Peterson on Freedom

I was on the verge of returning this book from a shelf in my room to its regular resting place in the living room, when I started skimming one of the early chapters and again my heart said yes, yes, yes! Here are some of my favorite quotes from a man who has easily become one of my top 5 favorite authors.

We are born into a world that shows everywhere the signs of some great primordial catastrophe. There are vast beauties and breathtaking virtues in this present age, but nothing pristine. The sign of our birth is a scar. The world into which we are born is dangerous. The parents to whom we are born are flawed. The governments under which we are reared are corrupt. Are we free to live? Or are we only allowed a meager energy and a compromised space to cope?

Sin is the fact of separation from God’s presence and purposes, experienced variously as restriction, limitation, inadequacy and weakness. Every interruption of the will or impulse or desire interferes with freedom. And the interruptions are endless. Life lived under these conditions cannot be called free, even though there will always be unforced and spontaneous moments that preserve a sense of the possibilities of freedom. Sensitive and thoughtful persons are often acutely aware of enslavement. Paul’s explosive “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24) is archetypal.

The rescue is not from the world, and not from limitations or boundaries, but from sin, that which separates us from God and his purposed creation and destined redemption. And the rescue is God’s work. Nothing else will do for a beginning. If there is no rescue from sin, there is no point in talking about freedom at all.

Remembering the Joseph story, we realize that no pit or prison is inaccessible to the freeing, delivering, rescuing power of God, and that freedom, once established even in one person, extends itself into political and social relationships and cultural movements.

We never develop the freedoms of maturity and wholeness and strength on our own, but always through the shared life of others in the faith.

Fear is a normal response to the chaos around us, the threat of being overcome by hostile forces or of being ineffective or hurt or thwarted or fated to poor and mean and scrubby lives…

It takes a certain bold courage to receive freedom. The free life is a strenuous life. Living in freedom is demanding and sometimes painful. If security is our highest priority, we will not want to live free.

Eugene Peterson, Traveling Light


the healing process

Last Wednesday, as I was walking down a hill outside my parents’ house, I stepped in a hole. My ankle gave way and my foot turned inward. I heard a crack and a few pops as my foot twisted and I fell to the ground. Ouch.

As I continue to recover from what turned out to be a sprained ankle, I think about the healing process. First there’s the moment of injury – immediate pain and panic. I couldn’t stand up. My parents were both nearby, so they supported me as I hopped through the door and sat down.

As my foot swelled to the size of a tangerine (well, half a tangerine), we assessed the situation. What to do? Call the doctor or go straight to the emergency room? My dad said call the doctor. My doc wasn’t in, but the one on call asked me a few questions and then said to stay off the foot, ice it, take ibuprofen, and come in the next day for an x-ray.

The x-ray showed nothing was broken.

“You have strong bones,” my doctor said.

I’m glad. It means my foot didn’t need a cast or a boot. But my foot still had to heal, and my doc told me how best to help it through the process. Rest, ice, compress, elevate. I’ve done it all in the past few days, including a day where I tried to put weight on it too soon (bad idea) and made it swell up again.

Today the swelling went down considerably and my foot turned all kinds of colors. Green, blue, purple, yellow. It looks horrible and yet strangely beautiful. Those bright colors are visible signs of the healing process taking place beneath the surface.

My ankle’s trauma, injury, and healing mirror what happens in our hearts when a crisis arises. There might be a sudden onset, an immediate initial pain and panic, swelling and throbbing. An assessment of the situation, consultation with others, and decisions about how to deal with aftermath. Then we walk through the process of healing, and emotional healing looks a lot like physical healing. Swelling makes it uncomfortable for a while, so that you can’t stop thinking of the pain and the problem. Then the swelling subsides and it’s still a tender area, but healing is on its way.

Just as I can’t see what is going on beneath the surface of my ankle’s skin, I can’t discern the way God heals my heart. It’s a slow process and requires patience, but the waiting time turns my heart to the Lord. My helplessness to change the situation translates to a deeper dependence on the One who gives me life. I stop – and remember that every moment, every breath is a gift of grace.

And He is the source. I’m awed by a God who loves life, who creates and sustains and restores life…He is the one who heals me, body and mind and spirit alike.

“I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10).


conversation with God

Me: Right now, everything feels precarious and changeable. Sometimes I feel like time, and with it my life, is slipping away from me. Why do I feel so out of control?

Him: Are you ever in control?

Me: No. But you usually let me feel like I am.

Him: Isn’t it better to know the truth?

Me: I guess so. But it’s hard. I’m anxious. My life looks different than I planned.

Him: Hmm, I thought you wanted me to do the planning.

