Category Archives: Relationships

Known and Loved

I have this theory about life, which I’ve likely borrowed from any number of books or lectures I’ve heard over the past 21 years, and here it is:

our deepest longing as people is to be known and loved.

We live busy, rushed lives where these things often get pushed to the wayside. Meaningful connections and moments are replaced by a hurried pace and self-absorbed actions. Our deepest desires manifest themselves in other ways as we seek to be known by others – through what we post on social media, through the way we talk about ourselves, through self-promotion of the things that give us confidence. All of that stems out of a longing to be unconditionally loved; when we don’t feel that kind of love, we question whether or not all of us is worth loving, and we engage in subsequent image management. If we control what people know then by a strange association we can control their love. Thus, we continually seek approval, relationships (whether emotionally or physically intimate), and anything else that enables our desire to either run away from engaging in deep knowing/loving of others or to pursue it in ways where we still maintain control.

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So tonight, I find myself curled up in my Clemson blanket, next to a candle that I’m not technically supposed to have lit, in the sunroom, writing out a tentative plan for highschool small group tomorrow. I’m drawing from Bonhoeffer’s God is in the Manger for themes of waiting, hearing, and the season of Advent in general. I’m intentionally leaving space at the end of the time for the girls to reflect and develop a personal awareness to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the space we’ve allotted for that kind of thing. The tentativeness of the plan comes from a desire to the let these girls, on the precipice of adulthood, have some level of say in what their small group looks like. If they want to talk about something else for two hours, that’s fine. I’m flexible.

As I’m hitting a sweet spot in terms of typing out potential questions and spaces for their engagement, I realize there’s a foundational principle that I want to keep in mind, both in my planning and in the way I lead the time tomorrow. So, I scroll back to the top of my note and type: “remember, the goal is that these girls would leave knowing that they are both loved and known, not only by me but infinitely more so by the incarnate God of the universe.” It’s a principle that I want guiding not only this youth ministry but every action of my life. To do whatever I can in making people feel known and loved, whether thats intimate relationships or passing interactions, for the sake of reflecting but a shadow of the love and knowledge that our Creator has for us. He’s El Roi, the God who sees us. How can I choose to see others so that they might feel His presence?

Yet as I sat in the sunroom tonight, typing out that simple reminder, it was like a tidal wave of grace overcame me:

“you know that’s true for you too Maddie”

I can’t adequately explain when Jesus speaks in these kind of moments; I just know that I’m never the same. Because when He says things like this, it touches on the deepest parts of who I am. Everything else slips away as I sit in the presence of my incarnate Savior, the One who indwells my faithless, sinful, fragile being. And yet, it’s that being, every intricate part of it, that He knows more intimately than I can imagine and loves more deeply than I will ever understand.

Because when we spend our days focused on making others feel known and loved, it’s easy for our souls to forget just how deeply we are known and loved ourselves. While He demonstrates that love in a myriad of ways, not the least of which is lavishing love upon us in community, there is something fundamentally central and profound about the depth at which He, El Roi Himself, knows and loves us.

I don’t know about you, but that truth feels overwhelmingly enough for my soul. Now, for the grace to walk in it.

Because I’m With You

During my time in Asia, I visited this place called the Home of Hope. The name is kind of a misnomer, however, since the atmosphere seemed to suck every breath of hope out of my lungs. I remember my eyes stinging, whether from the equatorial sun radiating off the concrete slab beneath my dusty flip flops or from the literal stench of death, I’m not sure. Either way, I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for the holistic, embodied suffering I was about to come face to face with.

I shuffled my eighteen year old body across the cemented field, fighting back tears as I smiled at the very bodies of dehumanization. Women literally left to lay out in the sun, crapping in their pants, and scratching the lice in their hair until they die. If there was anything that was going to strip any “savior mentality” view of service and missions away, this was it. Lotion bottle in hand, I was here to just love these women; there was literally nothing effective or practical that I was equipped to do. That sounded more romantic than it felt as I sat down next to a woman whose sun-leathered body looked older than her eyes told me she was.

