Fear and Long-Term Memory Loss

I’ve heard that the most common phrase in the Old and New Testament is this: Don’t be afraid.

It makes sense to me, really. Sometimes repetition is the only way to get something into your head.

Remember who freed you from Egypt, says the Bible again and again. Remember the God who brought you out of slavery.

Sometimes I think that’s why God did that so spectacularly, supposedly hardened Pharaoh’s heart and made it extra impossible for the Israelites to ever get out of there: so we would all remember it forever.

And yet we forget. In fact, the people it was supposed to originally impress forgot almost immediately. You’d think that after being rescued from a lifetime of slavery by walking on dry land in the middle of the sea, people would realize God could do anything, would do anything for them.

But no: they gave in to fear. They missed the security of slavery, where at least they knew what the future held and where their next meal was coming from. The wilderness seemed so barren, empty, unpredictable. They forgot God’s power to help them through literally anything, power that was on full display before them not long ago. They let insecurity take over.

And I am the same way. Anxious about struggles and problems I see ahead, I forget the abundant grace that’s spilled out over my own life. I forget that God gave me the power to speak to my mother again after I’d ignored her calls out of fear and anger for over a year. I forget how lonely I once was, and now I have more love and friendship than I know what to do with sometimes. I forget that I used to be afraid to answer the phone, and now I do it for a living.

I forget that I used to be unable to believe, and now I do, and it’s changed the way I see the world forever.

I need to remember the grace of getting out from my own personal Egypts, even though there are other things I haven’t yet escaped. When I feel empty, I need to remember that – thank goodness! – there’s a Love out there big enough to fill me, and all the gaps my not-enoughness leaves.

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Are You Ready for VaLENTine’s Day?

Yes, it’s almost that time of year again. One of my favorite times of year: Lent!

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Lent? That’s so depressing! You’re supposed to give stuff up, and fast, and give money away, and reflect on your shortcomings, and stuff like that!”

But I say it proudly: I love Lent. Because Lent is all about love. Forty days of falling deeper in love.

That’s what the fasting, the giving things up and away, and the reflection really mean. When you do those things, this is what you’re really saying:

I love you, God.

I love you more than food.

I love you more than Facebook, or chocolate, or whatever other thing I’m giving up.

I love you more than riches.

I love you more than my comforting illusions about myself.

And if I don’t? Well, I should!

And I’m going to take some time to just think about how beautiful you are, how much you love justice and mercy, how much you went through to save us from ourselves.

These forty days are time for me to get closer to you. To put everything else aside and just be with you.

This Lent, I want to share with you some of the story of how God has loved me. How God patiently, tenderly, joyfully beckoned me closer all my life, and how God is still calling me out of fear, deeper into love.

I can’t wait to get started.

Oh yeah, we have to get through that Mardi Gras thing first.

I know, I know, I’m weird.

I’m Praying for You, Insomniacs

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work or watch or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

I read this Compline prayer from my little prayer-book before I turn off the light.

Sleep’s always come pretty easy to me. Sometimes I joke that I wish it didn’t, given my tendency to sleep through my morning alarm and always want a little more. But these words echo in my mind, and I start wondering who will be awake through the night tonight.

This woman I’ve known for years through church recently told me she hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in fifteen years. She said this so gently, so lightly, that I almost missed it in the flow of our conversation.

Someone I work with told me she doesn’t ever sleep either, that those days are over for her and I should appreciate the luxury of sleep while I have it.

And then there’s my friend whose husband has Stage 4 cancer right now (click here to learn their story and help them out), who has to be awake before he is, ready to take care of anything he needs.

Or my partner’s father, who is often awakened by noises or just by pressing worries and can’t seem to slip back into dreaming.

Or my friend Andres who works as a janitor late into the night, driving home to his family when they’re all asleep already.

I could go on. There are so many people who are awake through the night, and they need prayer. In the quiet, in the loneliness of the darkest hours of the day, they need prayer. I like that this prayer says Jesus himself is looking after the awake ones, and the angels get deputized to watch the sleeping ones.

I need to pray prayers like this. I need to be reminded that God cares for us, waking or sleeping. I need to keep in mind that God cares for everyone, even in the moments when it seems like the whole world is asleep.

I’ll be thinking of you tonight, friends. I will be wishing peace and rest for you, and most importantly, that you will feel Someone out there caring for you.

Addiction and Living Water

My dad and I once talked about the moral implications of legalizing drugs as we waited in line at the post office. That probably tells you all you really need to know about our relationship.

Me: I just don’t think drugs are good for people.

Dad: Yeah, well, that bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream you have every night isn’t so great for you either.

Me: That’s different. I’m not addicted to eating ice cream.

Woman in line behind us: I am!

That conversation took place back when I was a teenager and knew everything. But the medical definition of addiction is “the persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be physically, psychologically, or socially harmful.” So, yeah, in that case, I am addicted to ice cream. And a lot of other things. Considering what I know about the harmful aspects of ice cream (the fat, the sugar, the non-fair trade ingredients, the mood swings and blood sugar crashes it causes), I should realize it’s potentially physically, psychologically, and socially harmful, but I love it and don’t want to give it up. So much for that argument.

The medical world also defines addiction as characterized by increasing tolerance, so whatever you’re addicted to, it leaves you wanting more. To me, that seems like the worst part of all, the fact that you’re always chasing some elusive horizon of enough, always seeking just a little more.

So much of my life is like that, if I’m honest. I’m addicted to so many things. They’re not illegal; most of them are even socially acceptable (my bouts of compulsive people pleasing come to mind). But I ignore the harm they do because they make me feel so good – I ignore their true nature because of their momentary appearance.

In a way, my addictive personality is perfectly natural, because I live in an addictive society. All around me, people overeat, overwork, overanalyze. We chase all kinds of things that, deep down, we know have nothing to do with true happiness. We spend our lives yearning to get rich quick, stay young forever, or some other impossible thing. Our society positively encourages addictions to money, power, violence. It’s hard to see another way, much less live it.

God does not want this for us. I love that that’s right there in Scripture. God does not want us to be endlessly, fruitlessly chasing something that doesn’t love us back.

God calls to us sadly through Isaiah: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?”

The book of Jeremiah echoes, “My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

These words jump off the page for me, because I have lived them. I keep on living them. I feed my soul with junk food and let life-giving water slip through my fingers. And the whole time, there is a source of true happiness out there. The Bread of Life, the Water of Life are there, if I’ll reach out my hand and take them.

Jesus once sat with a woman at a well. She was an ordinary woman, just like me. She was out to get water and schlep it back home, the same old chore she did day after day. And she’d been trapped in an addictive cycle her whole life – wanting another person to complete her, protect her, satisfy her – but none of her five husbands, nor the man she was living with, had really ever helped her longings and loneliness become less.

She heard Jesus say the words living water. Right away, she asked where she could get it. How to get something to combat this raging thirst for more, something she wouldn’t have to chase after, pure joy with no side of pain?

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

She said, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

And then, gently, he brought her addiction to light. As they talked, she realized that he could set her free, that he was the truth that would set her free. No more need to spend her life running after food that just made her hungrier and water that was never quite enough. She was so happy, she told everyone she knew that she had finally found the source of living water, joy welling up inside her and overflowing.

I want that kind of joy. I mean, who wouldn’t? But the question is, do I want it more than ice cream, or people’s praise, or a sense of accomplishment? Can I stand turning my darkest deeds over to the light of truth? Can I empty myself of ego so there’s room in there for the good stuff, the water of life, life to the full?