But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone”

John 12:1-11 Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume and anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance. But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself. But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Karis deeply identified with this story. She didn’t see herself as Mary, but as the jar of perfume, broken over Jesus’ body. She believed a central part of her mission in life was to intercede for Christ’s body, and that her physical brokenness facilitated that intercession. She wrote about this several times in her journals. For example:

I am broken and poured out for others. I nurture hope because Your grace flows through my weakness… I’m not complaining, Lord. You know I’m not. I just want to know where to spill the perfume. … I heard a friend retell the story of the alabaster jar, the image that has been so precious to me of being broken and spilled out over Your body to perfume Your Church: that the waste of my life, my expensive life, might serve the Church once I am gone. And that the memory of me would somehow strengthen the Church to endure whatever persecution or death it is to face.

I was thinking about this when I received news that our dear friend Eloisa, a pillar of strength and kindness for her church, family, and community, died of Covid this morning in Cuiabá, Brazil. One more of so many beloved ones leaving shock and grief behind them.

And then I think about the context of the rest of this chapter. Mary’s anointing of Jesus for his burial and a section commenting on the unbelief of the people despite his raising of Lazarus bookend his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, a story we remembered yesterday. But Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday, thrusting us into this week of betrayal and suffering and death.

Jesus warns, “My light will shine for you just a little longer … Put your trust in the light while there is still time” (v. 35-36). While we wave palms in joyful hosannas, our praise is tempered by knowing what has already been done and said—“Let’s not just kill Jesus; let’s kill Lazarus too!” (v. 10) and by knowing what is coming next.

The time will come, though—Easter is but a preview—when there will no longer be sadness inseparable from our joy. I don’t know what it takes to prepare ourselves for that. It’s not something we ever get to experience here on earth, this so-called “vale of tears.” But it is coming. The last chapter of our story will be pure joy.

So let it rise like incense
My whole life, a fragrance
Every ounce here broken at Your feet
Every breath, an offering
My heart cries, these lungs sing over You
My worthy King of kings

But Jesus was angry

Grief. It can skewer you, swamp you, sabotage your self-control. It can be hot or cold. It can leave you bubbling over with the desperate need to talk, share, let others know how you feel. Or it can empty you, dry you out, isolate you. It can fade softly into the background yet knock you down with no warning. I once at the grocery store threw myself sobbing into the arms of a woman I barely knew. No, not typical behavior for me.

As I walked early this morning, the wind blowing my hair because in spring angst I left my hat at home, I thought, “Grief is like the wind.” On the car radio I heard we may have gusts up to 60 miles per hour today. We may lose power; branches may crack off our trees.

Have I felt grief that powerful, draining all my energy, stripping me, changing me permanently? Yes.

The news announcer went on to tell me eight tornadoes ravaged Alabama yesterday. Have I felt grief as devastating as a tornado? No. But I know some people have.

On still days, we don’t think about the wind. On hot days, we relish a breeze. It’s something we share with everyone in our neighborhood, whether we know them or talk with them or not. It’s part of our shared experience. Grief has become like that over the past year, not just locally or nationally, but worldwide. We all have something or someone (or many somethings or someones) to mourn. Can we let it unite us, strengthen our empathy, soften our reactivity?  

Some of us have loving, understanding people around us. Some of us suffer alone. As hard as things have been in our country, the resources we have are abundant compared to many parts of the world. I’ve talked with several people this week who told me, “Vaccines? We have no idea when they will reach our country. And once they do, it will be months or years before they are available for people like me. Meanwhile, our health care system is totally overwhelmed. Our recourse is prayer. And doing what we can to care for each other.”

I’m glad Jesus knew grief; I’m glad he wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus. In 1551, when Robert Estienne defined a verse structure within the chapters of the Bible, he decided “Jesus wept” deserved its own verse. I’m intrigued that Jesus’ weeping was apparently fueled by anger at his friends’ suffering. Could some of his emotion have been linked to his own impending death or, closer to hand, the Jewish leaders’ reactions to this high-profile event (From that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death (v. 53)? What do you think about Jesus’ anger?

As I finished my walk, an image of wind turbines marching across Pennsylvania hills flashed into my mind. Lord, I offer you, once again, my grief. Please harness it for your own purposes, beginning within my own soul. Make it a resource. A gift. Another miracle, Lord. Thank you.

Image from cancerhealth.com

But Jesus got away

John 10:30-42 Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.” …The people picked up stones to kill him. Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone me?” They replied, “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy! You, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus replied, “Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. … The Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” Once again they tried to arrest him, but he got away and left them… And many who were there believed in Jesus.

Spring! It’s here!!!