Me: Well, I do. But why don’t I have all the things I’ve prayed for? Why do I still feel, in some ways, like a helpless child even though I’m nearly 30? Why are the people around me suffering? Why am I suffering?

Him: Pain is part of life. Through it you can truly know me, because when you are in pain you let me get close. You stop pushing me away, and let me really love you.

Me: I know. I’m so glad I know that’s true. There’s nothing better. But…I still feel like there are missing pieces. I’m confused.

Him: If you look at what is lacking, you can’t see what I have given. You can’t see what I am doing. Jesus says:

What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself. (Luke 12:29-32, Message).

Me: I love that. And I love you. Adjust my perspective again. I want to see things your way.

checking my baggage

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

I read this verse the other day and later, maybe while I was washing dishes or in the shower (I don’t remember exactly), I thought about it again.

We often use the term “baggage” to describe past emotional trauma, family drama, or other internal issues. In a literal sense, baggage is what I take on a trip. I pack my suitcase and backpack and drag them through airports and onto planes. Traveling is made more difficult with baggage. I have to lift up my suitcase and cram it into the overhead compartment. My back aches from the weight of the book-filled backpack. Even on wheels, luggage is awkward and uncomfortable to manage while trying to navigate an airport or public transportation.

If I didn’t have to carry baggage on a trip, I wouldn’t do it.

Luggage is needed on a physical journey, so I assume it’s the same on my spiritual journey. My suitcase is filled with guilt, regret, frustration, anxiety, anger, fear, impatience, and pain. Once in a while I unzip the baggage and sort through it, but when I try to stuff it all back inside, the contents seem to have multiplied.

Why does it seem pious to carry guilt? Why do I rationalize fear as “caution” or “self-protection”? Why is my impatience always someone else’s fault? Why do I hide my pain, covering it like it’s an embarrassing blemish?

The truth is, I don’t have to carry any baggage. Jesus said if I come to him, he will give me rest–and when I do, he does. And I wonder why I didn’t drop my bags earlier.

good girls need [a lot of] grace, too

I’m in the middle of a book called Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman. The subtitle is “letting go of the try-hard life.”

Let me tell you: this book resonates with me. I grew up “good.” I had a happy family life, PG-rated at most. I fell in with a sheltered crowd in high school and, as a homeschooler, I didn’t deal with the issues or temptations I would have faced at public school. As a teen, I never really rebelled against my parents.

In the book, Freeman writes:

This innate desire to be good indeed protected me from a lot of heartache and baggage. It protected me from teenage pregnancy and bad grades and jail. But it did not bring me any greater understanding of God. It did not protect me from my own impossible expectations (p. 26).

I don’t regret the happiness of my childhood. I do regret how I’ve felt about it.

I’ve been proud of it. I’ve been proud of myself for being “good,” for staying out of trouble, making decent decisions, and avoiding pitfalls. I’ve been proud of a “goodness” that wasn’t mine, that was soured at its core by pride.

This book, along with other things, is helping me see myself and my life in a new way. Although I’ve embraced grace already, I am beginning to understand it in a deeper way. I’ve tended to fall, again and again, into thinking that I have to work to become Christlike.

When we believe that God expects us to try hard to become who Jesus wants us to be, we will live in that blurry, frustrating land of Should Be rather than trust in The One Who Is. We will do whatever we believe it takes to please God rather than receive the acceptance that has already been given. We will perform to live up to what we believe his expectation is of us rather than expectantly wait on him (Freeman p. 32).

“…The acceptance that has already been given.” Yes. It’s done. God accepts me through Jesus Christ, and adding my own “good works” done with my own two hands to win his approval just doesn’t do anything for him. He is decidedly unimpressed by my attempts to impress.

What does that mean? That there’s no work involved? I should be free to do whatever I want, chasing my personal pleasures, because I’m secure in his grace?

No. There’s work involved. But it’s not my work; it’s his. It has to be – all his, or no good will come of it. Yes, I’m free to do what I want, to chase after the attractive butterflies of personal fulfillment. He won’t reject me…He never does. I’m the one who runs away. Always.

I’m learning a better way. I let him do his thing. Let him work inside me, even when I don’t understand what is going on. When I let go, he can live through me.

…Service is an act of faith. It isn’t me doing work for God, but it is me trusting God to do the work in me. That is what Mary [mother of Christ] did. She believed the angel, and then she offered herself as a servant. She didn’t pull herself up and get to work. Instead, she ran to her cousin Elizabeth and began to sing. Worship, not work, flows out of the hearts of those who believe (Freeman p. 63).

