are planning to work together to create a spread that is delicious and pleasing to their family and friends—better than it’s ever been done before.  The evening starts off fine…both are in the kitchen chopping herbs and vegetables and preparing the main course.  Then the guests arrive, and that’s when things fall apart.  The sisters go to greet the guests but one never comes back in the kitchen to help pull things together the end! I can hear the responsible sister muttering to herself in the kitchen:

 

‘The nerve!  The meat needs basting at the same time the sauce needs stirring and the salad needs to be dressed and on the table (which by the way is not even set!)  I guess I’ll just have to do it MYSELF, since SHE is out there sitting on the floor and just relaxing with our guests and especially HIM, when I was the one that arranged this whole thing in the first place! MUST BE NICE!’

 

She hears the easy conversation, she gets angrier.  She hears laughter, her resentment builds. She hears quiet whispers of deep conversation and she explodes…publicly.

 

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” (Luke 10:40b)

 

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 41-42)

 

Do you tend to identify more with Mary or Martha? What are some recent moments when this tendency has “come out” in you?

I love this story when I am feeling like Mary, comfortable in my environment, prioritizing my time with Jesus, taking time for the meaningful things in life. But I hate this story when I am feeling like Martha, abused and used and meeting everyone’s needs but my own and just simply exhausted (which is most of the time). Why do I act this way—crazy and hectic? Because stopping what I am doing would break the pace that seems just barely fast enough to keep my head above water. Plus, if others would just jump in, I would be able to be DONE ALREADY…then I could rest. I need others to join me in my pace (come on people…step it up!). Resting now would invalidate all the hard work I have just done (because I was on a roll, baby!) and I would have nothing to show for the struggle—and the struggle is REAL!

Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale.

It’s no secret we like to schedule our time with Jesus when it is convenient for us.  He gets “worked in” to our schedule when we are ready for Him, like on Sunday mornings or maybe Bible Study days. But what if He wants more from us than that two blocks of time that we routinely build in? Jesus doesn’t care much about being convenient to us. What are some convenient times that you have “scheduled” Jesus into your life.

Are you prepared to let Him into the other blocks of time in your life? Be honest.

If you said “no” you’re not alone, I did too! Only because I can’t imagine what he would look like there, in those crazy, messy places in my life. Resting with him when my kids are awake. At all. Impossible. Resting with him when I need to run errands before I pick up the kids. Impossible. There’s no time for rest. People need to eat. People need a roof over their head and that is my job! And there’s the sibling rivalry and the kids who need help and my impatience to give it. Actually I’m embarrassed to imagine Him there with me in those moments.

But aren’t you tired? What if Jesus was inviting you to curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and just be with him. Just talk. Just listen. Just rest. What if He is calling you to tune out some of the crazy—how do you even do this?

Why does rest seem so unnatural, so low on our list of priorities?  I think it’s because our work ethic often equates rest with laziness. We are taught that to live a day means that you should “do” as much as possible, and so we try to fit more and more into the day so we will have something to show for it.  But that pace can run very much against the kingdom economy of Jesus. We need to learn what Jesus meant by telling us to rest and carry a light load. Before taking on his yoke, we have to learn how to get rid of our own load of fear and anxiety that we are currently carrying. He might be asking us to slow down and relish things…to relish Him. That is our worship. Why is that so hard for us?

I think the fear and anxiety comes because we don’t actually trust Jesus as much as we say or think we do. Jesus only cares about the important things right? And His idea of what is important can be VERY different than mine. Sometimes I feel like He doesn’t get the trivial things…money IS important because I have to pay for food. My kids success in school IS important because they need good grades to make it into a good school and that is only accomplished by hard work and diligence. Making things happen at work IS important because it creates a high quality, necessary product, or skill in our students, or builds our influence for God’s kingdom. OK… but maybe, just maybe, I am the one who needs to re-think what is important, because Jesus says there is ONLY

ONE. thing. necessary.

Look at Jesus’ gentle critique to Martha. He said her name twice. I imagine it’s the way I do when I am trying to calm down one of my hysterical children. Maybe the first time He said it she was still ranting and raving? I can hear his voice softly correcting her.

“Martha…Martha…You are anxious and troubled about MANY things—but few things are necessary, indeed only ONE.”