I motioned that I could rub lotion on her hands, if she wanted. Without hesitating, she pulled down a piece of fabric that could barely be considered basic clothing and patted her arms. Looking into her desperate eyes, I began rubbing lotion on her arms and chest, smiling awkwardly and fighting the urge to find a corner that I could lose it in. Suddenly and without warning, she reached out and grabbed my hand, beginning to babble in a language I couldn’t understand. Hindi, Telugu, Tagalong, Kannada – it didn’t matter, because regardless, I couldn’t understand her. As I listened to syllables that held no meaning, looking with eyes that communicated care and slight confusion. Nodding occasionally, I made my silent inquiry of God:

“Lord, I don’t know what I’m doing. I just want to let this woman know how deeply You love her and, literally, all I can do is sit here, listening to her talk with words I don’t understand. I believe in Your power, so I know that you could open my ears to understand her. But is that what will bring You the most glory here? Where are you, Jesus?”

Inaudibly, He spoke tenderly: Maddie, just be with her. Listen to her, not for the sake of responding or fixing anything, but for the sake of letting her know she’s heard. My glory is here because you are choosing to see her, to listen to her, to sit with her in the midst of her suffering, simply because it’s where she is. And it’s where I am too.

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I was reminded of this story tonight at dinner with a friend. As he asked about recent hurts and weights upon my heart, our conversation became an illumination of something that my soul craves but my self-absorption often hinders me from living into well.

We need to learn how to be fully with people in their mess, in their suffering, in their hard things, in their pain, and in their experiences. Especially when we don’t understand, it takes an extra measure of intentionality remain steadfast and attentive to the daily sloughing of a tired wanderer. It’s the kind of solidarity that chooses to fight the temptation to view life only from our individualistic, comfortable lens and engage in the hard things of another’s journey for the sake of letting them know they are not alone.

We think that suffering necessitates action, and it does, but it’s the kind of action associated with lament, not trying to fix something. It’s the action that embodies the statement: “I am with you.

The specific action changes depending on the situation, however a general principle seems to be that simply being present, with an attention to the way other’s are feeling, hurting, or struggling in a way that validates it all, is a good place to start.

The thing is, this kind of embodied solidarity, this ministry of presence, is exactly the kind of thing that I see the Lord modeling in His incarnation. When Jesus goes to Mary and Martha after Lazarus is dies, He sits and weeps with them. He laments with them. If anyone could go with problem solving blazing, it was the Christ who knew he was about to raise the man from the dead. I think we miss something profound about the ministry of Jesus because we are so uncomfortable with engaging deeply with people in the places of their hurt. We have meaningful conversations that remind people we care and then we forget as soon as the candles are blown out. We forget what is hurtful, what feels isolating, and what remains hard for someone other than ourselves.

When the weight of waiting feels hard, I don’t want someone to offer me a quick fix or even tell me that the Lord is going to be faithful, that I just need to hold out for the blessing around the corner. When an LGBTQ student or someone of a racial minority opens up about feeling marginalized and alone, they aren’t looking for some problem solving, pat answer. The couple struggling with infertility doesn’t want you to tell them it’ll be okay or that you’re sorry for their pain, as the child on your lap snuggles against you. They want to know you acknowledge that it’s hard, that it sucks, and that it’s painful. It’s not about “getting it” or “fixing it” but about not letting their experiences go unnoticed. They want to know that not only are you viscerally aware of their hurt, even if you don’t get it, but that you are with them in it, whatever that means (making sure they aren’t alone, crying with them, leaving situations that are painful, letting them get angry, continually asking how they’re doing and being vulnerable yourself, etc).

I’m not saying that I know how to do this kind of embodied solidarity well; the fact that my best friend, whose dad passed away over the summer, cried the other night telling me that people are forgetting her grief indicates that I’ve got a long way to go in learning how to be fully, wholly, and truly with people in their pain. Even when I’m crying out for people to do the same for me. What’s amazing to me is that even in learning to do lament well, the process itself refines us to become more like Christ and pursue discernment. After all, we can’t do it well, in and of ourselves, because we don’t know what people need or how to engage well in their suffering. So, we keeping asking Him who loves individuals more than we ever could.

All of that to say (and apparently I had a lot to say), I think we are called to do more sitting, more weeping, and more simply being than we often do. Like Christ, we are asked to be with others, whether or not we understand their experiences or hardships, for the sake of letting them know that they are deeply known, deeply loved, and will never be alone.

Beauty Behind Bruises

Do you bruise easily? I do. Physically, my body responds to bumping my hip on an end table or letting a door slam on my calf with a vibrant black and blue mark. You should’ve seen me after I tried skiing for the first time this year. I couldn’t wear a skirt to a job interview because the marks were so bad – even with tights.

