Based on the feedback I got from Tuesday’s post, plenty of you are dealing with transition. Impending empty nests, new jobs, kids headed to college (or kindergarten!), and family moves to far-away places that don’t feel like “home” can create a sense of sadness, uncertainty, and even fear.
Which is where the Bible comes in.
“If you remain in me,” Jesus says, “and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” That’s his promise in John 15:7. And it’s not some sort of gimmick or “name it-claim it” trick; rather, what the Lord is saying is that the more we read the Bible – the more we allow his Word to soak into our lives and transform our perspective – the more our thoughts and our prayers will begin to line up with the good things that God already wants to do.
And the more those good things will start happening.
This is something I explore more in my new book Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children (which comes out in December). Like almost all of life’s changes, the transition to adulthood is rarely easy, and in the coming months I’ll be posting more blogs and videos about how we can pray God’s best for our grown-up kids (and for the little ones, too)…but for now, let’s take hold of this beautiful promise and make it our Friday Prayer:
Help me remain in you, and let your words remain in me. Create in me a hunger to read the Bible and a willingness to trust your promises. May my prayers line up with your good plans; use your word to accomplish your purposes in my family’s life. (John 15:7 and Isaiah 55:11)
Robbie and I spent last week at a lake in Ontario, Canada. It’s a place he went every year as a child, as did his father before him. And it’s where we used to take our kids in the summer, before they grew up and got stuff like husbands and jobs and apartments in far-away cities.
This time, it was just the two of us. We’d been looking forward to cooler temps, water sports, and endless hours to read and relax. But then we pulled up to the boathouse, and I knew I was in trouble. Because here’s how I remember it looking, back in 2007:
And here’s how it looked last week:
Same thing for the dock. It’s where we used to hang out and fish, or have early morning quiet times:
Now, not so much:
Everywhere I looked, there were reminders of days gone by, family memories that we’d never make again. I was becoming positively morose. It was not attractive.
I know what Dr. Seuss says – Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. – but honestly? I’ve never really liked that line. I want to do both.
This was the first time I’d been back to the lake in 10 years, and I just wanted to camp out for a bit and boo-hoo.
I knew, though, that being gloomy wouldn’t solve anything. (It certainly wouldn’t make things better for Robbie.) And it wasn’t like my whole life was over; it was just one season. Plus, my children are basically happy. And healthy. And I am pretty sure they’re all tracking with Jesus. What did I have to complain about?
And so I tried to smile (because it happened). Still, though, I couldn’t shake the sense of loss. I decided to take my case up with God.
“God,” I said, “I know you don’t mean for anybody to wallow, or get stuck in the past. I know you have plans and purposes and good things in store. And it’s not like you’re going to leave me hanging for the next 40 years, right?”
And God is so sweet. He did two things at once.
First, he reminded me of that verse where he talks about turning the page and starting a fresh, new chapter instead of dwelling on the past. I didn’t remember the reference so I looked it up: See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. That’s Isaiah 43:19. I think it’s a great promise for an empty nester – or for anyone facing a time of transition, whether it’s a student headed off to college, a family making a cross-country move, or a loved one taking on a new job. If that’s where you are, go ahead and look that one up for yourself. Consider it yours.
The second thing God did came via email. Two years ago, my friend Annesley wrote a column for Theological Horizons, an organization that serves students at U.Va. I missed the article back then, but for some reason they ran it again, and I got to read it last week. It’s a great piece about transition – not because it solves the sadness issue but because 1) if you cry at Kindergarten Graduation, it lets you know you’re not alone, and 2) it ends with a wonderful prayer for our kids as they move on (or, for that matter, for anyone facing a season of change). If you want to read Annesley’s piece, click here.
So here’s what I did (and what you can do, too):
First, I asked God to help me perceive his work and get on board with whatever way he might be making – in the wilderness, the wasteland, or wherever. If God’s on the move (and he pretty much always is), I don’t want to get left behind!
Next, I thanked him for Annesley’s writing, and for the comfort that comes when you realize that you’re not alone in the boat. (And if you’re facing your own season of newness right now, whatever it is, I want you to know that I’m praying for you and your family as I write…cuz I get it!)