I always thought he was correcting and chiding Martha (which I always secretly took offense at because she was JUST trying to get supper on the table—I relate).

Here’s what I love about Jesus. He gets it. He understands I am only worried because I am trying to impress him and take care of everyone else. And yet, he tells me to stop.  Just stop. Stop and choose Him instead. Choose the ONE thing that is mandatory, necessary, for true life. Choose Jesus first, eat later. Choose Jesus first, then worry about the arrangements you need to make. Choose Jesus first, prepare later!

Are we even capable of understanding this? It’s BACKWARDS from how we have always done it!  We set a task for ourselves and then upon its completion, rest is the reward.  We do our housework and only then will we let ourselves sit down.  We work at our jobs all day so we can come home and rest. We work our whole life so we can retire in our old age and finally rest! But the invitation of Jesus is to choose rest first, rest in the middle of craziness.

I think I know what you are thinking…you would LOVE to be able to put everything aside and bask in the Word of God. You wish you had the flexibility to be able to pray through the day, but real life precludes that possibility for you. Go ahead. List the things that make prioritizing time with Jesus hard for you in this season of life. He’s not scared of that.

Strangely, the anxious days happen most often on my days off.  There was a day months ago when I wrote this:

Today, I was so anxious all day I was almost shaking.  This was almost undoubtedly initiated because my eldest daughter found and wanted to keep two toads for pets, which escaped and began “leap-frogging” all over my kitchen because and the container she found for them was not big enough. Thankfully, Rob was home and as they laughed and chased the frogs, all I could think to do was get on my computer because I had read SOMEWHERE that frogs carry salmonella (which I confirmed, they do). When the frogs were contained (in one of my matching rubbermaids that I keep the kids’ off-season clothes in…which I will never use again for clothes), I remained “jumpy” all day because every time I walked past them, they would startle and jump at me…yes, at me—I’m sure of it. Between that and driving between three appointments that I had scheduled too close to one another on my one “free” day, I was a wreck all day long.  And yet, if I were honest, all day I heard this in my head “You are anxious about many things, but only few things are needed, indeed only ONE.” 

He was inviting me to rest, and I rejected His invitation…all day long. Take a minute to reflect on ways that he has been inviting you recently. Have you in some way rejected his invitation because your life was too ________________(busy, distracting, exciting, hard)?

Truthfully, it never occurred to me that Jesus was offering Martha a solution to her anxiety by telling her to prioritize Him, by choosing time with Him, the One Thing. Put ALL the things you think are important after Him. Even your kids. Even your husband. Even your work email, your home business, and your facebook account. Everything.

It also never occurred to me that I was choosing anxiety by NOT choosing to prioritize time with Him…because I was always trying to get to Him. That was always my goal–it’s just I was going to get Him almost as a reward for doing everything else. So I never got there. Look at the last part of verse 42: “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary chose well. And I like to hope that after this episode, Martha did too.

Mary chose Jesus over preparations in the kitchen. She chose Jesus over Martha’s feelings. She chose Jesus over everything else she had planned. Why?… because He was the only thing necessary. Worth it. Worthy. Her choice was her worship. Her attention to Him was her love for Him. By choosing Jesus instead of her plans, she found peace. By letting Jesus interrupt her day, she found rest…AND, she found protection from the attacks of her demanding sister (just sayin’ for those of you who may have some of those).

Take a moment to pray for clarity on how Jesus is asking you to prioritize Him.

In what specific way might Jesus be asking you to choose Him first?

 

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Shut the Door

With four children six and under, one of the only “alone times” I get throughout the day is when I am in the bathroom, but even those moments are not always secure right? Think little fingers under the door and broken doorknobs from little ones thinking the door was just “stuck”—because Mama would never lock THEM out! Inconceivable.  I’ll never forget the one time I was talking to the twins (rather, they were talking to me, A LOT). Needing a bathroom break, I walked into the bathroom and said, “OK, I need to lock the door right now for some privacy.” I was shocked when they both happily agreed with a “Yes Ma’am” but then they proceeded to COME INTO THE BATHROOM WITH ME and THEN one of them locked the door with all of us inside.  They sat right down on the floor and just kept talking. Now I am not saying that my children are problems, y’all know I love them and this crazy life we have together. But as a metaphor, sometimes the very things we are trying to escape follow us into our time with God and when they do, there’s nothing to do but just lock the door and deal with them up close and personal!

