Unexpected circumstances can lead to a holy pause.
We easily become creatures of habit. Our days operate according to a somewhat regular liturgy. And when seasons transition, we adjust to a new one. Typically, what they all have in common is aiming toward some measure of progress.
It manifests in different ways. For some, progress is measured by the amount of tasks completed in a given day. For others, clinching a business deal, witnessing a student achieve a prescribed benchmark, or achieving a fitness goal becomes the target. And all too often we run on a treadmill of progress with an assumption that it informs our identity.
But is it accurate?
The last few months have interrupted what we thought individually and nationally was what defined us: making progress. Certainly remaining stagnant and comfortable does not shape our character or lead us to become better versions of ourselves. But what is the end goal and who informs it?
Perhaps, this interruption can challenge us to evaluate what we identify as the end goal. How is progress manifest? In standardized test scores? Financial bottom lines? Educational degrees? Church attendance? Digital platforms? Organic relationships? Character transformation? Awareness of a world outside of ourselves?
Sometimes a holy pause is an opportunity to do just that. Stop. Listen. Evaluate. And believe that even if change happens, God still has the world in his hands. And it doesn’t depend on human defined measurements of progress.
Sometimes ordinary things speak in unexpected ways.
This week I shopped for clothes with my son for his senior pictures. He is my youngest. This is the last time I will be shopping for this rite of passage. Buying my son’s clothes has been part of my routine for over 20 years. But, as he prepares for his senior year, I know all to well that he is transitioning into adulthood. My roles as a parent are blatantly changing.
Dress clothes have never been his favorite attire. As a young child, he complained about the stifling feeling and sometimes scratchy fabric. His sensitivity to material and routine are part of who he is. And he has worked on adjusting to both.
So it hit me, as I talked with him that night about ironing his pants, that this pair is different than any other pair. He is unlikely to outgrow these and the replacements will probably be purchased on his own. They are accompanying him into a new season: adulthood. As college looms a year from now, I wonder: where these pants will go? Possibly a date, new church or social events with friends he has yet to meet. Most likely an internship, or job interview. They will literally walk with him the path to independence and a community apart from his family.
I ironed them knowing that my days of doing it are numbered. I touched them wondering what stories will unfold in their midst. As he sat nearby, I reminded him that a day is coming in his future professional career when he can no longer get away with wearing sweats. “I know,” he replied. “I will just have to find comfortable pants.”
My son is ready for the transition into a new place, both figuratively and literally. I trust in God, who loves him more than I, and claim this blessing for him: “You go before me and follow me.You place your hand of blessing on my head.” Psalm 139:5.
As I stood in line, I made a simple but profound gesture to the woman in line next to me. But then it hit me. My smile was invisible. Something that can so simply signify kindness in a polarized culture, can no longer “talk.”
Smiles convey humanity. They say “I see you.” When a child is acting out their frustrations and I empathize with the mother who feels the weight of judgement, I smile.
When I see a neighbor in the store and sense they are in a hurry and cannot converse, I smile.
When I dropped my daughter off at a community driver’s ed, and I saw a new friend of hers wave and smile, I cried. It spoke volumes into her narrative.
When I substitute teach, and I see my former students walking down the hallway, I smile.
Never did we realize the value of a smile until now. We share this place where we interact in bytes of real time. We underestimate the way a smile penetrates the heart. Without knowing our neighbor’s story, we love them. With a smile.
So we must find new ways of communicating “welcome.” Nadia Boltz Weber writes, “And that when my eyes brighten in a smile behind my mask as I thank the cashier may it be counted as passing the peace.”
Let us display the hand of the creator friends. We are image bearers after all. Nothing can keep us from “touching” others with God’s presence. May we show it through posture, eyes, action. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us[a] and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1.
“Watch your step when you enter God’s house. Enter to learn. That’s far better than mindlessly offering a sacrifice, Doing more harm than good.
