Friday, April 27, 2012

Resurrections and Rolling Stones! (On Giving Birth to Our Dreams)

With life comes death.
Dreams entombed; sealed and still and life-less.
And then something happens.
The breath of God awakens it
and up from the grave it rises, resurrected!
The *stone rolled away.

Something indeed has happened. After eight months of labor to sell our home, we did! On Wednesday, we received two offers in one day. The second was a full-price offer. Who would have thought! We are amazed by the swift kindness of God, who breathed life into our life-less dream, one that felt entombed.

This has been a formidable and trying experience--hard labor--to birth this dream. Phase I of the birthing process is hopefully behind us. Now we look in earnest for a property that will suit the dream of an urban retreat center (Sustainable Faith Indy). The property that we had identified and I wrote about previously has sold and will likely close today. We trust God's grace, though we're disappointed because we haven't seen another in our price range that has all that we're looking for.

Would you pray with us and for us, please? Our souls may be stretched and searched even more through the experience of waiting on God for "this place of light and love" that we, and others, have envisioned in our hearts. The thought of moving into temporary housing doesn't thrill us. Yet, all along, it seems that God has desired to strengthen our resolve through waiting and trusting him to move in his time.

With resurrection is tremendous hope.

*Read my previous blog post, Stumbling Over the Stumbling Stone, for context. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Stumbling Over the Stumbling Stone: Thoughts on Falling and Failing

“God is both sanctuary and stumbling stone….” (Isaiah 8:14). 

For most of us whose faith has been formed by Western theology, there isn’t much mention of the benefits of falling and failing in the Christian life. Instead, there’s common thinking that if you’re walking with God, God will bless your path and that path will naturally lead you upward and onward.

Upward and onward hasn’t been our path of late. For almost eight months, David and I have tried to sell our home in order to purchase a property for Sustainable Faith Indy, an urban retreat center we hope to start. Along the way, we’ve really given ourselves to this dream and have had a strong measure of confidence that we were pursuing what is in God’s heart for us and in our heart for God.

Yet try as we may, our house hasn’t sold and we haven’t been able to secure a property that is suitable. In my last post, I wrote about the sense that we are “coming up against something,” but not sure what that something is. I read a chapter in Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward that gave that something a name: “Stumbling Stone.”

Isaiah referred to God as both a sanctuary and a stumbling stone. (Again, not much commentary on that name for God in Western theological writing.) Yet, it really gives expression to what I’m sensing/intuiting/feeling as we try to press forward—that God has plopped himself down in the middle of our path as a Stumbling Stone and made the way forward impassable.  

We don’t know why. We could try to guess. But it just isn’t clear to us at this juncture and for that matter, it may never be. But what I think God might be inviting us to do is fail: to throw in the towel, hit the pause button, regroup; to feel all the loss, grief, confusion and hope that we feel and to allow this falling and failing to be our teacher.

I take a risk in sharing these thoughts with you because I know you will want to cheer me up. I’m grateful that you do, but remember that it’s okay to be sad and feel depressed when you’ve been through something as hard and frustrating as we have. I also don’t really want to hear some little spiritual quips about how it will all work out. I know it will. I also know that things could be so much worse. No one is dead. No one has been maimed. We have much to be thankful for.

Right now, I just want to live with honesty and integrity in our disappointment and do so in the presence of God. We haven’t made any decisions for sure, but we are close to quitting for now. So—if you want to do anything, pray for us. Pray that we will be open-hearted and all ears and discern what we are to do. You could also ask God to love on us a bit. That would be good.

Let me end with a short excerpt from Rohr’s Falling Upward:

“Sooner or later, if you are on any classic ‘spiritual schedule,’ some event, person, death, idea or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower. Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources. At that point you will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it; or to state it in our language here, you will and you must ‘lose’ at something. This is the only way that Life-Fate-God-Grace-Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go the further and larger journey.” (Pg. 65, 66)

Wanting to go the farther and larger journey….

Thanks for your friendship—Beth  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Giving Birth to Our Dreams: Not sure what we're pressing up against

It's been some time since I wrote about our endeavors to establish an urban retreat center in Indianapolis called Sustainable Faith Indy. It's not that we've put this on the back burner. I wanted to devote time to focus on Lent and didn't think this needed to share the stage with Christ's passion. 

As I wrote some friends today, "Nothing about this venture has been easy." Our house has been on the market since September. We've had two offers that have fallen apart. We've had two properties we loved sell. The second is back on the market because the investor couldn't get the financing together--but is still trying. We had our 60th showing tonight--ugh! We are beyond exhausted.

We find ourselves wondering what we are pressing up against. What is this wall of resistance? Is it the kindness of the Lord redirecting us? Or is it the refining fire we often encounter when we are moving forward into something significant? 

Each time we suffer a blow, we feel pretty letdown. But then....this deep resolve and perseverance wells up inside us and we re-up our commitment. I've never prayed for anything as fervently and passionately as I have this vision. (Well, at least it feels that way right now.) I've also never experienced anything that felt so confusing. (Well, at least it feels that way right now:) 

I've asked a few people this question, so I'd like to ask you. Please respond with your own reflections. Have you ever attempted to do something you felt was aligned with God's purposes, only to meet significant resistance? What did you discover? I'm all ears.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lent: In the Oil Press

Situated at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane was the place Jesus chose to pray the night before he was crucified. Its name means “oil press.” The image is unmistakable; olives pressed between two heavy stones, all the life squeezed from them, oozing with a smooth, fragrant emollient used for healing and for food. It was just the place to pray the kind of prayers Jesus prayed that night.  
The writer of Hebrews described what happened in the garden:

Jesus “offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God.” (Hebrews 5:7).

Prayers and pleadings, with loud cries and tears. Jesus was in agony. He wanted to be spared this suffering and so he turned to the One who could save him. He brought the fullness of his humanity, the honesty of his desires, into his prayerful petition. Perhaps as the image above suggests, Jesus placed his own head between his arms as though between a vice of mill stones, embodying his anguish. “My Father! ‘If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine’” (Matthew 26:39)—you can hear him saying.

“And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God.”

God heard the heart of Jesus’ prayers, his willingness to yield his will to his father’s. And God responded—not with a benevolent gesture of swiping the cup from his hands. God’s heart opened to Jesus’ deeper prayers, his surrendered prayers that found their way out through the oil press. “Your-will-be-done-prayers.” Deep reverence.  

I know a little about this kind of praying. Lately, it’s where I’ve gone to process a dream I have—a dream I’ve been pursuing. When I pray, pleas are squeezed out of me and anguish spills over as I embrace my desire while simultaneously surrendering it to God. It’s been metamorphic. The pressure has forced me to face my own willfulness and need to entrust God with my desires.   

There are times in our lives when we must choose, like Jesus, to go to the Garden of Gethsemane and engage in prayer that feels as though we are in an oil press. The passion inside us is squeezed out into churning petitions as we work through our willingness to choose God’s will over our own.   

Is there anything you need to process in the oil press of Gethsemane prayer?  

This post is part of the InterVarsity Press Lenten Blog tour. To read the other IVP authors contributions, here are their blogs: 
April 2nd Beth Booram:
April 6th; Good Friday Chad Young: