If you’re game for some praying, I’d appreciate your prayers for my laptop. It’s at the “doctor” for help and may require a “new brain”. Much of what is on it is backed up, but not since we left home over six weeks ago. Some of what is currently out-of-reach and hopefully-not-lost are drafts and details of the recent series of posts that many of you have read here about how we ended up spending this year in Redding, California. So that “back story” will have to wait until my machine returns.
In the meantime, let me share from the past week.
Maybe, just maybe, I’m finding a groove here. Our weekly routine will settle fairly shortly. This next week is unusual as all 1300 first-year students will be cycled through two-day retreats over an eight-day span, so regular classes will break for that. By the following week, we’ll be “normal”. Our girls continue to enjoy their school days almost all of the time, and we are making some new friends as well. We met a BSSM-alumni family right in our complex just today. They have two girls that match our youngest two, and I foresee Karyss’ much-requested playdates in our future. 🙂 They’re a Minnesota family, so they see themselves as “southern Canadians”. We’ll take it. Another friendship that already brings me joy is a Canadian-boy-married-English-girl couple named Stephen & Clare. We met them at a meeting on the first day of school, when Stephen approached because of the maple leaf on our name tags. You ever just get a great feeling from the first moment with a stranger? Yep, that’s how it felt to us. Clare is a classmate with us, while Stephen is working from home, grading papers for the seminary where he’s been a professor for the past several years. So yes, my new friend is a 40-year-old theology professor who grew up with a pastor father who also taught at Prairie Bible College in Three Hills, Alberta. Over coffee, he gave me a copy of his latest book, a biography on Soren Kierkegaard, that includes an endorsement from a friend of his named Richard Beck, the much-loved (by some!) professor from Abilene Christian University. Small world, eh?
Those are life logistics, and it’s nice when they run smoothly. But the groove I alluded to earlier runs deeper. A week ago, I was unsettled. I was happy to be here, but I was not feeling very whole or rooted. My last post shared some of that, but to be honest, that post just captured one theme that I could get a solid grip on. The rest was a jumbled mess of thoughts. Blog posts and sermons, both of which I love creating, can knit illusions that my mind and heart are tidier than in real life. But much of my moment-to-moment processing is fairly messy. Feelings swirl with thoughts, both those I actively choose and those I wish to vote off the island. Biases and assumptions, truth and distortion, faith and fear and fickleness — it’s all mixed in. And a week ago, that blender was running on high speed, mixing a smoothie on which I was gagging.
So I breathed, slowly and steadily.
And I prayed, poorly but purely.
And I fasted, hungrily but not for food.
And I worshiped, wanting-ly.
And I listened to those around me and the One who is everywhere.
And I breathed again.
And some space opened up inside.
What did that feel like?
- It felt like greater ability to engage in the 60-90 minutes of focused prayer and wonderful worship that kicks off every school day.
- It felt like a gaze that started seeing those around me more as my vision was released from a stigmatism of self-consciousness.
- It felt like a grip that softened as I granted myself yet another round of permission to simply receive all that God wishes to do here without obsessing over intense filtering or analysis every single moment.
- It felt like a gentle affirmation that I dared to believe for the thousandth time that the Father of Love loves me, as a son.
On Wednesday, I felt that space open up, freeing me to engage with people and program in better ways than I had on Tuesday. The One who freed His people in Egypt still has a heart for liberating slaves apparently, even when it’s one little guy in one little place.
And that positioned me for Thursday.
Kris Vallatton is one of the leaders of both Bethel Church and their Ministry School. On Thursday, he was sharing portions of his story. One part involved a time when he received an outrageous gift from a friend. In the days that followed, he proceeded to avoid this man, and finally in a moment of epiphany, he felt God revealing to him a lifelong tendency: Whenever someone looked to love him more than he loved himself, he’d sabotage the relationship. He proceeded to unpack this dynamic as he has seen it play out over decades of ministry now. Dating relationships, marriages and divorces, friendships or families or workplaces — it’s everywhere, and it undermines healthy relationships, while reinforcing patterns that rob lives of the connection and love they crave. And we’re talking about Christians.
Basic point: Too many folks have believed in a God who loves them, but not really. I mean, He has to because He’s God. But surely He just barely tolerates us, as we do. We find ourselves feeling as though we should almost apologize for existing or at least for existing as such weak human beings. We imagine that this state of “humility” might somehow be a spiritual place where we should remain. At least it guards us against arrogance, right? So we carry ourselves doubting that we’re lovable or valuable or special. And it cuts our feet from under us, preventing us from living lives of joy or peace of love. We remain miles away from becoming “new creations” because our fearful and self-centred voices are so loud that they drown out any whispered truths that God wishes to utilize in our rebirth.
As the lesson proceeded, Kris paused and expressed his conviction that it was time to pray. This is hardly uncommon at BSSM. Class turns from teaching to prayer several times each day, typically in moments of focused prayer for needs that might relate to the subject at hand. Folks who feel they are in need of such prayers are asked to stand with open hands (receiving posture), and those around are often asked to lay hands on them and participate in praying for them. I tell you that just so you recognize that this is normal here. It’s a powerful practice.
But Thursday was particularly meaningful to me.
He invited those to stand who saw their own struggles with living as the Beloved of the Father. And lots stood! Open disclosure: I didn’t stand on Thursday. I’ve got plenty of issues related to living rooted in the love of God, but on that particular day, it didn’t feel like “my time”. I didn’t feel resistant or stubborn; it just was my turn to lift up others.
A classmate was recording a portion of the lesson, and I’ve edited it down to 15 minutes, in case you wish to hear some of this prayer time. If parts of it are “for you”, then enter those prayers and stand in the truths you hear declared. You won’t need to have been present to gauge when the tone in the room changed. Crying, groaning, full-out weeping: All of these were taking place as believers across the age spectrum and the atlas placed themselves very vulnerably before God for healing touches. Some might be write it off as little more than emotionalism.
Yeah. But no.
For my part, it was a real privilege to hold up hands and drop down tears in prayer for a crowd that I hardly know but for whom my compassion was very stirred. These were moments of people holding one another up in prayer and literally holding one another up. I found it quite overwhelming. As Kris prayed toward the breaking of Satan’s lies and the freeing by God’s truth, there was no doubt: “The One who freed His people in Egypt still has a heart for liberating slaves.” I used that sentence earlier in reference to God touching one little guy in one little place. But it’s oh-so-true, friends. And it’s true for you and for those you love.
Christ is the Freedom-Bringer. He’s paid a thorough price for that privilege, and there is no prison in which we’ve spent time from which he is incapable of breaking us free. He holds all the keys and possesses all the authority in heaven and on earth. And best of all, he seeks us where we’re stuck and then stubbornly loves us toward a life of spaciousness.
If you care to listen in, here’s the short version of Thursday’s prayer time. Love to you all.