Easter season is all about miracles. In just a few days, we’ll celebrate the greatest miracle of all time: Jesus died, but now he’s alive! Some miracles are big and splashy and attract lots of attention. Others are so personal perhaps no one else even knows about them, but they create a warm glow of gratefulness in your heart every time you think about what God did for you.

Monday night a gal from Venezuela raised the question, “How can we experience the Holy Spirit’s presence with us when we’re going through truly awful, no good, terribly scary times?” I found myself talking about how important Lamentations 3:22-24 became for me during my tough times with Karis. My world had narrowed down to surviving each hour. Jeremiah told me every day, The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies begin afresh each morning.

You know what miracle God did for me personally during the most awful of the awful years? I was hardly eating or sleeping. Karis took two steps forward and three steps back, again and again. My stress level was off the charts. Yet I was not sick a single day that year! There was not a single day I was unable to show up and do what I needed to do for my daughter.

I am in awe of John as a writer. Consider chapter 10. The first half, set between the dramatic healing of the blind man in chapter 9 and Jesus’ discussion about miracles (in between having his life threatened), tells us about Jesus being our Shepherd. Sometimes his care takes the form of a big, splashy miracle. Sometimes the miracle blooms in knowing he’s with us, walking through whatever it is with us. Not leaving us stuck, alone. That’s a miracle with staying power.

Karis always believed she would not live one minute longer or shorter than her Shepherd planned for her, but she still had to do her part to stay as well as she could be. Jesus too, in this chapter, knew it wasn’t yet his time to die, so he dodged the bullets—oops, I mean stones. Sometimes he stayed around to chat, but sometimes he got out of there. At all times he was in control. At all times he was in tune with his Father who loved him (v. 17).

Have you experienced a miracle you would like to share? I invite you to write it down and send it to me by email—no longer than one page. Your experience can encourage others who need a concrete reminder that God is still in the miracle-working business. I’ll watch for your story!

Here’s one of my favorite versions of Jesus as my shepherd.

But Jesus is the light

John 9:1-5, 39-41 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins? “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” … Then Jesus told him [the man who had been born blind], “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?” “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.”

From Shutterstock, Fractal Graphics #3 by NataVilman

Before I go back to the judge and judgment verses in chapter 5, I want to look at this one in 9:39. This story of the blind man Jesus healed is one of my favorites in the Bible, and John takes a whole chapter to tell it. When Karis was born with a defect in her intestines, some people asked Dave and me to examine our lives to repent of whatever sin in us had caused this. So that question, which Jesus responds to so clearly, is as relevant in our time as it was two thousand years ago. Karis believed her entire life was meant as a showcase of God’s power and love. Reading that in her journals is what motivated me to write Karis, All I See Is Grace.

The story shows the blind man growing in his understanding of Jesus, from calling him “the man they call Jesus” in v. 11, to “he must be a prophet” in v. 17, to rejection of the Pharisees’ conclusion that Jesus is a sinner for healing on the Sabbath (v. 24). Verse 25 rings with courage, in contrast to the man’s parent’s trepidation: “I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” I can only begin to imagine how thrilling it was for a man who had never seen anything in his life to see colors, and people’s faces (even the Pharisees’ frowning faces), and his own parents!

When the Pharisees ask the man to tell them AGAIN how Jesus healed him, he asks “Do you want to become his disciples too?” (v. 27). I think the “too” refers to himself: He wants to know the man who healed him. In verse 33 he explains to the Pharisees why Jesus must be from God. In verse 36, he exclaims, “Who is the Son of Man? I want to believe in him.” Jesus responds, “You have seen him!” And in verse 38 the man worships Jesus and calls him Lord.

That’s when we have verse 39, which the NLT translates “I entered this world to render judgment.” I think this can be translated differently, “I entered the world to be judged” or to be the object of judgment. (This is one time I disagree with the NLT, which I love—most translations say, “for judgment,” leaving unclear who is doing the judging.) Those doing the judging in this story are the man and his parents, and the Pharisees. The issue is, who is Jesus? Just a man? A sinner? A prophet? A true miracle-worker, by God’s power? Son of Man? Lord? How will the people who encounter Jesus respond to him?

That’s the central question of John’s gospel. He introduces it in chapter one and asks it again and again. No one can be neutral regarding Jesus. Is he who he says he is, or is he the biggest fraud ever? Each of us must judge him. Each of us must decide. Jesus is the light, John says (1:9). Can we see his glory, or are we blind? (1:10-14).

