*The events described in this post are a few months old, but the lessons drawn from them continue to feed and guide my soul. I hope they do the same for you.
My emotions race from one extreme to another. Conversations that never took place whiz through my mind as I stare into the ink of the ceiling. Black. Dark. Staring back, mute. In the next room my wife lay asleep, recuperating from wounds received from a tactical surgeons’ scalpel. Both dogs pant heavily as peals of thunder pass overhead. Cowering beneath blankets, cotton offers them soothing comfort. My eyes force shut. But thoughts like lightning crackle through my never-silent mind. Sleep won’t come tonight.
It became my “cross”, my identity, my hell.
The past few years have been transformational, to say the least. Preceded by years of battle and internal agony, a seminar held in Newark, NJ of all places, began to unravel the twisted identity that I’d been shackled to for decades. Personal values became something to celebrate rather than despised, as I stripped off the religion-laced, self-deprecating cloak that was thrown over my shoulders so long ago. Not knowing much else back then, and seeing others with their cloaks - some worn and tattered from years of wear while others were new and crisp - I shouldered mine bravely in the name of Jesus! I hung desperately to it like a life ring in the middle of a churning sea thinking I needed it because, well, others said I did. It became my “cross”, my identity, my hell. I wore it long not knowing there was alternative offered by Jesus.
I toss back and forth, the sheets and covers of the bed not quite right. My pajamas bunching here, uncomfortable there. Sleep is slippery and my mind continues to argue with itself about things all too important but having only an audience of one, me. I cannot applaud this menagerie of thoughts. It offers me nothing excellent, nothing whole, nothing lovely, nothing praise worthy. I shift my legs and mind into more comfortable positions and attempt to take captive these thoughts that war against me.
Freedom. Victory. Grace. Mercy. Acceptance. Forgiveness.
These are all part of the wardrobe spoken of but not always worn on the runway of Christianity. These are the garments of the Living Christ that are devoid of religion and pretense. Offered in amazing love and compassion, I’ve learned to select them first from attire that is slowly and intentionally being thinned from my spiritual closet.
In my readings of late, I’ve been mentored by a man who had the same struggles - some far more abysmal than mine - who also faced sleeplessness in the dark of the night. His journey, much like the Apostle Peter’s in his denial of Jesus, has served as a fulcrum, dislodging me from the uncomely cement shoes of religion, self-doubt, insecurity and depression. Here's what I’m learning:
There is a way of life, a rhythm of living desired by God for us, that has largely gone unnoticed by many. In fact, I would say that it’s been disregarded, dismissed, and disdained in favor of performance, achievement, accolades and awards. It’s a cadence to the call of a wooing God through His beloved Son to rest and reside in the shelter of His love.
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:25-30
You see, the cloak of Jesus is not burdensome, devaluing or cumbersome. The life that’s supposed to be lived in Jesus is one of peace, Sabbath, work, rest, acceptance, forgiveness, grace, love…it has a rhythm. It’s far and away opposed to the life we see around us, even in churches. Why? Because we’ve become so accustomed to the pattern of this world that we think it fits much better. I can’t tell you how many times my thinking was twisted as I read the Scriptures but then watched how others, and myself, lived out our lives, not keeping in step with the Spirit; so out of sync.
My wrestling in the darkness of the night had foundations in the toxic teachings I’d received and often welcomed over the years. But in my grappling I’ve learned a new rhythm and acceptance. I’ve embraced the fact that what Matthew writes is true. And it’s revolutionary! If Jesus really did say this, then why are so many Christians just worn to the bone? Why are so many ministers (lay and professional) in desperate need of rest and even rehab? Could it be, perhaps, that we’ve been shouldering a weight, a lifestyle that’s oppressive to the very image of God inked in us? I think so.
I'm done! I quit!
So, I’m done. Finished. I quit! Over the past few months, as I watched my wife be infused with chemicals, I’ve been reading and meditating on the truth in Matthew 11. I invite you to join me. To begin to make radical changes first to your thoughts and then to your lives to sync with Jesus, the one who gave his all so that we would no longer struggle in the dark of the night.
*I have many other blogs on Sabbath and rest that you should read. it will give you a point at which to start. There are many books that are excellent to read which I can recommend. If you’d like some personal recommendations or coaching, please feel free to contact me. I’ll help as best I can.