This I choose.

sim·plic·i·ty. 

1. absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.;

2. freedom from complexity, intricacy, or division into parts

 

I wrote once about simplicity…seeking answers and wanting to know and understand what that means for me. Questioning how to run from materialistic idolatry, and yet have gratefulness for blessings. Wanting to fully grasp what it means to live with and steward the things that I own. I still question. I still wonder. And I am still seeking. But the more I seek, the more I understand.

I think that my life often becomes inverted to myself; slowly I begin to live for my status or for my things or my job or my relationships and I begin to worship the very things I have been blessed with. These things aren’t bad at all…they are gifts from God himself. But if I turn and live for them instead of the Creator and the One giving blessing, it becomes idolatry. Matthew 6:19-21 warns against laying up treasures on the earth where they will be destroyed; but instead we are to lay up treasures in heaven. A few verses later it says that we can’t worship God and money. I don’t want to live my life serving other idols and worshipping other gods and pursuing things that really don’t matter and will fall away. What a waste!

But it’s not just about having less or giving it all away or moving to lower ranks. Those things don’t entirely stop the obsession with things, the worship of stuff, or our deep internal longings for high status.  I believe simplicity begins with a belief, a choice, a state of heart.  Simplicity isn’t so much a state of having or lacking, but a choice to worship and live for One thing. One God. To choose simplicity is to choose denial of self and to become radically obsessed and consumed with the One for whom we are living. To brush everything else aside and simply live with one purpose. The reality and authenticity of these choices and beliefs about simplicity can be observed by the resulting actions. I ask myself, “If I truly am following Jesus and if I truly am seeking to worship Him only, shouldn’t my actions reflect that? Shouldn’t the fruit of this simplicity and worship be reflected in the way I spend my time and my money and my breath and my words? To spend not for myself or my own pleasure, but for the glory of the one who blessed me with these hours and dollars and the very air I breathe as I speak?”

That is the simplicity I want. That is the simplicity I choose. 

 

 

 

Therefore I will not lose heart

Here I sit, with my personal computer, in my regular routine, in my quaint little apartment above a cozy cafe, my stomach full, and my body well. I am comfortable. Oh how quickly I forget. It wasn’t that long ago that this reality fell away and I entered into something else. Something completely different. No resemblance to this place, this comfort, at all.  And I thought I would never forget. I thought that this was the pivotal moment and my life would turn around. And it was. It did. But now I am here. Far from the place where stories and pain and joy and grief were sewn onto my heart. And I remain unaffected. I live as though it never happened. I brush the elementary kids off my arms at work and sigh at their stories and am absent of patience. I move through life undisturbed by the brokenness of those I am close with. I do my duty and all that’s expected of me and am done. I hate that. It’s not me. I am more than that. God has done a beautiful work in me and I refuse to let routine and apathy take over my compassion and love. I want to live in full remembrance of where I’ve been and what I have learned. 

So I look back and read what I wrote then. I allow myself to feel and remember. And I am moved. 

July 20, 2012

Morning at Shishu Bhavan, one of the Mother Teresa homes for children. 

We walked into the courtyard, totally clueless as to where to go, so we wandered until we found one of the sisters and got our assignment for the day. We would be with the “toddlers”…the healthier children up for adoption. We walked in, no one really noticed. I found a place on the floor and two girls “read”/ memory-vomited nursery rhymes to me in their little school uniforms. I went with one of the sisters to drop them off at their school. I held the hand of a girl about 8 years old. She had plastic glasses and her short dress uniform, high socks, and black shoes. I held her fisted hand as she clung onto the two pieces of candy the sister had given her for the day. As we walked I was so frustrated. I felt lost and unwelcome. And the girl walked so slowly…dawdled along, twisting her body to watch the things and people we passed. When she turned to look, her leg also turned, which made her limp awkwardly and even more slowly. She almost ran into a pole and then again into a bamboo ladder that men were carrying down the street. I was irritated and even said under my breath, “What is your problem? Seriously, let’s walk normally and just get there!” I recognized this hardness and impatience and anger…I prayed “Jesus, I need you. I want to see you here. I don’t know how to love them.  Why can’t I love this girl? I feel so frustrated.” We continued down a little ally and up a dark staircase to the classroom (I literally pulled her up some of the stairs…I showed no love to that child). The classroom was worn and old and faded and dusty. I hate that…why couldn’t they have nice things and beautiful schools like the ones I had?