And finally (and this was a critical step for me, but one you could probably skip), I took my cue from the Grinch. Remember how he wanted a reindeer but, since “reindeer are scarce,” he had to grab his dog, Max? Yeah, well. I wanted a kid so I could snap their pic on the dock, like I did with Robbie Jr., 20 years ago…
…but since my kids, like reindeer, are generally scarce, I got the dog to stand in. And, like his namesake (we got him on Christmas), Max did a mighty fine job:
Robbie and I spent the past week at a lake in Canada. I’ll tell you more next week (including why our northern escape from the mid-summer heat was not, actually, pure joy), but for now I will just share this one pic:
(That, in case you can’t tell, is a Canadian sunrise.)
I had to share the photo with our children. First, though, I did some editing:
I thought I was so clever! And that my kids would wake up and be so encouraged and happy!
Two hours later, I got this reply:
Okay. So am I the only one who thought the sunrise looked like an upside down exclamation mark? I mean, did you not notice that?
Sigh. All my best stuff is wasted on my kids. Maybe I should have just texted them a Bible verse. There are plenty of good ones that have to do with the morning. Consider, for instance, Proverbs 27:14: If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.
(As in, say hello if you must…but not before coffee. And not, if you please, with too much enthusiasm.)
Or Genesis 29:25, which details Jacob’s surprise after being tricked into sleeping with the wrong sister: When morning came, there was Leah!
Honestly, though, if I were to pick just one Bible verse to wake up to, I think it would have to be Lamentations 3:22-23:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Is that not just the best? What these words mean is that yesterday’s mistakes are over. God’s love has them covered. And he’s got a fresh helping of grace for today.
I love that. And I think it’s got the makings of a great Friday prayer, either for yourself or for someone else who needs to know this good news:
Your love never ends.
Your mercies never cease.
Your faithfulness is great.
Help _____ remember these powerful truths. May _____ know that your mercies are new every morning. Thank you for giving us a brand new start in your love, every day.
It’s been a big week.
If you’re like me and you tend to over-do it on the whole Celebrate Freedom thing, you might be feeling a little worn out or weary. Happily for people like us, Jesus knows just what we need.
“Come to me,” he says, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
That’s his promise in Matthew 11:28, and it’s the basis for this week’s Friday Prayer. I hope you’ll join me in praying it for yourself or your loved ones today – and that you’ll give yourself the freedom to sit for a spell!
You don’t want us to live weary, weak, or worn out lives. Thank you that we can come to you and find the rest and refreshment we need. Help ____ to find rest in your presence today. (Matthew 11:28)
And P.S., if your weariness isn’t from over-celebrating but from over-working, you might love this post from the folks at Proverbs 31. We really can do “busy” better!
Robbie and I love U.Va.
People know this, and so whenever a friend or family member cleans out their attic, they give us their old U.Va. stuff. As a result, we have an eclectic collection of books, artwork, socks, Christmas ornaments, Wedgewood china, record albums, and even some Kentucky Straight Whiskey in a porcelain bottle, which (inconceivably) some Wahoo forgot to finish, fifty years ago.
I adore all of this junk, but I think my favorite relic might be a fundraising piece, c. 1946:
We inherited the magazine from one of Robbie’s uncles who was of the same vintage. In it, the editors appeal to “Americans of the atomic-power age” to “lift the general level of intelligence” so as to develop “competence for leadership.” In pursuit of this worthy aim, they (of course) quote Thomas Jefferson.
And with today being Independence Day and all, I thought you might want to know what the guy who drafted the Declaration (and, in his spare time, invented U.Va.) had to say about greatness. Here are four qualities that, according to TJ, would make a great leader:
- Good humor.
As Mr. Jefferson saw it, “The preference of the 1st to the 2nd quality may not at first be acquiesced in, but certainly we had all rather associate with a good humored light principled man than with an ill tempered rigorist in morality.”
(Meaning, I guess, that we’d all rather hang with a cheerful rogue than a grumpy saint.)
(Which is true.)
Of course, no serious discussion of greatness or competent leadership would be complete without the words of another freedom-loving man: Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.