Why do I always feel like I need to fix my stuff before I take it to Jesus? Because we are a culture of preparedness! Think about it–Be Prepared…it’s more than the credo of Boy Scouts. That is the motto of our souls as we research, skim through market reports, create contingency plans, and end up acting out of fear not faith. My whole job is centered around preparing students to enter the world with useful skills. But all this emphasis on preparedness leaves us ill-equipped for the surprises that tend to pop up and frustrated that our issues continue to follow us into our quiet spaces.  We can’t get away.

I think that’s why Jesus’ emphasis is on being “alert” (not prepared) because He IS with us! He really, actually is. Here in our mess. Here right now in the hour before supper when everything goes to that very dark, sad place of hungry and tired children and husbands…perhaps?).  He is in the hectic and frustrating moments at work, when we can’t get our head around a situation.  He’s saying forget about your own ability to get ready for the hard things you’ll face…instead, look for me in it. Be alert. Be ready for the struggle. Be ready to run to me with “that thing” and rely on me and listen to me when the mess follows you and you can’t get the space you need to process them.

How often do I just need to STOP and listen for supernatural help form the Holy Spirit that goes beyond our own understanding–but we feel like if we just keep moving, keep talking we will deal with it. The very real truth is that He is actually, really here. In our pain. In our emptiness. In our loneliness.  He is right here. Looking honestly at your heart right now, do you really believe that 100%?

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’” Psalm 46:10

Sometimes I think “being still” is MUCH more difficult than “being obedient.” At least in being obedient you get to do something. In “being still” you are being asked to do nothing but trust. That’s harder.

Yesterday I was taking the kids to school. This time crunch is one of the major sources of stress in my day so I had strategically planned to leave so early that I would be in line ready to drop them off at 7:30. Doing that would give me enough time to get to work. Lunches were packed thanks to Rob—best husband ever), clothes and shoes were on, hair was fixed, and I was ready. We were out the door! YES!!! Success.

But then…(I know you have the “but then” moments too). BUT THEN…the seatbelt would NOT budge across their booster seats.

SERIOUSLY?!!!

I spent a good five minutes wrestling with this seatbelt (which doesn’t seem long, but it was).  Every time I pulled it, it would lock up and not stretch to clip in. I probably tried it about a hundred times thinking it was a fluke. Finally, I stopped.  I prayed out loud for God to unlock this seatbelt. I felt SO stupid asking God for this, and also in front of my children because what if he didn’t answer me? Then I would be solely responsible for destroying their childlike faith over a malfunctioning seatbelt. I know is sounds trivial, but I was (literally) immobilized without this seatbelt working, which seems ironic. My last option was faith…and yes, I realize my first step should have been faith, but I’m working on that. So I prayed, and asked God to free the seatbelt.

In my heart, I felt that God was telling me I should give up, shut the door, and go sit in the driver seat. Initially I resisted this idea…who knows, maybe that next pull would actually work.  I was like a gambling junkie at a slots machine…just one more time!!!  Finally, I shut the back door and began to walk around the car—though I knew I would not go anywhere without my children being buckled up. When I opened the driver door I heard squeals of delight! It was working! The seatbelt stretched across and we were able to make it to school and work on time.  Now I don’t know if there was a mechanism in the car that was being triggered by the door being opened or if an angel actually went into the car and fixed the problem. But what I do know, beyond a doubt, is that God told me to stop struggling and shut the door.

Shut. The. Door.

There was nothing I could do to fix this problem in my own strength—moving in that same trajectory of pulling and pulling over and over again. In fact, by letting it go, I released whatever lock was activated in that specific situation (whether spiritual or mechanical). My pulling and constant straining was only making the problem continue. When I obey God when he tells me to stop and rest, we are giving Him space to move miraculously in our lives and to see it as His hand working! What a gift! Why would we NOT want that? (Maybe we just don’t really think He is capable or cares enough to engage with us in “those sorts of things.”—more on this later)

Some of us just need to shut the door on the infuriating, frustrating, unsolvable problems we are facing right now. We need to shut the door long enough to let God solve the problem or let the problem solve itself. We need to leave it for a minute and regroup, take ourselves out of the crazy.  Take the time to be quiet, listen to the Holy Spirit, wisdom of others, and scripture. An active prayerful rest.

