Reading Hebrews: Study Jesus, Grow Up & Run

I read the book of Hebrews through this morning in THE MESSAGE, a translation by the legendary and wise, brilliant pastor and author Eugene Peterson.  All these thoughts come directly from that reading.  When I used Peterson’s words, I tried to give “credit” but this is completely my interpretation of his translation.  Don’t blame him for my ignorance or lack of understanding.  This is written to myself but you can listen in. 

The book of Hebrews likens life to a race.  I’m not that competent at running.  Last summer, I started running trying the Couch Potato to 5k program.  At first I barely stumbled around the block, untrained and unprepared. But it didn’t take long before I was running three miles. Today, after static winter, I’d have to start all over again. I would have to start from the beginning and mature into a runner, again.

Like those listed in the book of Hebrews, our faith Story, should point people toward their true home. We can please God through our Story by believing that God exists and that he cares enough to respond when we cry out to him.

Be confident that you are presentable inside and out.”

Even with wickedness in our back story, in the book of Hebrews we learn that in the final review this is the point—that we are unworthy and that through the actions of Jesus, we become presentable again.

How are we to live now, today?

The Message translates that we are to “make our way as best we can on the cruel edges of the world.”  That’s dramatic, but I can relate.  Life has felt more than a little cruel of late.

Hebrews holds a roster of pioneers of faith, people like my father, imperfect – whose lives were unfinished and incomplete when they died, even if they were exemplary; or whether they tripped up over and over, even if they had to learn how to run many times throughout their lives. They are all at the last finish line, shouting and cheering us on.

Hebrews says their lives combined with ours becomes The Story—a completed whole.

So, even when you feel inadequate, knowing that you’re broken, feeling you’re too lame to run, you are commanded TO RUN!

But how are we to carry out this impossible feat? 

Key your eyes on Jesus. Know Jesus. Study Jesus.

When you feel most down trodden and unable to run, go back to the basics to who he was and is, how he behaved, how he treated people, how he fashioned his time and priorities and days (and nights). Study him.

And, if you begin to feel life is unfair, that yours in particular is full of suffering and pain. Consider these things to be ways for God to love you.  We are disciplined and corrected by love.

This is growing up spiritually.

Know that your pain is God’s training ground!  Life isn’t hard because you’re bad, or undeserving of good things, or even unrepentant.  No, life hurts because God the father LOVES YOU!  It’s the University of Spiritual Development.

And so, stop resisting. Stop complaining. Wipe your tears. Wake up to God’s love!  These hard moments, this unimaginable pain in your life or those you love, is making you not breaking.

Hebrews is a heavenly warning.  “God himself is fire!” He’s burning, aware of…our immaturity, our gracelessness, our negativity, our tearing one another down.

He’s looking at you and me – challenging us to care for one another.

It is simple things.

  • “Be ready with a meal or a bed when needed.  Why some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it.
  • Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them.
  • Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them happened to you.
  • Guard your marriage, your relationships.
  • Don’t be obsessed with getting material things.
  • Watch how your pastors live and let their lives instruct you.
  • Share what you have with others.  Worship God with your generosity and love.
  • And pray that God, who put all this together, who makes all things whole, who gave us Jesus, may he train you, put you together—providing you with everything you need—in Jesus.”

Sometimes, truth is so simple that we ignore it thinking that can’t be all.  That can’t be it.  It’s not spiritual enough.  It’s not complicated enough.

But the book of Hebrews makes it pretty clear.  We are to love one another in the daily race of life, look to Jesus as our example for how to live, trust him, be trained by him … Grow up.

And run.

MHH

Who’s listening? On writing and living a Story

The fog crept in steadily.

The morning was dreary, unusually dark; so much so that my son asked if the sun was coming today.

As I began my morning run I felt the drizzle soaking through the cloth on my arms, but it is unseasonably warm so my legs, bare to the elements, felt refreshed by the thick moist air.

I ran.  And I keep running not because I intend to win a race.  I ran, and I keep running not because there is anyone encouraging me along – though people are cheering, in my head and in my life.

I ran, and I keep running because I love myself.

Even as I have learned that I love myself and that I am quite beloved by God, I have my days.  Bad days when this doesn’t feel true.

The other day a reader said my writing “lacked heart.”  At first, it shook me.  The voice in my head murmuring and cloying, “You thought you had come so far.”

