Justifying Ourselves

Today I’ve been listening to the song of Valjean from the musical Les Miserables. I’ve felt incredibly challenged by the lyrics and how easily they challenge self-justification.

IMG_2587

You can listen to it here.

Here are the lyrics:

He thinks that man is me
He knew him at a glance!
That stranger he has found
This man could be my chance!
 
Why should I save his hide?
Why should I right this wrong
When I have come so far
And struggled for so long?
 
If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
 
I am the master of hundreds of workers.
They all look to me.
Can I abandon them?
How would they live
If I am not free?
 
If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
 
Who am I?
Can I condemn this man to slavery
Pretend I do not see his agony
This innocent who bears my face
Who goes to judgement in my place
Who am I?
Can I conceal myself forevermore?
Pretend I’m not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi?
Must I lie?
How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on
 
[He appears in front of the court]
 
Who am I? Who am I?
I am Jean Valjean!
 
[He unbuttons his shirt to reveal the number tattooed to his chest]
 
And so Javert, you see it’s true
That man bears no more guilt than you!
Who am I?
24601!
Valjean is suddenly presented with this wonderful opportunity to be truly free. A life no longer pursued by Javert. How easy it would be for him to think, ‘oh great. God has seen my hard work and he’s freeing me.’
But the one who knows God, who knows redemption and forgiveness must deeply know that our freedom is never at the expense of another.
Paul and Silas knew this in the dark of a prison cell, beaten and put in stocks – that earthquake that loosen their shackles seemed like a freedom gift from heaven.
But their freedom in this instance would have cost the jailer his life.
We want to think we are more important, the rules don’t really apply to us the way they apply to everyone else, our rights are worth defending at all costs. It is so easy to justify ourselves, to think about what we are doing and why it is so good/right/justified.
Slavery, racism, division, oppression…. these things cannot belong to the person who truly knows that every life is of equal value.
It’s easy for Valjean to justify this circumstance – he is a factory owner, the mayor, people rely on him – he has campaigned to be a light in his community. He is making a difference. This other person is probably poor and has no power or title.
Justice comes at a price.
We can live free but it will cost us – it might cost us financially missing out because we’re not prepared to compromise on things that come at the expense of others or dishonest business practice, it might cost us friendships, it might mean we are marginalised with the marginalised…
Yet in this story we also see the bright light of redemption. Because we have an

This innocent who bears my face
Who goes to judgement in my place
The truth is that we are condemned, we are broken, we have damaged others, we have been complicit in silence or in action and we deserve the sentence.
But Jesus.
The innocent who bears our face – whose full humanity allowed him to go to judgement in our place.
And so we are faced with the great irony
But the one who knows God, who knows redemption and forgiveness must deeply know that our freedom is never at the expense of another.
because
our redemption and forgiveness has come at the expense of another
May we all have courage to confront our own desires to justify the behaviours in us that come at the expense of others. Maybe it’s the way we purchase (ouch), the way we make friends with some people and leave others out (ouch) maybe it’s the protective boundaries we put around ourselves, our families, our communities to keep ourselves in and ‘others’ out (ouch).
As I say, these are things that challenge me deeply. As a dear friend puts it, ‘I am a hypocrite in transition.’
Do we have the courage to not allow our freedoms, our comfort to be at the expense of others?
May we know what it is to have been loved so deeply that an innocent went to judgement in our place, and may we see that value in every other.
May we be brave and may we be agents of justice and freedom.
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The Tiring Work of Restoration

Over five years ago the city where we live was taken beyond broken with earthquakes, one especially.

Recently I was driving down a road that is still in need of repair and I felt myself sighing inwardly, anticipating the months of cones and detours and single lanes and 30km p/hr signage. In that moment I said to myself, ‘I wish they’d just leave off the repairs and let us drive on it bumpy.’ Despite the innate joy I get driving down a perfectly smooth and sealed road (and there are some) I just couldn’t hold onto the vision for that end.

All I could see were the difficulties in the process of getting there.

cones1

At that moment I knew this was such a picture of God’s restoration work in my life too. Restoration work isn’t pretty. It’s time consuming, it derails and detours pathways you driven on for a long time. It forces you to negotiate new ways of getting to familiar places.

Restoration involves acknowledging the fact that small surface issues actually point to much deeper problems underneath. The odd pothole that sends me careening off into an angry outburst is evidence of something weak and failing beneath the surface.