Don’t shoot off your mouth, or speak before you think. Don’t be too quick to tell God what you think he wants to hear. God’s in charge, not you—the less you speak, the better.” Ecclesiastes 5:1-2
Pride. People have struggled with it since the beginning but it comes disguised in righteous forms. Just a bite of fruit. Cain’s offering. Liturgical practices of high priests. A human transaction. The “I Am” becomes a self designated title.
From the outside, all appears good. But God’s eyes penetrate beneath the surface, revealing the state of the heart. It’s not pretty.
“The problem is, many of the people in need of saving are in churches, and at least part of what they need saving from is the idea that God sees the world the same way they do.” ― Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
Whatever sanctuary God leads you to, take off your sandals. You are on Holy Ground.
God called Israel to be partners in the journey toward restoration of this broken earthly kingdom. The purpose for everything they did was to point others to “I am.” But, unfortunately, the reflection became tainted with sinful characteristics. Greed. Lust. Pride. Coveting. Oppression. Cheating. They compromised their identity and It wasn’t a good look.
God reminds them:
“For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.” Micah 6:4-5
What they did:
“Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? Your[c] wealthy are full of violence; your[d] inhabitants speak lies, with tongues of deceit in their mouths.” Micah 6:11-12
What God wanted:
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God” Micah 6:8
Being shaped into God’s fuller reflection involves some contorting. We adapt to the posture of sinful choices. Until we realize, like the Israelites, that God loves creation too much to leave us misshapen.
“When Jesus left the field, he entered their meeting place. There was a man there with a crippled hand. They said to Jesus, “Is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?” They were baiting him. Matthew 12:9-10
Leaning in is dangerous. Especially when it pertains to worldviews and theology. It can lead to becoming enlightened and transformed. Consider the pharisees, who were steeped in the law. Since children, they spent their days memorizing God’s word and becoming familiar with Jewish Law. They knew the Messiah was coming to fulfill scripture.
However, who they encountered wasn’t what they expected.
Therefore, a series of ideological conflicts proceeded with the man who claimed to be him. Certainly, others had claimed that identity before. Yet, Jesus demonstrated authority over things of this world that the others couldn’t. The pieces began to come together. But to embrace God’s vision for a new Kingdom meant letting go of the securities found in the earthly one. Status. Earthly identity. Perceived power. Relationships. Worldview.
Jesus’ message was intimidating. threatening. Everything would change for them if they leaned in. So, instead, they tried to push him away. With their “weapon.” Authority. But that didn’t hold power to his. Heavenly rooted authority defines earthly ones.
“He replied, “Is there a person here who, finding one of your lambs fallen into a ravine, wouldn’t, even though it was a Sabbath, pull it out? Surely kindness to people is as legal as kindness to animals!” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out and it was healed. The Pharisees walked out furious, sputtering about how they were going to ruin Jesus.” Matthew 12:11-14
Jesus challenged them to think outside the ideologies that had become their truth. The Pharisees knew the worth of a lamb. It provided a means of food, income, and sacrifice. The shepherds watched their flocks meticulously. The loss of even one had significant implications. Their livelihood would be impacted. Jesus knew the real issue with the healing. And it wasn’t about the Sabbath. They knew that.
Jesus pointed them back to God’s word. In context. The bigger story. Not the evolved narrative developed in attempts to cling to earthly securities. At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. Matthew 12:1-5
The Temple arrived. But they missed the point because they refused to let go and lean in. To God’s voice, not theirs.
I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” Matthew 12:6-7
Living this side of Heaven leaves us in moments reeling with confusion, anger, and disappointment. We simply do not have the whole view. Resurrecting the practice of Lament gives us language to express our sorrow and sit in the uncomfortable place that cannot be resolved quickly with human answers. Our ancient spiritual ancestors understood this place which is who scripture is filled with examples of prayers of lament. Job, Psalms, Lamentations bear witness to people wrestling with living in this place of in-between.
