[09SEPT2011] Jeff’s Journal
The past few days have been tough ones. I don’t particularly like writing about this kind of stuff, but transparency and authenticity are friends of the Jesus Way. So, the last few days have been hard… they have been hard because my mentor, Jesus, is answering my prayers. What prayers; you ask? The prayers that matter the most…
Over the last year I have been in a rather intensive study of what it means to spend solitary time with the Triune God. I have been learning what things are important. I have been learning what it means to be stripped down to minimum in most every facet of my life; personally, materially, socially, religiously, and a few other areas that may not have named categories. Oh, I’ve got a ways to go to be completely stripped down, I’m sure, but I’ve definitely been on the way. I’ve described some of this “schooling” in other posts with some of it mentioned under titles of “waiting.”
I had hoped that our waiting might be coming to an end. I felt that God was “releasing” us from the wait following my time at the Pecos Monastery… and maybe He has… or maybe He hasn’t. I don’t know anymore. For the past couple months we (Laurie and I) have been exploring potential ministry opportunities; by this I mean full time positions. Up until recently, we had up to four different possibilities that we were either considering or waiting to see if they might consider us. Slowly, one by one, each of them have fallen off the radar. Now, during this time we have been faithfully praying together that God would only direct us to the place He intended and that we would not be distracted by anything that wasn’t of His orchestration. We have prayed diligently that we only want God’s will completely operating in our lives, no matter the cost. We understand and pray that God sees the intent of our heart and no matter what our flesh cries out, we pray “nevertheless, Your will, O God, be done in our family.” This is a very noble but risky and scary prayer, if it is heartfelt. It can be stratospherically costly too, but there is more…
In, or during, my time of waiting and my “stripping of self” I have come to realize or deeply believe that there is nothing more important than learning who Jesus is in a deeply intimate way. Along the way, I have realized the greatest hindrance to this is… well… me, and life in general. I have had some very somber and quiet moments spent in communion with God during the past year. It has been during these times that I have cried out in my purest words; “I only want You! I only want to be who You want me to be! I don’t care about anything else but You! Lord Jesus help me to become like You and do the things You want to do. Lord, whatever it takes, make me the child you destined before I was created.”
Most recently I have had this prayer ever on my lips. A couple weeks ago I read a chapter on Kenosis (emptying of self) from the book Poustinia by Catherine Doherty. The entire chapter was incredible, but a certain illustration stuck with me and I formed a prayer from it. She writes the following:
Emptiness is one aspect of kenosis. It involves the constant struggle with one’s imagination, one’s dreams, plans, desires, needs. A Russian staretz said that one should be like a rag doll which can be picked up by the hand, foot, or head, now thrown in the bushes, now hugged, now thrown in the toy box.
There is so much more she writes about this and it may difficult to comprehend where I’m coming from having only quoted a small piece from this chapter. She goes on to write; however, about this kenotic work in the spiritual pilgrim taking them to a place of holy indifference, free to be used or not to be used by God in whatever way He decides. I have been praying this as my prayer. The revelation God gave to me that literally changed my life was to be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). It is where the name of my website originated. This kenotic prayer has been with me in the teaching of Philippians 2:5-7, the great passage describing the kenosis (emptying) of Christ. The idea is not a new one to me, but for some reason the Spirit has renewed the fervor of my prayers for this work in my life. And, this is why the past week has been painfully difficult for me. As the hope for new work, as the visions for fruitful ministry, and as the dreams for a new chapter of life shared alongside my wife and family have crowded in my heart…the space for God and what He wants has been pushed to the corners. It can be and often is that easy and happens so innocuously. It is all couched in honorable and godly intentions, but it isn’t a holy indifference…and it isn’t self-emptying. If it were holy indifference, open only to the use or non-use of God, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed with the results of the past couple weeks.
I sincerely believe God is answering our prayers, by removing ministry options from our reach and our path. These “yes” answers to our prayers (yes, meaning God has done precisely as we have pleaded for Him to do) haven’t been met with true rejoicing from me. My words have said, “Thank You, God,” but my heart has been rather indignant and pouty…and quite honestly even bitter. I didn’t want to share the entries from my journal, but I was led to a quote from an ancient teacher, Mechthild of Magdeburg, today that convicted me of my lack of transparency. Mechthild writes the following:
“What hinders spiritual people most of all from complete perfection is that they pay so little attention to small sins… I tell you the truth: when I hold back a smile which would harm no one, or have a sourness in my heart which I tell to no one, or feel some impatience with my own pain, then my soul becomes so dark and my heart so cold that I must weep greatly and lament pitiably and yearn greatly and humbly confess all my lack of virtue.” -Mechthild of Magdeburg
So, now I’ll share a bit from my journal entries (Sept. 8-9, 2011)—
One begins to wonder how much “self” can a “self” hold. I suppose it is one of the darkest mysteries and curses of Adam’s folly and the fall of man.