Maybe I can drive carefully and avoid exposing the bumps on the road but is that really what I want to be long term? A busted up just functioning, ‘drive carefully around’ person? Even though I long for a perfect road I don’t long for the work to get it done.

I think this work needs time, it needs openness, it needs acknowledging that I might need to rethink how I’m travelling. It will need grace from the people who love me and I will need to trust a great deal in the Master of restoration.

There’s a beautiful quote I often come back to that says, ‘Grace loves us as it finds us, but it doesn’t leave us there.’

2 Corinthians 3 describes it this way,

They suddenly recognise that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognised as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

Maybe there are back roads, or main roads, or even highways in your life today that need the tiring work of restoration begun on them.

Perhaps there are roads that have been cleared and closed ready for work to begin, but it’s been easier to turn away and drive on different places than deal with the tough and painful process of the work.

Maybe it feels like you’ve been on road cones and detours for ever and you just need to hear the words – not long now, nearly there.

Wherever you are right now may you have courage to bear the pain, strength to persevere, Hope and Trust that the future will be worth the current delays.

May you have all the grace you need today.

 

Happy Mother’s Day

Darling mamas today I am sending you love and thanks for the role you have in the lives of children.

Sam & Wil 3

For the unseen longings,

for the silent tears,

for the midnight wakings,

for the joys and wonders of motherhood.

May we each of us receive grace for the journey – a deep reassurance that there are many types of wonderful mothers.

This is my prayer for you today.

For more of my mother’s day musings this is something I wrote for Esther & Friends recently. (This is for all women, not just mamas x).

All the love

xxx

 

Investment

It’s been playing a bit on repeat in my heart of late… this idea about using what you have well. It’s that parable of the talents, the one who uses finds increase – the one who hides in fear loses them altogether.

Haven’t we all at some time sat and lived someone else’s life for them. If I had that wealth imagine what I could do with it, if I could speak, look, achieve, write, influence…. whatever… like so-and-so, what I would do with all that talent.

stained glass

Maybe we need to stand back a little and view ourselves through such critical eyes. In your bag of tricks there are so many things –

capacity

tenacity

creativity

skills

education

geography

finances

opportunity

relational support

passion

ability

attitude

….

some of those might be larger or smaller than others but essentially you have, I have, we all have, an incredible collection of these things, and others,  – and we are generously given those things through Grace and not because we ‘deserve’ them more than others.

However, when a naturally agile person lives their life without moving, stretching, pushing that ability they may find that in time they are no longer agile. They have neglected something for long enough and now, if it even exists, it is only a shadow of what it could have been.

I wonder if I spent less time wishing about the gifts I wanted, less time agonising over which thing I should do and I actually just looked at what brought me life, what fitted my bag of tricks well and got out there and did some of it – not for money, or recognition but just because it brings me life. In turn, maybe my capacity and skills would actually grow and maybe my influence in the world would ring louder, travel further and be sweeter.

If you are stuck on repeat when it comes to seeing what other people do have and you don’t have – ask someone you love, someone who knows you well what talents they see in you….. and if you are really brave and you trust them, ask them what talents you are wasting and how they’d like to see you develop them, spend them, invest them, share them.

In all the world you are the only you – don’t waste that you, it’s a good one.

Being Fed

When my friends have a baby I make them ‘feeding biscuits’ which I take them when I go and visit them in the hospital. These feeding biscuits are my own special recipe and I give them with strict instructions,

for the feeding mama, not to be shared

thing is, this mama is working hard to feed her baby and she needs to be fed too. I was thinking about those biscuits the other day and how, like many simple things, it talks to me about something else too.

plate

It’s this thing of thinking we can feed others without being fed ourselves.

Like we have it so together, we have so much knowledge that we can give out, give out, give out and not become malnourished ourselves.

I’m asking myself this –

  • do I want to feed others? resoundingly yes.
  • do I regularly make sure I’m being fed? perhaps, sometimes.

If you’ve been doing this Christian thing long you might need more than a drive through meal on Sundays, if you know what I mean. If you’re in the business of feeding others you’ll find yourself hungry and malnourished if you don’t make sure you’re taking some extra ‘feeding biscuits’.

If you want to feed you need to be fed,

and in the same way,

if you want to lead you need to be led.

We need wisdom, we need leading, mentoring, guiding. I’ve spent a lot of life longing to be well led, to have someone or ones to mentor and challenge me.