Hang in here with me for a moment. I have a reason for reaching this conclusion about the meaning of the word judgment in 9:39. John uses three words for judge or judgment in his gospel: krino (verb), krisis (noun), and krima (noun). He chooses the word krima only here, in 9:39. Krima is the result of a judgment that has been rendered, a decision made for or against. The man who was blind started choosing for Jesus from the beginning and grew into the clear vision he celebrated in worship. The Pharisees who thought they could see have been choosing against him since their first contact with Jesus. By their judgments, the people in this story revealed their hearts. They revealed what they could see, given their prior decisions. The difference between who Jesus was to the man who could now see and to the Pharisees could not be more dramatic. And John capitalizes on this in his delightful word plays.

One more grace note in this story: Isn’t it cool that Jesus let the blind man participate, have a role, be a partner in his healing? “I went and washed, and now I can see!” (v. 11). All his life, he’d been the object: of people’s pity, of their scorn, of their judgment of him and his family (“Who sinned…?”). Jesus gives him agency, makes him an actor, setting him up for a brand-new experience of life. How is Jesus empowering you today?

But Jesus found him

John 5:13-30 The man didn’t know [who had healed him and told him to pick up his mat and walk], for Jesus had disappeared into the crowd. But afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” … So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. … The Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. … Those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.

When I was a child, it seemed the only thing my parents commended me for was my report card. For me, earning all As felt like a matter of life and death. So when I received a B in math in third grade, I was devastated. I remember so clearly sitting in my hiding place at boarding school feeling absolute despair. I was a failure. The thought of my parents’ disappointment in me felt unbearable. How could I face them? How could I live with myself?

In chapter four of his book The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith discusses the merit system so engrained in our culture and then asks the question, “What does God really want from me?”

When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, he answered clearly: love God with all you have. … This in no way negates the fact that God is unflinchingly against sin. God hates sin because it hurts his children. But God is crazy about his children. … What if God is not mad at you? What if God responds to us with absolute delight regardless of how we look or feel, or what we have or have not done? The only possible response would be to feel absolute delight in return (pp. 85-87; italics mine).

When I read this, I wrote “Karis” in the margin. Because somehow, she captured and owned this bedrock belief that God loved her no matter what. She used to say, “I’m the most useless creature in the world. God made me to showcase his grace because I have no way to earn his favor. All I can do is love him back and love the people he sends to me.”

I’ve returned to chapter 5 of John because after my last post, a friend emailed me the question, How do you reconcile Jesus not judging with all the verses that say he does judge? Of the 33 times in his Gospel John uses words translated as judge or judgment, seven are in 5:22-30, including verse 22, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge. That sounds like the opposite of 8:15 from my last post! And verse 27, the Father has given the Son authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man.

I have a theory, but I’ve run out of time and space for today. For now: In the case of the healing of this man, Jesus said he had gotten sick because of his sin (v. 14). He states elsewhere, as with the man born blind in chapter 9, that his blindness is NOT because of sin in his life or his parents’. Jesus was able to discern (“judge”) the difference between the two cases.

Illness resulting from choices is commonplace: if you drink too much alcohol over time, you’ll kill your liver (and probably your family relationships). If you smoke regularly, you’ll kill your lungs. If you are chronically overstressed, it will show up in your body. We don’t know what sin caused this man’s illness, but Jesus cared enough to seek him out later.

If we define “sin” loosely as something that harms you or someone else, sin and its effects grieve God because he loves us and wants us to live in freedom.

Our pastor in Brazil was invited to preach in another church. When he came home, he asked his son what the substitute preacher in our church had to say. Caught out for not paying attention, his resourceful son fabricated, “He preached about sin!” “Oh, and what did he say?” “He was against it!”

The sin Jesus is against is what hurts his beloved ones. This stands in sharp contrast to rule-keeping for its own sake, to earn points—the merit system embodied in the Jewish leaders.

Later! Gotta run!

From Shutterstock by Faya Francevna

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAVE!!

But Jesus does not judge anyone

John 8:15 I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life…You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone…Jesus made these statements while he was speaking in the Temple…But he was not arrested, because his time had not yet come.

It’s a tough time to try to traditionally publish a book. Thousands of people have been writing during the pandemic, and even the literary agents are flooded with queries, not to mention publishers. Many agents are closed to queries. I read yesterday on one literary agency site that a thousand manuscripts are being rejected for one that’s accepted. “So don’t take my no personally; don’t be discouraged; keep trying…” are the messages I’m hearing from agents as they turn down mine.