 

Even Jesus did this to connect with His Father while on earth:

 

Mark 1:35 And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.

 

Mark 6:31 Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.

No time to even eat…yes, I have been there! So here is the question…What are some things you REGULARLY need to take a break from and intentionally place in the lap of Jesus? Can you find a scripture that can help you in that moment? We will be talking later about ways that scripture and prayer can equip us to face these moments with grace and truth.

You have babies or toddlers? You can’t leave them for a meditative moment? I get that. Here’s how the conversation with my kiddos goes at my house sometimes:

Mama: “What?!!! You toasted the whole loaf of bread?”

Children: But Mama you TOLD us we could make our own breakfast while you got ready.”

 

Here’s where I want to learn to say (instead of what I actually said, which I really should not repeat here):

 

“OK, y’all, we can talk about who toasted the ENTIRE loaf of bread in a second…but for right now, you go to your room and you go to your room and no one talk to Mama for just a minute, I need a minute to pray.”

 

But to even do this, I need to be in a posture of listening, in a constant state of expectant readiness for God to encounter my everyday mess. How do you imagine this working out for you in your day to day? What are the recurring situations that you are asking Jesus to meet you in the middle of:

Take a minute and ask Jesus to meet you here and show you how to encounter these burdens with grace and peace, maintaining the rest and light-load lifestyle He offers us. I’m learning to take smaller more frequent trips to Jesus throughout the day, step out of the action physically or sometimes just mentally and drop my concerns in his lap for a minute. I’m ready to learn the discipline of resting so I can be interrupted by Jesus. I’m ready to keep Him so close that having Him talk to me is as natural as my child or husband speaking to me. But what exactly does it mean to “cast our cares on Him”? Why do we see Jesus tell us to trust Him over and over? And what is so wrong about carrying my own weight anyway? More on this later…

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Easy and Light

I never considered myself an anxious person—I was always pretty laid back

But the birth of our fourth child last Spring was a bit traumatic. When we came home with her I found myself jittery and worried all the time. I started having panic attacks…I didn’t know what they were. All I knew was that I couldn’t breathe. I could hear myself breathing in and out but my lungs didn’t feel like they were taking air in. I felt like I was being strangled. When my husband was home, he would just hold me and tell me it was ok, that I was breathing even if I didn’t feel like I was. He would pray for me and tell me to slow my breathing down. After about two-five minutes, the attack would subside. It made no sense to me! Hadn’t everything turned out just fine? Wasn’t the baby ok? Then what was my problem!? I didn’t feel like I had the right to be anxious. I felt guilty for having this physical response that was in my mind, not even tied to any lasting tragedy or loss. It made no sense to me. I waited for it to go away, six months later it remained.

During this time, any small stress could potentially freeze me or send me into panic mode. Any hiccup in my plans or surprise illness in my kids would create a cyclone of worry and fear. And yet, the voice of God, a promise of peace. It spoke so softly at first, it was like a whisper of a far off hope. It took root in me, this seed of a promise. It became the prayer I would pray through strangled tears, like an accusation, like a plea from a beggar, “Lord, you promised me peace. Why can’t I find it.” So I started begging God to show me what was happening to me and to teach me about peace in the middle of chaos (because that’s what my life is right now with four kids and both my husband and I working).

I was so desperate, I took a day off of work and I began to search. Not just reading my Bible, but a Bilbo Baggins strap on your pack and set off for a distant mountain search for peace and joy and relief from this crippling fear in scripture. Who had it? How did they get it? And from the first day I sat down with my coffee and began this journey, I could sense Jesus sitting there with me, showing me in his word and through gentle reminders in my everyday life, how He could BE my peace and He could help me to carry a light and easy burden.  I wanted this more than anything else, I needed to know he was present and that He was able to actually handle every heavy thing I carried. He asked me to write as I learned, to write as a way of learning…I’m a teacher by trade so I’m used to building curriculum, but I didn’t know what I was writing at first. Now I am convinced that this thing He has been teaching me is something He wants for all of us…a light load, an easy burden. And it’s not just a possibility, it’s a necessity for our survival in this world.