Calm After a Storm?

I grew up hearing the phrase “calm before the storm” but never thought much about it.  This past week, as we watched the weather reports of an encroaching storm, there was NO “calm before the storm!”  Fear of the unknown was really more what ruled my heart, with a dash of wondering, “Will we get through this one okay?”  With every waking moment trying to prepare, it was a very intense week.  Then there was all the waiting . . . hour upon hour . . . as the storm neared, stayed around far longer than we were used to and f-i-n-a-l-l-y passed.

Our area was largely spared the loss and suffering experienced by so many living just north of us.  It has been hard to even know how to pray for those neighbors who have been stripped of family members or everything they worked many times a lifetime to attain.  After watching hour after hour of news reports I wondered, “Where is fairness in all of this chaotic mess?”  

Still battling this confusion, yesterday afternoon my husband and I drove down to a local beach to check on a friend and to survey some of the damage.  As we traveled, I was comforted by the bright light shining through a sky still full of banks of gray clouds that swirled over the passing countryside . . . I was struck by an unmistakable quietness of mind and heart.   The feeling was somehow familiar. . . CALM AFTER A STORM?  Yes!

There it was . . . that calm I have experienced during a multitude of life storms, when hanging on was all I could do.

There it was . . . breaking through solitary moments, a quietness of mind and heart that in past days had faithfully calmed my mind and heart, even as those seemingly devastating  storms stripped away all that I tried to hold onto.

There He was . . . finally revealed as all was stripped away.   My faithful God forever offering His strength . . . His peace . . . His amazing grace!

As His calmness tended to my confusion and heartache for so many impacted by this dreadful storm,

There it was . . . a calm full of HOPE!  

This morning, still pondering the blessing of yesterday, the words of an old hymn flooded my soul afresh with a balm of calmness to face this new day.  I offer the words of Katharina von Schlegel, that have encouraged many through a multitude of storms.  I especially offer it to those of you who are facing or are persevering through storms of many kinds, praying that His calm will prevail over your minds and hearts no matter what:

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to your God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shall you better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Katharina von Schlegel, 1752
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1855
Tune: FINLANDIA, Jean Sibelius, 1899

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  I Thessalonians 5:23

 All to His Glory!

Lean Into Joy ~

Imagine being stuck in a stinking prison cell, suffering filthy conditions, being cut off from family and friends, having little hope of ever seeing home again.  Such was the predicament of the Apostle Paul over two thousand years ago.  Humanly speaking, Paul had every reason to complain and give over to despair.  Yet he chose to lean into joy as he encouraged his friends with a formula to join him in that leaning:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 
 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:4-7)

Life!  It can be heartbreaking, nonsensical, and full of frustration.   Right now I have family and friends facing enormous challenges with their health, the loss of loved ones, financial challenges they never expected to face.  I woke up this morning with news of an earthquake in Canada, a tsunami threatening Hawaii and as I write this, the news is full of a “hybrid storm” named Sandy that appears to be headed to where I live.  I have caught myself repeatedly going over lists in my head, but have no answer to the question, “Have I done enough to prepare?”   I was grateful to be reminded of Paul’s example and call to Christians across two thousand years to lean into joy despite uncertain circumstances:

Rejoice in the One who is near . . . lean into joy as God’s peace transcends today and every tomorrow to come.  Rejoice!

Two posts ago I wrote to you about the difference between loneliness and solitude.  The root of loneliness has to do with a longing for companionship.  The danger in following the path of loneliness is that, as we become increasingly self-focused, hope and light are drained from the mind and heart.   Conversely, solitude is a necessity.  We need time alone to think, to pray, to create, to allow God to speak to our hearts.  Solitude is to be cherished as a precious commodity.

In my last post  I wrote about the value of solitude in prayer, referring to it as solitary leaning.    It is through our solitary leaning that the door is opened to intimacy with God with the help of His Spirit and His Word.  Solitary leaning urges us to, “Know that the Lord is God . . . His faithfulness continues through all generations,” (Psalm 100:3, 5) to “Be still and know” God,  (Psalm 46:10) and to “wait for Him!” (Isaiah 30:18)  Such solitary intimacy is what strengthens and matures faith.

Paul’s ability to lean into joy during one of the toughest seasons in his life, was the fruit of consistent solitary leaning on God.   There is much for Christians to learn from Paul.  We too must lay a foundation of prayerful solitary leaning as the foundation of our faith.  We are also called to live and breathe obedient to our leaning.

 The true test of living a life that reflects Christ, is learning to lean into joy when things don’t go our way.  When our circumstances no longer rule us we are freed to live for, love and serve God with glad hearts.

Paul’s determination to “rejoice in the Lord always” was rooted in the intimate relationship he enjoyed with his Savior.  But such joy was never to be hoarded, instead Paul shared it with community to pass on the blessing he had received through Christ Jesus.  So how can we consistently lean into joy?  Paul gives the answer with clarity and wisdom:

 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.  (Philippians 4:8, 9)

So what are you waiting for?  Lean!

All to His Glory!

Solitary Leaning ~

I have learned to enjoy the solitary work of writing.  I never know the direction the process is going to take me and sometimes . . . this may sound a little weird but . . .  sometimes I feel like I am the little dot on an Etch-A-Sketch screen.  I usually start out with an idea or two, but as I get busy writing I many times hit a dead-end.  I struggle with many “false starts” as I back up, re-think the direction I want to go, and try again.  It can be very frustrating and sometimes even painful when I find myself banging my head against a wall of frustration wondering, “How on earth did I get here?!!”  It is then that I remember and turn back to quickly pray, “Lord . . . help! ”   Invariably, every post turns into a treasure hunt as I re-enter the writing process prayerfully seeking His perspective as I write.