What a relief. I don’t have to perform for God. He isn’t scrutinizing my every action and decision. He tells me the truth about myself because he wants to heal me, but always extends his hand simultaneously to remind me that I’m accepted. I am loved.

Anything we do to get life and identity outside of Christ is an idol, even service to Christ. He doesn’t want my service. He wants me. And from that life-giving relationship, “streams of living water will flow from within” (John 7:38 NIV) (Freeman p. 65).

to know and be known

Blogging is akin to stepping out from stage left and standing in front of an audience you can’t see because of the blinding lights in your eyes. You don’t know how many people are out there, and you’re paralyzed with fright. Writing should be conversational, people say, but writing is not always a conversation. Sometimes it is a mini-speech sent into the unknown, invisible world beyond the computer screen. It’s scary to know that anyone could read this. Anyone could.

But that doesn’t mean everyone will. Perhaps a few will skim these lines as I do for my friends’ blogs each day on Google Reader, looking for gems of wisdom, information, news, inspiration.

We have so many ways to connect with other people these days, but do we really know each other? Sometimes I wonder. Writing a blog post and sending it out into thin air feels risky in a way. Vulnerable. My breath catches in my throat a little as I think about it, and I wonder if I should just delete this paragraph, this post. Maybe I shouldn’t write at all, for fear of revealing too much of myself (even though this doesn’t tell you very much).

Yet even if I wrote reams every day, describing every thought I wanted to tell you, would you really know me? Would you know how I laugh, how I use chap stick every five minutes? Would you know my voice and my eating habits and my propensity to explain things starting at the end of the story and backing up to the beginning? Unless you’re one of the few people I spend hours with each week, you wouldn’t. You would have an image in your mind of who I am, but it wouldn’t be me.

The internet creates a false sense of intimacy in so many ways. Used well, it is an excellent tool. Used as a replacement for reality, it is anemic and sickly. We can connect online. We can exchange information, and even pour out our hearts to our friends in private Facebook messages or e-mails. But I’m convinced that real knowing, the best kind, only comes through face-to-face time. Humans are created for relationships. Not virtual relationships; not images or words; but real relationships with real people.

Those kinds of relationships are harder than these. I can blog, and you can comment, and I can write you back. We aren’t sharing lives or even coffee. But if I sit across the table from you, make eye contact, eat together, laugh together, cry together… Then, you know me. If you reject me, it hurts more because I know you are rejecting me, not just an image or set of words. It’s dangerous to know people.

From there, of course, there are many levels of knowing. There are friends, and there are best friends. There are family members and spouses.

And there is God. The one who, whether we know him or not, knows us better than we dare to imagine. I’m convinced of this. And I do know him, in ways I cannot describe with any adequacy in spoken or written words. I know his peace, I know his love. I know his grief when I am hurting. I know his laughter.

But despite the closeness I feel, a special nearness lately, I only know him a little while he knows me a lot. I see glimpses of him, but he sees me completely with a single glance – the ugliness of sin and the beauty of redemption. He sees me fallen and risen, kicking against him and finally at peace, transformed into the person he made me to become. He sees everything and doesn’t hold any of it against me. That is grace.

And that is the sort of knowing I want with the people around me. The kind of graceful closeness. The insightful truth and the unmerited favor. It’s God’s perfect recipe for relationships.

Audrey brightens my sick day

I know, I know. This is becoming one of those blogs that is mostly abandoned, and only surfaces with song lyrics or quotations. I suppose I have forgotten that people read this, and instead have been using it to preserve words that mean something to me. Perhaps soon I will again write my own words here, but for now…

Today I bought Audrey Assad’s new CD, “Heart.” Since I was sick in bed all day with a bad cold, I had plenty of time to listen and ponder – and as I expected, I love it. Audrey’s lyrics are full of imagery, depth, and understanding. I listen and listen again…and find something new each time. And her voice is consistently strong and beautiful.

Here’s one set of lyrics from the new CD.

“The Way You Move”

I know that the hardest part of love
Is not the things I have to give
It’s what I give up
I’m giving up ground
And I’m trading in my solitude
For safety now
Oh, and all my pride
It doesn’t stand a chance
Against the way You move
You’re tearing up roots
And breaking down walls
And I don’t stand a chance at all
Against the way You move

You’re like a lion
Standing in my house
And You’re taking off the doors
On your way in
‘Cause I’ve got nothing left
To hide behind
You’re reading all my faith
And all my fear in my eyes

And all my pride
It doesn’t stand a chance
Against the way You move
You’re tearing up roots
And You’re bringing down walls
And I don’t stand a chance at all
Against the way You move

You’re tearing up my roots
And You’re breaking down my walls
And I don’t stand a chance at all
Against the way You move