“Take up your cross daily” Jesus said. It is no wonder… the “self” is infinitely regenerative without the cross… and even with the blessing of the cross it is only the surrender to “die” daily that keeps us from being overrun by the “self.” It is wanton in its insatiable lust for more of me.
Here I sit, not even five hours into my day and I have already done battle at least a half-dozen times (that I’m aware of) with my “self.” I have battled self-pity, pride, a selfish jealousy for my personal time, gloated over the failure of another, battled impatience, sloth, and criticized the success of another. I make myself sick, and these are only the things I am consciously aware of…and I still have twelve more hours left in the day. “Take up your cross daily,” He said.
I pray fairly regularly about becoming “more like Jesus.” I’m pretty sure I don’t have an accurate idea of what that even means most of the time. More journal writing follows:
I read about Him in the Bible and how He emptied Himself (Phil 2:5-7), and I read how my attitude should be the same as Christ’s. I pray for this attitude and I pray that God would help to train me in the ways of Jesus and when He does, I cry and complain with every drop of “self” that God squeezes from me…reluctant to let go of “self.”
I cry out to God for relief; I think physical pain would be an easier path and can understand why the ascetics chose the path they did to pursue holiness and self-emptying. I think it would be the easier road than this one that seems to tortuously strip the “flesh” off my soul…layer by layer. What an incredible paradox this relationship with self is. I hate to see the grotesque reminder of how far I am from becoming like Christ, but I still love my “self” so much that when pressed, I hate to let it go. …Thank You, Jesus, for the cross, but I never expected that I’d have to wear it for so long.
Even as I read again and write these words for you, I see so much “self love” that it makes my stomach turn. My words are steeped in self-righteous self-pity. Here I pray for God to help me grow into a place of holy indifference and as He begins the work, I sulk and complain as if my life were difficult when it is actually incredibly blessed. I am being tutored personally by the God of all creation. The Spirit of the Most High God has taken residence in my soul and begun the work of transforming my heart! Yet, I complain and lament over the process. Recognizing this helps me to understand the work is far from complete. I am also given a close-up view of the wretch I am, which might help me to be less judgmental of others whom I would like to think that I am better than… but not so much.
I have much to be thankful for. I am thankful that I have practiced spending time alone with God so He can show me these things. No, I don’t like to see the dark places that still inhabit my soul, but I am glad that Jesus believes I am strong enough to deal with them, see them for what they are, and confront them with the strength HE provides for destroying (crucifying) them.
Paul says, “While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). Thus, according to his view, the passion and resurrection of Christ are going on all the time. They are always present and not limited to an historical moment. It was rather an historical moment which introduced the eternal values of the cross and resurrection into the whole of time. We participate in Christ’s divine life through baptism and the other sacraments. As a consequence, we must learn how to express the risen life of Jesus rather than our false selves in our conduct and relationships. To attain this union involves the transformation of our inmost being and all our faculties into the mind of Christ. This is the very fullness of salvation. The chief expression of the mind of Christ is found in the classical text of Philippians… “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…emptied…humbled…obedient…” (Philippians 2:5, 7-8). The Heart of the World -Thomas Keating
I know there is nothing more important than this work of spiritual formation and becoming like Christ. There is nothing more important than to sit at His feet and absorb instruction about the Way, His Way. I know there are people who would disagree with this, but He said “apart from me, you can do nothing.” I think becoming grafted into Christ and growing up into Christ requires more than an intellectual decision. Being with Him reveals the work that is necessary to bearing fruit for Him and His Kingdom. Until we are able to peer into the darkness of our soul and introduce the Light of Christ, we are unable to do real work in His Kingdom. And, so… this is my confession. My desire and prayer is still one thing: to become like Jesus no matter the cost to me… I’m diving back in for more.
Send your Light to guide us, O God, may we follow wherever it leads.
The human mind and heart are a mystery; but God will loose an arrow at them, and suddenly they will be wounded (Psalm 64:6-7). You are the LORD, high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods (Psalm 97:9). I have said to the LORD, “You are my GOD; listen, O LORD, to my supplication” (Psalm 140:6).
We ask you, O LORD, in your compassion to increase your faith in us, because you will not deny the aid of your loving-kindness to those on whom you bestow a steadfast belief in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.