Even though I know all this, it’s hard not to take it personally, and I imagine that’s true for everyone out there who is trying to go this route to publication. Like me, they have poured an uncountable number of hours into crafting their stories or their non-fiction offerings. Like me, they feel they have a message to communicate; something that will encourage others; a light they want to shine. It feels like a part of me that’s being—yes—rejected. So, I go to bed, regroup, wake up with renewed energy, and tackle it again, in the hope of finding that one agent who will say yes.

Jesus understood rejection. In his case, it wasn’t a matter of a bruised ego; it was his life. Jewish leaders were literally out to kill him for the message he shared, contradicting their teaching that people had to earn God’s favor by correctly following a zillion rules. Jesus’s message of grace pricked holes in their balloons; it drained the power they held over people’s lives by claiming they knew what people had to do to gain acceptance, not just with God but socially as well. Judging was their modus operandi. They didn’t like Jesus saying, “No, you’ve got it all wrong. God isn’t like that! God loves you. He wants you to live freely and joyfully and lightly. Like dearly loved children. Even you, Jewish leaders who think you’ve got it all together.”

Hey, here’s a thought: those crusty, uptight, self-righteous Jewish leaders were once little children themselves. Who hurt them? What religious and social pressures formed them into censors of the world? Thinking about this, I feel Jesus’ sadness at their determination to hold on so tightly to their petty power; their preference of darkness rather than light.

Joy! My three-year-old grandson Caleb with Titia (Auntie) Becky, his sister Talita’s godmother.

But Jesus stooped down

John 7:53-8:11 Then the meeting broke up, and everybody went home…But early the next morning Jesus was back again at the Temple…As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus…the law o Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger…The accusers slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest…Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Psalm 113:5-7 Who can be compared with the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high? He stoops to look down on heaven and on earth. He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.

Garbage. That’s how the Jewish leaders viewed the woman they brought before Jesus to trick him. Umm…did she manage to commit adultery by herself? Where is the guy?!

Since her accusers left in order of age, beginning with the oldest and thus most respected, my husband thinks Jesus wrote names in the dust—names of women whom these men lusted for, whether they had acted on their thoughts or not (see Matthew 5:28). The crowd wouldn’t have been close enough to see as Jesus gave them a chance—a wide open opportunity—to repent of their own sin and hypocrisy and find freedom for themselves. They weren’t willing, though, to admit they were the poor and needy ones in need of God’s help and forgiveness. I picture Jesus feeling great sadness as he stood back up, for not one of them chose the option of restoration, of leaping into Life.

From Shutterstock by Jacek Fulawka

With this beautiful story, John illustrates his thesis that Jesus is just like his Father, stooping down to lift us up. “I know him. He sent me to you.” Jesus knows us, too, inside out. God sent him to us to open opportunities for us to acknowledge our need so he can free us as well from the enemy’s accusations and our own soul-poverty.

Lent is just such an opportunity. I commend to you our youth director Alex’s sermon from last Sunday. Spoiler alert: it involves a flung tangerine. You can listen to it here.

But the Spirit is living water

John 7:37-52 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit … But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory. [The crowds began arguing about who Jesus was.] Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others said, “But he can’t be! Will the Messiah come from Galilee? For the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem.” … So the crowd was divided about him. Some even wanted him arrested. … The Pharisees mocked, “This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law … no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”

Have you ever been in a conversation where the original point gets lost in a ridiculous argument? In this case we the readers know what the contentious crowd did not know: Jesus was, in fact, born in Bethlehem, not Galilee. “Fake news” is at least two thousand years old!

But back to the main point: Jesus is reprising his conversation with the woman at the well in chapter 4. If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water … Those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life (v. 10, 14).

Let’s you and I leave the confused and quarrelsome crowds and RUN to Jesus! Don’t you long for the Spirit’s fresh, bubbling stream to ease the dryness of your soul today?

But Jesus came from his Father

John 7:16, 25-36 People who lived in Jerusalem started to ask each other, “How could Jesus be the Messiah? For we know where this man comes from. When the Messiah comes, he will simply appear; no one will know where he comes from. While Jesus was teaching in the Temple, he called out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I come from. But I’m not here on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him. But I know him because I come from him, and he sent me to you.” … The leading priests sent Temple guards to arrest Jesus. But Jesus told them, “I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me.”

Colossians 1:15 NCV No one can see God, but Jesus Christ is exactly like him.

When I met my husband Dave in college, I was appalled at his Spanish. I thought but didn’t say, “How could someone who grew up in Latin America speak Spanish so badly?”

Then Bolivian friends came to visit him. And they spoke exactly like he did.

I didn’t tell Dave what I had thought until years later. I was embarrassed because I hadn’t realized Spanish is spoken differently in different countries. My standard was what I knew, the Spanish of Guatemala—which, it turns out, is not considered “standard” by anyone except Guatemalans.