Sunday I heard the words again, the source Brennan Manning and a piece of a puzzle fell into place.  The first time I heard the words “I am the one Jesus loves” I physically recoiled away from the idea.  My heart, dry and rigid like clay left too long in the sun, broken into pieces already.  Those words didn’t offer solace, then.

Today I know they are true and I argue back.

I am loved!  I have a heart, soft and malleable.  I am full of passion and I can put my heart into words on the page and move people. 

But that cannot be why I write – for others to be moved, for others to approve, or for others to be impressed by my supposed ability.  And I cannot write what I am not living every day the passion and pain of motherhood, of being a Child of God, of being healed even as I am still broken, of God nursing me back to health over the last decade of depravity and addiction and a lifetime of sorrow.  I write my story not out of some psychological need, either.

I write what I am living even as I know I cannot write everything.  But write I do because I believe it will reach others in their inner dark spaces of which I know nothing specific, but I can imagine because the life I have lived; because I have walked the road of depression and a shaky unclear disbelieving heart.  I have lived the days, even years of not wanting to be alive.  I have been there and I am not there now and so I write.

I spoke it aloud to my husband, asking if he had read the piece.  What did he think?  Crushed, momentarily by my apparent “lack of heart” Wavering, slowly then I remembered the rest.  The fellow Redbud who said it was “brilliant” and all the rest who read and were moved and who wept. And I knew.  And I learned.

I cannot write for the reader.

I cannot write for my own personal health.

I cannot write for glory.

I must write because of the story inside, the story I have lived and still live daily.  The story is the gift and the sacrifice.  And if God is glorified in my weakness, this is why I write.

{reflecting on the past year and turning 46}

I have come far. I have run hard. I feel strong.

I am proud of my learning to harness perseverance and need. Twenty seven pounds ago, I hated myself and today I feel lithe and strong.  All this, accomplished with an iron will, though a little obsessively neurotic at times.  I know, I am strong. And this is good, this self-love, for one who loathed herself for most of her life.

But I know there is more — to know, to learn, more to my life.  I am always pressing life for more and this dissatisfaction, while frustrating at times,  is  also who I am.  I accept it.  

I have been running, strong.  But perhaps away from or around, not through Jesus and the community of believers I am a part of these days. Even as I join — leaning into community, giving myself away, so that I see pieces and part of me all over the place.  In words and images, in relationships — all good things, still I have held something important back.

“I am not in love with the church” she said. And as I read this offering, words from a deeply thoughtful writer whom I read trembling with her conviction, every time.  Her words, like good writers do, carve into my heart.  I was undone by them, slayed.  Broken by her words, I had to acknowledge its truth.

In me.

For I have tried so hard to love, prayed for it even.  Known how right it is to love the bride of Christ, the church.

But I avoid her, even as I am the butt of pastors jokes about introverts on a Sunday morning. Oh how I hate the “greet perfect strangers” time of the church week.  Yes, I resent it, but really deep down this isn’t about being shy.  I don’t love the Bride of Christ.

I look down, avoid eye contact, trying not to see her.

I am shaken by my stone cold heart.

He said, love others as you love yourself. And these words fell on a heart that was running, afraid to love.

I’ve come far, run hard and strong toward God– I love Him and He fills me.  He gathers up all my fear, the anxious heart that grips me strong, that is not allowing change to come into me.

I am strong but I am weak.  He longs for me to step closer, sit longer, open up, be.  Allow the eucharist to transform me in the quiet of space that I

don’t fill, don’t control, where I don’t speak.

Let God transform.

“You’re running on your own strength,”  the Holy One whispered to me, over and over this week.  And I know that I am.  Admitting it is a small, sweet release of pressure that has built up as I got strong.  I was even frightened by my strength.

“Lay down ego and pride and the feelings of being not good enough.

Lay down your mind that swirls, a windstorm of thoughts that never stop, making you feel slightly crazy all the time. 

Lay down the hopes, the dreams, the plans.

Lay down control, learn from me. 

Lay down desire for powerful influence.

Lay down comparison that kills joy and everything good, that makes your mouth taste bitter.

Lay down fear that frequently cripples.

Lay down the need to be seen as smart.

Lay down,

kneel

acknowledge the ugliness inside you.”

Hear me: YOU ARE PERFECT.

Stop

running on your own strength.  

Let me be your refuge and strength.

Surrender to the Cross

ever and always being in a state of

becoming.”

And so, I am learning this.  I’ll admit the thought of letting go frightens me but I long to truly love God, myself and my neighbor, as we’re commanded, so much so that this becomes a sweet surrender.

And it is to be daily.