How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions! 18 Then I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you. Psalm 35:17-18
Western civilization moved away from sitting with the unknown and quickly embraced rationalism as the opportunity to find answers. While our Imago Dei certainly affirms a God who infuses his human creation with creativity and diverse gifts and skills, we cannot solve everything. And that is a good thing. Because recognizing our limited human power can catapult us into His presence. And we become like a children unhibited and vulnerable clamoring for comfort from their parent in a state of despair and posture of surrender.
It’s time to resurrect the practice of lamenting. To acknowledge that we can’t always fix suffering, whether intentionally inflicted or not, with pat answers, platitudes or “microwave” solutions. Sometimes we have to sit in the pain and recognize that God is in it with us.
Aubrey Sampson, in her book, The Louder Song, writes, “Lament says, “God you have described yourself as one thing, but my life, my community, and my city currently reveal something totally different. Please! Help me see your hand in this. You broke the power of evil on the cross and at your resurrection-so please be victorious again! Show me your goodness again!” Let us offer up our questions unhindered to God who “sees” us in our pain. He’s waiting.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19
The journey to new things is often uncomfortable. Certainly anyone familiar with the laboring process recognizes the intense pain that arises prior to the birth. Sometimes the pain must be endured for a short time. But other times, it just doesn’t unfold that way and the pain lasts a long time as new life prepares to emerge.
Certainly, we all have experiences with waiting for the “birthing” of something new. A job, reconciliation with a friend or family member, physical healing, or resolution to a conflict or hard decision. Some of these journeys involve individual narrative contexts. But some point to collective experiences in the wilderness.
God’s promise here, as spoken through Isaiah, addresses all of the Israelites. They, as a group that was called to bear witness to the “I am” turned away from their covenant. And the consequences hurt. God’s path toward restoration involved letting them reap the consequences of their sin. Did every single man, woman, and child commit the sinful actions that angered God? of course not. But we all belong to each other and our sins can never be contained to a single violation of another. The ripples spread in our sea of humanity.
Despite, Isaiah’s words of pending discomfort through an upcoming exile in chapter 43, hope still existed. God has always been in the business of new things. Israel had lost their way. The result would be painful for generations. But they have the opportunity to reach toward “new things.” Birth preparations are beginning.
So it is with us. We, in this country, feel birthing pains. A new thing is in process. Trusting God means we who are committed to paving new roads toward racial justice have to stay the course. When it’s hard. When escaping hard conversations becomes tempting. Blessing will come in the refining. God is making things new.
Leaning into voices different from our own points us to the vast mystery and beauty of our Creator. We are privy to seeing more of God’s character and work through sharing life with the diversity of Image bearers. Here are some people that I have found helpful in my own journey. Please explore and find multitudes, not just a few. And of of course, build relationships with diverse people in your community and online spheres.
We have encountered something in the sphere of our earthly residence that is unprecedented. And knowing how to approach it feels confusing and frightening. In March, questions emerged: How long will this last? How do I protect myself and others?What does the future look like if I am unemployed? Who do I listen to?
Uncertainty remains. Despite the dip in COVID19 cases in some parts of the world, proceeding from a collective quarantine raises more questions: What does “normal” look like now?How do I adapt to this new territory? This place feels new for many of us. But the truth is that historically and globally, collective hardships (even pandemics) are nothing new. Some parts of the world experience them on a daily basis. In the midst of the uncertainty, how do we respond?
Paul’s prophetic words speak through hard times: Not that I have already obtained this (Philippians 3:10-11) or have already reached the goal;[g] but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved,[h] I do not consider that I have made it my own;[i] but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[j] call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14.
It’s not easy to let go of securities. They shape our earthly narratives without realizing it. There is a reason why Paul uses the word “straining.” Recognizing that obedience to God’s redemptive plans supercede anything else we thought brought identity and safety: career, financial status, church infrastructure, educational setting..doesn’t come naturally. .Without a doubt, life as we knew it will change for a while….or longer.