And I was embarrassed because I had made assumptions about Dave and his family based on my learned prejudices connected to language. Both my parents were linguists. It was a point of pride for them to speak both Spanish and Ixil (the language of the Mayan-descended people among whom we lived) correctly. My parents were quick to be critical of missionaries who “didn’t care enough” about the people whom they were there to serve to overcome their horrendous accents and mangled grammar. I had judged Dave to be one of “those” people.

Where are you from? What are the standards and prejudices you’ve been taught or absorbed from your culture, and by which you make judgments? I’ve been asking myself those questions as part of my desire to understand people who think and believe and behave differently than I do right here in Pittsburgh. It’s no use telling myself I don’t have prejudices. We all have them, most of them as unconscious and unchallenged as my opinion about Dave’s Spanish. Usually, we don’t even notice when we’re making judgments. It’s as automatic as breathing. Yet our assumptions affect our relationships.

Jesus, John tells us, is the one to look to if we want to understand God the Father, because they are exactly alike. The compassion we see in Jesus is the Father’s compassion; his power is the Father’s power. (This conversation started because Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath.) To understand God in the Old Testament, we must start with Jesus. At the same time, the Gospel writers show us from the Old Testament who Jesus is, the fulfillment of all the ancient prophecies. You and I are one, Jesus said to his Father in John 17. You are in me, Father, and I am in you.

From Shutterstock by tomyam meals

There’s a lovely word in Portuguese, saudades, that doesn’t have a single-word translation into English. I hear saudades in Jesus’ statement in verse 33, I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. Saudades is longing for what is familiar and dear and highly esteemed. It’s like homesickness. It’s what washes over me when I interact with one of my beloved Brazilian friends. It evokes place and culture and memories of a zillion events and the nuances of relationships.

For Jesus, home was not Nazareth; it was Heaven. As Jesus told Nicodemus in their secret meeting at night, and now declares publicly, “If you want to know my Father, listen to me.”

But Jesus went secretly

John 7:1-13 Jesus traveled around Galilee. He wanted to stay out of Judea, where the Jewish leaders were plotting his death. But soon it was time for the Jewish Festival of Shelters. Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. Jesus replied, “… You go on. I’m not yet going to this festival, because my time has not yet come.” After saying these things, Jesus remained in Galilee. But after his brothers left for the festival, Jesus also went, though secretly, staying out of the public view. … There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. … No one had the courage to speak favorably about him in public, for they were afraid of getting in trouble with the Jewish leaders.

Jesus was in control. He didn’t allow pressure from his family, from those who were actively trying to kill him, from those who wanted him to be popular politically, or even from those who loved him to force his decisions. He wasn’t a people-pleaser. His motivation was to please his Father. When he does begin to speak at the festival, his main theme is God who sent him: the source of his message (v. 17) and his miracles (v. 21-23). The one who sent him speaks truth, not lies (v. 18—how much political pressure is rebuffed here!). “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly,” Jesus says to those trying to kill him (v. 24).

What pressures do you feel? Are you able to look beneath the surface and judge them correctly, anchored in your “audience of one,” the only One to whom you’re ultimately accountable? I don’t find that easy to do. I easily allow myself to be unduly influenced by what I think are other people’s preferences and expectations of me, even though no one else sees or understands the whole picture of what I’m dealing with.

from Shutterstock by muratart

I wish I had been capable of the Jesus kind of control when I was mothering four young children: my eyes so fixed on God, my desire so strong to follow his direction, that I could make decisions in favor of my children and against the intense pressures I felt. Both my mother and my mother-in-law were critical of me, both telling me I was “spoiling” my children and not disciplining them appropriately. Karis’s illness, frequent hospitalizations, surgeries, and crises put immense pressure on me to care adequately for my other three.

When we moved to Brazil, schoolteachers judged me for challenges my children experienced with adaptation to their new environment, and our mission team didn’t expect us to survive the first year. Too often I tried to please everyone else (I AM a good mother—can’t you see how hard I’m trying?), rather than focusing on my children’s needs and what I could do to ease their way through the pressures Dave’s and my decisions and our circumstances put on them.

My spiritual director is fond of telling me, “There’s only One you need to please. And He is so easily pleased. He delights in you, as a good father delights in his precious child.” Perhaps these words can encourage you today, as they do me. He knows your vulnerabilities and weaknesses and immaturities, but offers support and encouragement, not scolding and criticism. As I anchor myself in him today in the secret place I share only with him, everything else will shrink to its proper dimension of influence over me.

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the strong winds roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.