There have been several people in my life, 3 especially, who stick out as people who have come alongside me. People who have believed in my combinations of talents without feeling the need to squash me into a round hole or bring me down the peg board all together. People who have gently challenged me, pushed me to go deeper, spoken life into my dreams.

I love those people so much for their generosity, their own security and maturity, the way they shine bright but not overwhelming.

I guess today I’m thinking about that desire in me that wants to feed and lead, and the balancing requirement for me to be intentional about feeding myself and the joy of being well led.

So if your heart is in for leading and feeding may you have resources and wisdom around you to make sure you are well equipped.

And if you are mentoring, leading or guiding others take heart you are making a real difference. (and don’t forget to feed yourself!)

At The Heart of It

We’ve all seen it at an event, churchy or otherwise, the ‘giving buckets’ roll around and the pennies tumble in.

Although the act is the same, the people putting in their contributions, there is all sorts of different at the heart.

There are the overflowing/ joyful givers, whose gift comes with a heart supremely grateful to have something to give.

The brave givers, who give in defiance to cultural values that say life is about trusting wealth as the be-all and end-all.

There are the resentful givers, who give because they feel like they are under duress to give.

The imagey givers, whose gift is about what other people might think. The ones who give because they judge and feel judged.

There are the DNA givers, who like giving, who look to give, who don’t give it a second thought because it’s just what they do.

The cause givers, who give because they want to use their money/resources to change political and cultural landscapes.

And there’s more and probably as many categories for those who didn’t give – the secret givers, the tight, the poor, the gave it all away yesterday, the empty purse but willing heart…..

From the outside the actions are the same. Who’s to say which giver is which and who has the right reason for giving.

hands

The point is we are limited by what we observe, but we judge by that standard. Wouldn’t it be so easy to watch the bucket go by and judge the non-giver and approve of the giver not knowing that the non-giver had withheld in order to give more to a cause the are passionate about and the giver gave purely for image and as little as possible.

If this is true for as small an act as pennies in a bucket then doesn’t it become more so for so many other situations?

We step onto a slippery slope when we start to take our perceptions as reality, and we live poorer and smaller when those perceptions derail our ability to live without judging others.

I’m trying to slow down when I see actions – good, bad or otherwise – and remind myself I am bringing my own perceptions to that situation. If we must judge (and really must we at all?) let us judge people by the best perception possible.

We will be richer for it.

We see but a slither, if an action is an iceberg it is only the tip and we cannot perceive what is driving that action forward without truly knowing the person. Sometimes we do not even understand our own actions properly.

In all this I am reminded of these enduring words,

A person looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. (1 Sam 16v7)

and, in light of this, I join with David in praying,

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139 v23-24

I am challenged and delighted by the words of Paul,

Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behaviour and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.

Romans 14v22-23

(the whole chapter is brilliant for this issue of judgement and perception).

May we all keep humble when we see, reminding ourselves we do not fully know the whys. May we live right and true in our own actions neither to impress others, or out of fear. May we be pure in our motives and small in our judgements. We will be richer in all ways if we can.

and…. may we all have generous hearts, and full wallets when it comes to the causes that make our hearts beat fast xxx

dear overwhelmed heart

It takes a great deal of grit to keep going in the face of things that feel like a fast closing tsunami on a flat plain with no higher ground in sight.

It takes courage to look past the comparison of your real life when you’re constantly thinking other people’s ‘show reels’ are their real life.

It take determination to face another day of the same challenges, the same demands, the same brokenness.

I’m thinking of you today and praying a safe space for you to lower your guard, to lay down this load of perfection, to come out from behind the screen and allow yourself to be really seen.

100 percent

The internet has its wonderful graces but it has helped us all to live under the sin of covetousness and comparison.

It’s made us look at our ‘neighbour’s’ (aren’t we all neighbours now?) parenting skills, slim thighs, attractive partner, exotic holiday locations, pin worthy bedroom makeover and let our hearts be dismayed.

Covetousness is a robber. God knew when we went down that path – the path that makes us focus on our flaws, our lack, our disappointments – we were never going to return healthier, more motivated, more gracious to ourselves, quicker to forgive the less than perfect people we share our lives with.

To a people just delivered from slavery we see God establishing a set of safeguards to keep them again from self-inflicted slavery.

Because, dear heart, when you start to focus on how everyone else is getting it right, how their load is easier, how their grass is greener you have entangled yourself again in slavery. You have become a slave to an ideal that not only is impossible to meet, but an ideal that isn’t true.