None of this is easy to embrace from a human perspective. But recognizing that facing hardships is nothing new and embracing the blessing (whatever that looks like) as we “strain ahead” reminds us that God is still at work in his world. We just must expand our view.
We overcomplicate it. We forget that parenting doesn’t take tools, it takes relationship. We want our kids to behave so we read a book on “The Top Three Ways to Stop Your Child From…”. We look to counsellors and medications to “fix” our children.
The need to feel connected… and then counselling, medication, and books can add to the solution. You don’t start here, you start with connection.
When we were struggling to figure out what was happening with our son at the young age of 5, getting a diagnosis helped us understand what we were dealing with. Knowing he was struggling with clinical anxiety, depression, oppositional defiance disorder and ADHD gave us a framework to work with, but it couldn’t end there. Diagnosis only gives us a view “under the hood”, it doesn’t “fix the car”.
Anger was his way of saying, “HELP ME!” Opposition was his way of saying, “I feel out of control! Look at me!” The more we searched for outside help without giving him the relationship he needed but couldn’t ask for, the more the episodes of rage increased. It hit its peak at 8 years old when he became suicidal.
All those years of us trying to help him clinically only created a bigger problem inside. He was taken from us for three weeks to stay in the children’s hospital mental health unit. Even with our daily visits, his anxiety only increased with the separation.
The hospitalization was good for the doctors to observe him on meds. The medication helped our son become more reasonable to connect with. The problem was, I was expecting the time in the hospital and the meds to fix my son. I expected when he returned home that everything would become “normal”. But it wasn’t, his rages continued.
I remembered what one of the psychologists at the hospital had said to me after I mentioned I send him to his room when he throws fits of rage. She said, “Oh no, you never send the hurting away from you, you bring them closer.”
I started keeping my son close to me when he would rage. I made connecting with him the number one goal, not fixing his outward behaviour.
I started getting curious about what his anger was trying to communicate with me. I would sit in the room while he would rage, reassuring him that I was there to help no matter what. I would stick by him.
He belonged in our family. Over time as I consistently did this, I watched my son soften. I saw him go from dysregulated to peaceful. The more I made connecting with him my priority, the more regulation I saw.
Healing the brain, with human touch
The number one thing I have learned through my experience with my son along with 20 years of working in resilience and seeing other children go through similar is that we can’t expect clinical answers to solve a mental problem. Our brain heals differently than our body.
Our body responds to clinical answers: a cast for a broken leg, surgery to remove a tumour, antibiotics for a virus. Our brain is healed through human touch. It literally rewires as when we feel connected, secure, and loved. If we don’t start there, the brain lives in its basement: cold, dark, on edge, never trusting and ready to pounce when there’s a threat of attack.
What does being stripped away from your family for 3 weeks do to an already anxious child’s brain? How does it feel when mommy is always yelling at you to do better? How do you cope with all your big emotions when there’s no one strong and safe enough to hold them for you? What does a counsellor’s office look like when all you feel is there’s something “wrong with you”? How do you feel about taking meds when you feel those around you are only trying to control your behaviour?
But how does all of this look when you know you belong? When you know your family is a safe haven? I’m not stating hospitalization, counselling, and meds are wrong. I’m stating it’s not where we start.
As we connect with our children we build trust and safety. From there we do what is needed whether that be medication or counselling. And when trust is built with our children, they are more open to receiving help because the relationship has opened the neuropathways to receive help.
Parenting starts with relationship. Connection is always the first step before “fixing” behaviour.
Connie Jakab is the owner of The Jakab Co and the Senior Manager of Wellness Innovate – two companies that are all about changing home and work environments for mental health. She is also the author of Bring Them Closer and two other books. Connie is passionate about rebelling against status quo living and encouraging others to branch out. She is also the Director of National Hope Talks and the Hope Movement combatting mental health in Canada. She is a sought out speaker for her raw honestly and humour. Connie drives her passion outward into the arms of those wanting something more radical and meaningful in life. She lives with her husband and two boys in Calgary, Alberta Canada.