That’s what Jesus said. And, at the end of the day, that’s what he did.
So today, as we celebrate our nation’s independence, let’s do this: Let’s take the advice of two men – one perfect; one not – and do like Jesus did, giving up our lives (our time, our position, our rights) to help others. But let’s not be all finger-pointy or stingy about it. Instead, let’s also take Mr. Jefferson’s counsel (and, for that matter, the Bible’s), and do it with a cheerful spirit.
Okay y’all. I promise this is the last one. No more of Mark Forsyth‘s literary tricks, after today. But when I saw pleonasm used in one of the Psalms of Ascent, I just had to give it to you in the form of a Friday Prayer.
Pleonasm, Forsyth explains, is “the use of unneeded words that are superfluous and unnecessary in a sentence that doesn’t require them.” Familiar phrases such as added bonus, personal friend, and safe haven are all examples of this belt-and-suspenders technique. They are linguistic time wasters. Why would anyone bother to fall down when a simple fall would have the same effect?
Psalm 121 opens with a couple of back-to-back (see what I did there?) pleonasms: I lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. Not only do we not need the word “up,” Forsyth says, but since “whence” literally means from where, throwing in the extra “from” is enough to make some people fly into a furious rage. (Because I guess a regular rage, minus the pleonasm, just doesn’t sound angry enough.)
I’ll give you the whence (and so will most modern Bible translators, who have swapped it for where), but I actually think we need the word up. Pleonasm is not always a bad thing and, when it serves to emphasize a point (“I saw it with my own two eyes!”), I think it works. And in this case, I love the fact that the psalmist doesn’t just want to level our downcast gaze, he wants to make sure we look up.
In the end, though, none of that really matters. What matters is that God stands ready to guard, protect, keep, and watch over us. If you want to read the whole psalm, click here. But if all you have time for today is an abbreviated version in the form of a prayer (and you don’t mind little pleonasm thrown in), here you go:
Lift up my eyes today. Let me see you as the source of my help…watch over my coming and going, both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121)
Last week, I told you about Mark Forsyth’s book, The Elements of Eloquence, in which he maintains that Shakespeare’s brilliance was rooted more in his ability to use literary tricks and techniques than in any sort of innate genius. One such technique is anadiplosis.
Anadiplosis won’t pass your computer’s spell check (I tried), and I doubt it’s something you’ll want to break out at a cocktail party, but it’s a good trick to know, particularly if you want to sound logical, progressive, or just well-balanced. Anadiplosis happens when you take the last word of a sentence or phrase and then use it to begin the next one: A man takes a drink. The drink takes a drink. The drink takes the man.
Or consider this example, from Paul:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)
I wasn’t thinking about anadiplosis when I went hiking recently. I was, however, thinking about suffering. I’m not much of a woods-and-squirrels girl, and I hadn’t intended to hike Sewanee’s 20-mile Perimeter Trail (or any part of it) when I started. My plan was to walk to a nearby overlook and…look over.
Which I did:
But then I noticed a trail map, conveniently posted next to the overlook. I had some time and I figured I could do a little bit of the trail. Like a mile, maybe. I could always come back later for the other 19.
Not being an experienced hiker (not being any sort of hiker), I didn’t bother to read the fine print. I saw the jagged emblem that meant “Difficult”…but how difficult could “Difficult” be? It was only a mile, for crying out loud. I’d be in and out in 15 minutes.
At first, I was captivated. To my left was a giant rock face. To my right was a 50-foot drop, just daunting enough to make you pay attention.
Everything was quiet (unless you count the sound of scurrying, which I tried not to). Peaceful. I felt like I was alone in the world.
Which, after about ten minutes, started to be less fun.
Nobody knew where I was, I hadn’t brought along any hiker stuff like water, and I didn’t need my Garden Club membership to help me identify the horticulture that grew, with unmitigated vigor, all over the trail:
I was just starting to think about mountain lions (I knew they’d found the bones of a prehistoric saber-toothed tiger nearby; might he or she have left any grandchildren?) when I rounded a bend and saw this:
A hole in the trail. Through a rock. Which was high.