Your imagination is making more of the greener grass than reality would suggest.

Jesus says, come to me you who are burdened and I will give you rest.

He invites us to unburden ourselves and be clothed in something that doesn’t require us to get it right. It requires us to admit we can’t.

When we start living free we release others to do the same. When we lower our guard and admit friend to friend, heart to heart, face to face that we are struggling we will either find that we have freed someone else to admit the same, or, we will find a safe place to be loved despite it all. Surely either of those are a better offer than the struggle of trying so hard to be all we cannot be.

Today instead of looking at someone’s perfect life online how about taking time to connect with someone offline?

How about we all ask to be delivered from the trap of covetousness and instead see ourselves for what we are – the radically loved, forgiven, cherished children of the Most High. Because that is what we are.

belonging

See how safe you are to be imperfect? We are all imperfect and any who present as less than are probably drowning in a terrible tide of overwhelming pressure to continue the facade.

Let’s use our determination, our grit, our courage to hold onto our freedom in Christ and certainly not let ourselves be burdened with a yoke of slavery that demands perfection.

Instead, we rest in the Grace of the One who knows us as imperfect and loves us all the same.

Be loved beautiful ones.

Father let us rest today in your care, unburdened and free from comparison, covetousness, and perfectionism. Let us be found secure in you, becoming whole and fully rescued. Give us strength to face the battles in our lives knowing we are not alone, nor will we ever be. You have promised to be with us always, and you always deliver on your promises.

On Needing Help

Many moons ago I set out to learn all the words from Romans 12. Now when I look back through the fog of remembering and forgetting there is this line that jumps out again and again

and each belongs to all the others

It rings loud this theme of belonging

of the lonely being placed in families

of being known by our love for one another

Christianity is not a solo journey. There are admonitions not to give up meeting together, challenges to show generosity and hospitality, especially to those in the family of believers.

Still I cling stubbornly to my right (or ‘value system’ to Christianise it) to be independent. We bandy around tired clichés ‘God helps those who help themselves’ and believe that not wanting to be another ‘needy’ person somehow elevates our moral status.

If the death of Jesus has not proved to us yet that we are helpless to do it alone then we are truly further from our centre than we realise.

So I take hold of my self-esteem, which is something I have more of than I need, and I remind myself that community, unity, fellowship means more than providing endless social engagements and potluck dinners – frozen pizzas and sausage rolls to the trestle tables! Relationship is a two-way street and I cannot be the only person who is never in need of help.

Moses had the strength in his hands to win the battle for the Israelites only he didn’t have the strength to hold his hands up. So one on either side – Aaron and Hur – did for him what he could not do for himself.

exodus 17

There are times when I have choked on the belief that tells me unless I do it all by myself I cannot have credit for the outcome.

So I’ve settled for holding onto pride and a lesser outcome.

In this instance it was Moses’ hands that held the victory. God had given Moses the anointing for the job – so shouldn’t he have been able to do it for himself? Surely, surely if God has called me to do something I should have all the resources I need to achieve it all by myself. ‘Those he calls he equips’ and all that….

We forget, I forget, we serve a trinity – One God forever in loving relationship and endless unity – isn’t that a pattern of what we are called into as well?

Today I feel invited to lay down my self-imposed, pride-inducing, self-sufficiency and lean into the support of others.

I love this picture of Moses exhausted and worn down – his heart beating for the people he loved, wanting to support them, anointed to support them, unable to go on. Then two friends push over a large rock and sit him down, then they take a stand next to him and lift his hands. They enable his abilities to be fully recognised in this instance. They stand with him and give him what he can no longer do alone.

They give him the support to move fully into the anointing and victory and blessing he has been given in that moment.

I’ve been sending out some emails lately. Leaning in to the support I have, to realise something I feel called to do. I am finding that I am not diminished in the asking, my work is not diminished in the support, rather I am enriched and my contribution is infinitely enlarged in the beautiful people I have around me.

Could it be that:

Humility + Unity = Victory

Unity is more than not disagreeing and hanging out all the time – in fact I think unity might be neither of those things. Genuine unity, genuine community must include being better because we work together.

Being better because we draw out more of the best in each other.

Being better because we realise together what we could never realise alone.

Would someone pull up a rock for me and sit alongside me while I try to offer my contribution to the battle?

1 Corinthians 12v26

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Romans 12v4-5

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.