Over time I have learned to recognize the value of prayer in solitude – what I refer to as “solitary leaning”– as the key piece that makes whatever we face truly meaningful and productive.

Life is hard; but God is good and ready to meet us at our point of need.  He calls us to enter intimate solitude with Him throughout Scripture.  I love how Psalm 100:3-5 takes our focus off ourselves as we lean into Him as “the sheep of His pasture”:

Know that the Lord is God.
    It is He who made us, and we are His;
    we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

 Enter His gates with thanksgiving
    and His courts with praise;
    give thanks to Him and praise His name.
 For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
    His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Are you struggling with fear?  Do you doubt His goodness because of things you regret?  Have you suffered a recent loss that has taken your breath away?  God calls us in whatever state we are in to:

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  (Psalm 46:10)

To “be still, and know” is His call to solitary leaning.  It is an invitation to surrender fear and doubt and the pain of loss as we trust in Him.

In my last post, I wrote about the difference between loneliness and solitude.  The core of loneliness is rooted in our God-given yearning for companionship.  In Genesis 2:18 God made Eve for Adam because, “It’s not good for man to be alone.”  The problem with loneliness arises when we become increasingly self-focused in bitterness and despair and, in the end, abandon God.

The beautiful thing about solitude for Christians is that when we lean into Him through our prayers and look to the Scriptures, we discover a waiting Shepherd ready to meet us at our point of need.  That is what I love about the word-picture in Isaiah 30 that encourages us in our failures to solitary leaning on the Shepherd of our souls:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
    therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
    Blessed are all who wait for Him!  (Verse 18)

Such solitary leaning is a necessity in our creativity as well as in facing trials, grieving losses and remembering above all else, His faithfulness.   I find working in my garden or curling up in a corner working on my Journey Notes to be special places to lean.  Sometimes I actually enjoy being alone in a crowd, when I can sit to the side of all of the activity and just take everything in.  How about you?  Do you have a favorite time or place that you find especially conducive to do some solitary leaning?

All to His Glory!


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The Beauty of Solitude ~

Helping people with problems is primarily what counseling is about.  One of the advantages of counseling from a biblical perspective is in knowing that there are almost always positive aspects to whatever problem we face.  Case in point: the problem of loneliness.  Having battled loneliness personally, I know firsthand how insidiously loneliness can drain hope and light out of the landscape of the human mind and heart.

That is why I was grateful to read a blog posted this week titled, Solitude by Cristian Mihai.  Though writing from a purely secular view, I was refreshed by his reminder that there is much beauty to be enjoyed when we are on our own.  Here are some of his observations regarding solitude:

“As a kid, life is often simple.  I played with my toys, making up stories. I read books, tried to learn so many different things that I could talk to an adult as equals.  It was fun, actually.  But I also spent a lot of time alone, in silence.  But my mind was never quiet.

Solitude grants you this bizarre freedom, filling your mind with questions and answers and noise and stories.  I spent a lot of time building the life I was going to have.  I spent more time some place else than my body.”

 He went on to say that to work creatively– be it with words, paint, gardening or any other medium- solitude is often an absolute necessity.  He is totally right!  Here is part of what I wrote back to him:

“Your insights into the necessity of solitude in the creative process really hit the mark.  I would have to add that for me, what makes “solitude” most productive and exciting is the interplay of my Creator’s Voice with my own, urging me on throughout the process.  The problem of loneliness comes when my focus is so totally inward, that I lose touch with that other Voice.  The blessing is in knowing that even there (in my loneliness) His Voice can penetrate even the darkest of darkness.”  (Psalm 139:7-12)

To sort out the difference between solitude and loneliness, I checked the Oxford Dictionary Online.  What I discovered is that solitude can be very beneficial and should be guarded as something precious.  Solitude is defined as:

1  The state or situation of being alone: she savoured her few hours of freedom and solitude
2  Lonely or uninhabited place: the battle to preserve beloved solitudes flared up all over the country

Loneliness, on the other hand, is not so beneficial in its definition:

Sadness because one has no friends or company: feelings of depression and loneliness

The difference?  The root of loneliness has to do with a lack of companionship; missing that interpersonal fellowship with others with whom we share interests or friendship.  The danger in following the path of loneliness is that as we become increasingly self-focused, the world around us appears darker.

The beauty of the Journey Notes Praise Journaling process is that it helps us embrace God in our solitude as:

    1. We take our focus off of ourselves by logging our Praises to Him as well as our Prayer Concerns
    2. We look to our Creator for His perspective in the Scriptures
    3. We respond in faith as we trust and honor Him with our lives

Jesus encouraged His disciples to enter into precious solitude with Him in Matthew 11:28-29,

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

No matter what the season, the good news is that God has provided a means of blessing through fellowship with Him.  If loneliness has overtaken you, be encouraged that if you know Jesus, YOU ARE NEVER TRULY ALONE!  The beauty of solitude invested in Christ Jesus is, that your relationship with Him will deepen as God’s Spirit and Word minister to your mind and heart.  So get going!  Abandon the loneliness of “self” and indeed find rest for your soul.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and You know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    You, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and You lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, You are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your hand will guide me,
    Your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to You;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to You.  (Psalm 139:1-12)

All to His Glory!