Going up seemed out of the question. The opening was a good 15 feet above the trail (closer to 30, if you count the dirt part), and it was pretty much straight up, with no hand- or foot-holds I could detect. (You would think someone might put in a rope.)
I tried going around, but there was no trail to the right. Just a sheer, poison-ivy-coated drop into nothing but treetops.
And I thought about turning back. But honestly? That felt like quitting. Plus, I knew other moms who had done this part of the hike. (Or so they said.)
To put my predicament in perspective, I’ve marked up the photo for you. The red arrow is where I needed to get. The red person is me. And I look a lot taller (and more athletic) in the drawing than I am in real life:
And here’s the thing. I am not afraid of heights, but I am not big on falling. And I had no idea what was on the other side of the hole. Was it an even steeper drop?
I started to turn around. But then this thought came:
Suffering produces perseverance.
Seriously. Out of nowhere. I didn’t know about anadiplosis, but I did know that verse and where it went. I knew that if I started at suffering and got through the whole thing (not to mention the hole thing), I’d wind up at hope.
I decided that since I had already experienced some pain (and on a happy note, the very real presence of snakes and mosquitoes took my mind off of the unseen lions and tigers), I could go ahead and move into the perseverance phase. Which felt good, since it meant that I had accomplished something. Or God had, in me. And if he would grant me the courage I needed to climb up to the hole, I was ready to count that as character.
I sent a text to Robbie (which I didn’t think would go through) and a prayer to God (which I was pretty sure would), wanting them both to know where I was, in case things went bad. And then I started climbing.
I made it. (Obviously.) And when I crawled out of the hole on the other side of the rock, I had three rewards.
The first was a nice, flat path:
The second was beautiful waterfall:
And the third was the end of that part of the trail, which literally dumps you out at the foot of the cross:
Talk about hope!
I can’t remember when my heart felt so full, or so grateful. And, I realized, I would not have appreciated the cross (or the hope it delivered) had I not spent that time on the trail. Walking through fear – and coming to the place where my own strength wasn’t enough, where my only two options were to turn back or go forward with a God I couldn’t see instead of a rope that I could – is what brought me to hope.
All of which is to say…
If you are in a season of suffering (even if it’s just a mile’s worth of scary stuff), keep going. Don’t turn back. Just put one foot in front of the other because that’s what kindles perseverance, a “s
And remember, you’re not alone. Count on God to strengthen your character. He gave me courage; he will supply what you lack. He will lead you to hope.
I wish I had a clever way to use anadiplosis to wrap up this post, but I don’t. All I can do is repeat what Paul said – that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope – and then point to the conclusion Paul draws: And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
I don’t know what the literary term is for that last sentence; if I ever meet Mr. Forsyth, I’ll ask him. For now, though, maybe we can just call it a “happy ending.”
My friend Nigel (a former Royal Marine Commando who now heads up By His Wounds, a ministry dedicated to helping veterans and others who need physical and emotional healing) says that he wakes up every morning and smiles. Even if he doesn’t feel all that cheerful or happy, he wills his face into a grin – even before he gets out of bed.
I love that. And not just because it reminds me of Buddy the Elf (“Smiling’s my favorite!”). I like Nigel’s habit because it reminds me of one of the Bible’s most encouraging verses. Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Some Bible brainiacs will tell you that “the day” this verse talks about is the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. Others say it is about the Sabbath. And still others (including those in the first two camps) maintain that, in the big picture, this verse calls us to rejoice because – thanks to God’s work at the resurrection – we have a Redeemer and a forever King who has beaten death and forgiven us, once and for all.
I agree with all of these people. And, at the risk of sounding theologically shallow, I also agree with Buddy the Elf. In a world where there are plenty of things not to smile about, I want to start my days the way Nigel does. I want to choose joy, knowing that today’s difficult circumstances and challenging relationships are not the big-picture story.
The big-picture story is that we have a good King who has saved us, who loves us, and who is still active and at work in our lives.
(Which is totally worth thinking about, even before we get out of bed.)
This is the day that you have made. No matter what hardships or struggles I may face, help me rejoice and be glad because of what you have already done. (Psalm 118:24)
My bedside table always has a stack of books by a fairly diverse collection of authors.