I may complain about my sore bruises or sigh about how rough they look, yet oddly enough I find something beautiful about bruises. I feel the same way about each of my scars, stretch marks, cuts, and burns. Unwelcome as they may be, each one boasts of a moment, a memory, a time when I was alive and living life to the full. They are like my own private memoir – reminding me of who I am, what I’ve done, and where I’ve seen the Lord at work.

Obviously marks and cuts affect our physical appearance, but there’s a reality of bruising that permeates much deeper than our skin . . .

We know we are called to love one another – verses like 1 John 4:20 are pretty clear about that:

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen1 John 4:20

Not only are we called to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:18-19), but we are asked to go above and beyond when it comes to doing life with the people the Lord puts around us:

And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
Matthew 5:41-44

Engaging in relationships, genuinely listening to the journey of another, caring for one another cultivates an inner beauty that reflects the image of Christ.holdon

Jesus entered into people’s lives with depth, authenticity, and sincerity. The cuts and bruises Jesus accumulated because of these relationships weren’t merely the physical ones that were part of being crucified on the cross. There were wounds inflicted by those who were Jesus’ friends that penetrated His heart.

The inner beauty gained from doing life with one another is often a result of bruises, cuts, and scars from being betrayed and mistreated, yet continuing to love anyway. Because we’re not perfect, our brokenness plays a part in how we care for one another. Sometimes engaging in relationships can feel like getting close to a fire – the closer you get the warmer and more beautiful the embers become, yet the likelihood of getting burned also increases. The deeper we allow ourselves to live out the call of loving one another, the more exposed our soul becomes and the more bruises it accumulates as a result.

Just like our physical body bears the evidence of, scrapes, bruises, and scars – because it tells the story of a life that has been utterly lived – so too our soul carries its fair share of hurts: the very things that make it beautiful.

Don’t be afraid to find the inner beauty that comes with giving yourself 100% to loving, caring for, and walking alongside those in your life. There might be additional burns and cuts as a result, but know that it is part of the process of becoming more like Christ.

you can read the full, original posting over at Maria Morgan

Tuesday Night Devotional on Community

One of the blessings (and honestly one of my favorite parts) of being a Christian Education major is the regularity with which we hear and plan class devotionals or lessons. For my Tuesday night Spiritual Theology class, I had to lead closing reflections and prayer this week. These passages from Bonhoeffer had been on my mind recently and as I prayed through them, I realized it was what I should share with the class. Wouldn’t you know, the topic of the class session was the church and Christian community. . .

“In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we under God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for all of us in Jesus Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I am all about expecting God to do big things. I have a firm belief in the power of prayer and the call of believers to intercede for things that seem impossible. I think we often forget that the one we speak with is He “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). 

That being said, Bonhoeffer is onto something here that I think is a real danger for Christians, especially those living in Christian community. Honestly, the more prominent and pervasive the community, the easier it can be to fall into. We formulate these expectations of what our community should look like and we are left disappointed and frustrated when it doesn’t happen. Or when we realize the people around us are messy, broken, sinful people that are capable of hurting us and letting us down. We start asking God to move in big ways, peering over to see what He will do like a kid on Christmas morning. But we miss what He’s doing right in front of us. In praying for the Red Seas to part, we miss the ways the Lord is loving us and moving in the midst of our everyday (whether that’s in Egypt or the Promise Land).

The people that the Lord has put around us are a blessing. They are a privilege. Christian community is not something we deserve, have earned, or are good enough for. There are hundreds of thousands of believers around the world who are lacking fellowship with brothers and sisters.

I get it – your community may not look the way you want. You may be living among broken people and in messy situations, situations where you are expecting God to move in mighty ways. God may not be bringing the relationships you want, whether that means He’s not bringing them at all or He’s bringing different ones than you wanted. Or maybe your community is amazing and you are in danger of elevating the people in your life on an unrealistic pedestal.

I’m convicted by Bonhoeffer’s words about receiving both the big and small things from God. The thing is, I often can’t see the small things with my own human vision (how often do I even miss the big things!). Which means that this growth is going to require the Lord’s grace and Spirit to open the eyes of my heart to see all that He is doing.

The good thing is, He loves to do that.

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On Encouragement.

“He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them… Read more. . .

We Weren’t Meant to Do This Alone

And yet, so often I try. I rely on Jesus, sure, but I don’t want to bother other people. I think I wrote a post back before the blog crash of 2013 about why it’s ok to have needs without being needy. I guess this is that same sort of theme. This weekend, there was… Read more. . .