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“Just one fact, Ma!”

My mother said that this is what I said to her after I was desperately trying to get the real and true “facts of life” out of her. I was probably 10 or 11 at the time – and started hearing some very sketchy things about the “facts of life” from older friends and siblings. Needless, to say, I was very skeptical and horrified. So, of course I went to my mother – who desperately wanted to remain vague – perhaps I was still too young – and I do realize now the wisdom in “age appropriate” knowledge.

I did a similar thing with God about 17 years ago. I was wrestling with the verse “set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2) And for some reason I just kept pleading with God to tell me how to do this.

“Lord, please show me how to set my mind on the things that are above?”

Perhaps I wasn’t doing so well at the time – and was longing to concentrate on something heavenly while being weighed down with earthly things. The memory is starting to get fuzzy – but I do remember the quest – and again probably making myself neurotic over the answer.

The answer came to me one evening.  I was sitting in my kitchen with my head under the hood of the stove smoking a cigarette.  I always marvel at how God will speak to us even when we aren’t looking all that saintly at the moment. It’s one of the few times I actually believe God was speaking directly to me – not that it was audible – but it might as well could have been because it was indeed as clear as if he shouted it in my ear

God said, “It’s not a formula Tari.”

I thought: What!? That’s all you’re giving me God? It’s not a formula! I was looking for a formula. I always am. Some step by step – not too many steps please – ways in which to do life – ways in which to make sense of things that don’t make sense. Just give me a formula and I’m good to go. I can follow a formula.

However, I believe God was telling me in that moment, sorry you don’t get one. This abiding life in Christ can never be put into a formula – and just when I think I have it figured out – I get to climb another step in his Kingdom and see how much I still don’t know – still haven’t arrived – still have so very far to go – and still need a lot of growth.

I’m reflecting on this “formula idea” because in two days we have our Senior Women Dinner – where it has become a tradition to send these women off with some sort of blessing and wisdom. And I want to give them just one fact that will transform their entire lives – and allow them to live well and finish well – that one all-encompassing thing to say that if I never see them again – they will remember forever – and fashion their lives around a brilliant truth – some mysterious formula that’s not yet been revealed. Well, after 17 years, I’m slowly starting to get it – at least that one thing – that one thing it’s not … a formula.

But that doesn’t get me off the hook. Or any of us.

I think the one phrase answer is found in John 15:5.

The verse that talks about abiding in Christ.

I could go all neurotic over that one too … and ask, so how do you do that?!

Now, while there is still no formula, I do think there are indeed elements or qualities or traits or spiritual clothes – if you will – that we are to practice six days out of the week. Yes, I think we are off the hook for all work – especially working on ourselves on the Sabbath!

So, after pondering over certain elements here are the ones in my own life that I tend to hone in on more often than others – and surely it must be because those are the areas where I need the most work – so for what it is worth – this is what I’m going to tell my dear sisters on Monday night:

Repent often.

  • I find that repentance restores my joy. I also find that God is very lavish with his forgiveness. And I find that there is always something I need to repent over.

Be grateful always.

Overlook Offenses.

  • Proverbs told me this one via a Doctor of Ministry student. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience, it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11)

Stay Cheerful

  • Proverbs again, via a Jan Karon book – what a gem of a proverb: a cheerful heart has a continual feast. (Proverbs 15:15b)

Remember your rescue

  • Realize he rescued you because he delighted in you – that’s from Psalms – and another personal favorite of mine to dwell on. (Psalm 18:19)

Pray … for things like

  • Wisdom … To love well … To struggle well … all those things we can’t possibly do in our own strength.

Dwell In His Presence

  • Practicing his presence is soul warming, soul healing, and soul satisfying. It is truly good for your soul.

So, on this particular day, at this particular moment I suppose that’s the formula that I come up with if I had to give one on living well. But is it a formula? I don’t think so. I still think God was right when he said, it’s not a formula. (Isn’t that good of me to agree with the Creator of the universe.) And of course I don’t do all of these things daily – or even weekly – in some order – yet I think being clothed in our inmost being with such things truly is helpful when seeking to live well. I’m going to miss these women, but I am comforted by the fact that I get to spend eternity with them.

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