P.G. Wodehouse (think Downton Abbey, only funnier and more redemptive), C.S. Lewis (just finished Prince Caspian, again), and John Grisham (always a fun beach read, plus he’s a U.Va. fan) have all been in the mix this summer.
You might notice, based on the photo, that one of my own books is there, too. I keep a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children close at hand since, quite honestly, I need it. I might not re-read all the stories, but if one of my kids needs something like wisdom, protection, or even a sense of purpose or direction in life, I love having a collection of prayer verses at the ready. I’ll never forget the night, years ago, when a teenaged Virginia burst into our bedroom and, seeing me sitting up in bed with my book, stopped short. “You are reading your own book?” she asked. “Oh Mom. That is just so sad.”
(What is NOT so sad is that, from now until June 30, you can download the digital version of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children for just 99 cents. Click here to order…and please pass the word!)
Another book I am LOVING was a gift from my eloquent friend, Michelle:
“Shakespeare,” author Mark Forsyth begins, “was not a genius.” He was a great writer who “started out badly” and only got better because he “learnt techniques and tricks.” The Elements of Eloquence is full of such tricks, all artfully articulated (which would be an example, of course, of alliteration). Whether you’re looking to snag a Pulitzer or just step up your thank you note game, this book is a winner.
And finally, I am finding myself longing for more of the Holy Spirit. Happily for me, the gals in our church are doing a summer study on Catherine Marshall’s The Helper, an oldie-and-goodie that covers who the Holy Spirit is, what he does, and a whole lot more in 40 bite-sized readings.
Not only that, but I’ve recently discovered a two-book series about the Holy Spirit by Susan Rohrer. Voted “Most Sensible” in high school (a designation she considered an indictment, rather than a compliment), Susan hardly seems the type to delve into things like supernatural gifts. But she does so – with exquisite grace and with a relentless attachment to Scripture, whether she’s talking about “out there” stuff like gifts of healing and prophecy, or the more socially acceptable graces (things like teaching, encouragement, hospitality, and even exceptional creative or technical abilities).
I realize that the Holy Spirit (and particularly his activity in contemporary times) can be a touchy subject in some churches. And I also know (because I’ve seen it happen) that his gifts can be misunderstood or misused. But The Bible in One Year reading plan has us in Acts right now, and when I read Acts 13:52 this week (And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit), I was like, “Yeah. I want THAT.”
If you do, too, check out The Helper or Susan’s books.
And if that’s not where you are (or where you want to go), then just stick with Mark Forsyth. Because, as far as I know, literary tricks like anadiplosis (which I may blog about next week, so start getting excited!!) have never sparked any controversies.
A sweet friend lost her father last week. He was 94 and had lived a great life, but that didn’t diminish the ache she felt at his passing. I told her I get it. It’s been 16 years and, as we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day, I miss my dad as much now as ever.
My dad “graduated” (as we like to say, in our family) in 2001. Click here if you want to read about him, or meet the guy who introduced me to Jesus. He had the most twinkly blue eyes, and when my college friends came to visit, he would smile and ask awkward questions like, “How’s your love life?” (My pals never seemed to mind; in fact, they usually laughed – and then confided in him.)
I’m grateful for my father – and, in fact, for every dad out there who is doing Dad Stuff. It can’t be easy to always have to carry the heaviest suitcases, get the wasps out of the attic, and keep it together when your wife makes you late. Again.
(I love you, Robbie.)
And so Dads, whatever it is that you’re doing – teaching a child to ride a bike, drive a car, or trust Jesus – can I just say thank you? Half the stuff you do may go unnoticed or unappreciated, but God sees. He knows how hard you work, and how much you love your family. And my prayer for you, this Father’s Day, is that he will strengthen you and give you everything you need to keep on being The Dad:
May the God of peace…equip you with everything good for doing his will, working in you what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. (Hebrews 13:20-21)
Note on the family pic, circa 1985: My family of origin was never known for its athleticism. This pic was snapped shortly after Robbie (my brand new husband, who is hiding his face for good reason) tackled my dad. He still says he “didn’t mean to hit him that hard” but hey. He prevented a touchdown.