I came back to the playroom. The toddlers all wore yellow patterned clothes…simple and handmade. They didn’t like the plastic glasses they wore, strapped to their heads with a plastic spiral or a coated wire, and most of the kids tried to take them off. The kids were bald…all shaven heads. It must be easier to take care of…and cleaner. It was shaving day today. Even the girls lost their pretty curls or tiny pigtails. Their heads looked misshapen and awkward. I hated the fighting cries as they went off with the sisters to the little designated shaving room. I peeked in once…the sister holding him across her lap, so calm as she moved the razor across the head of the screaming child. I rocked one boy in the plastic chair horse. He had no expression or emotion, no reactions. His legs were lifeless and so were his eyes. He stared at nothing…jerking his heavy head forward and back to rock the horse. He didn’t like to be touched. I saw him later on the floor alone, rocking back and forth. A sister came by and said, “He is so lazy and needs to walk.” So for the rest of the time he was held by his arms, his body dangling without the support of his legs. 

All of a sudden they all were taken away to eat. I sat and waited, hung some laundry out on the terrace and thought about all of my frustration. I was frustrated with the kids, but also with the sisters. Yes, they played with the kids and held them and kissed them, but it didn’t feel intimate. Not like a parent’s love. But they aren’t the parents. These kids are still waiting for parents. How long will they wait? My anger is at the system and the situation, but I still feel bitter toward the people who are a part of it. It’s easier to be angry at people than at systems. 

I entered the small room where lunch was being served and was hit with a carrot and a glob of rice. I looked to where it flew from and the boy just smirked at me. I sat on the grimy rice floor and began to feed a girl, who soon got whisked away to be shaved. I watched the volunteer next to me feed two kids. She smiled and laughed. The little boy blew raspberry kisses on her arm and touched her face. He pulled her face close and kissed her cheek with his smiling rice coated lips. She fed them without frustration or routine. He ran off to get a bald Barbie doll head to play with. She didn’t look at it disgustedly, but joined him in his play as she continued to feed him. He got up and came to me, held my face, kissed me, smiled and sat back down. He didn’t even know me, but gave me love.

Soon the girl came back, shaven head. I tied a soggy bib around her neck and she sat down in front of the pie tin and spoon full of cold rice and chicken mush that resembled a chunky sort of vomit. I lifted the spoon full of food to her mouth as I had seen the others do. She opened her mouth mechanically and I put the spoon of mush in and scraped it off with her teeth. She sat with it in her mouth, her eyes absent of all life or thought…pure loneliness and lifelessness. Soon she chewed and slowly swallowed. I had to put more in her mouth. I hated it. “Why can’t she be fed and loved. Where are her parents? What is this, God? Why? Why can’t she be loved more?” I held back tears as I looked on this child…holding the mush in her mouth thoughtlessly and blankly. “Would she even know how to be loved? If she were adopted, what would she do? Would she know how to eat? Will she ever know that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be?” I fed her a few more spoonfuls, getting frustrated because my heart hurt so much. “C’mon, chew chew swallow. Eat this. I know it’s disgusting. I’m sorry I have only this to give you.” I thought of Matthew 25, “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” It felt dumb…”Okay, so I’m feeding you Jesus. Literally feeding you in the least of these. But its gross and this isn’t right and I want to love you more but I physically don’t know how and can’t right now.” Soon it was time to leave. I didn’t finish feeding her…I just left.  I hate that I dropped everything and left…will this child ever know real love?

Tonight we prayed as a group and read 2 Corinthians 4. The verse that stood out to me was verse 16, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” Today I saw my outwardness, my sinful, gross, disgusting heart. My selfishness and ugliness was apparent. I was ashamed of myself. But I was reminded that through this I am being renewed inwardly. My heart is changing. Rid me of myself, God. That’s what I prayed, and you are answering. You are changing me. Give me grace and teach me how to have grace for myself. Continue to reveal my outwardliness and rid me of this sinfulness. I want to be more like you, Jesus. 

 

This is not Abba

“A false and illusionary notion of God…sees God as someone who is gracious to me when I am good, but who punishes me relentlessly when I am bad. This is a typical patriarchal notion of God. He is the God of Noah who sees people deep in sin, repents that He made them and resolves to destroy them. He is the God of the desert who sends snakes to bite his people because they murmured against Him. He is the God of David who practically decimates a people because their king, motivated by pride perhaps, takes up a census of his empire. He is the God who exacts the last drop of blood from his Son, so that his just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased. This God whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger, a god who is still all too familiar to many Christians–is a caricature of the true God. This God does not exist. This is not the God whom Jesus reveals to us. This is not the God whom Jesus called “Abba.”  ”

-William Shannon

 

Father, Abba, Daddy, I want to know you. I want the REAL you and not a false caricature. I want YOU. I know in my head that you are the Father, and I know in my head that I am your child; but I don’t understand that kind of love. I want you to come near to me and love me with the tenderest love and deepest compassion. I want to be held and kept in your love. Oh Abba, I long for you.

Simplicity. I actually want to know.

I desire to be a woman of simplicity…but what does that even mean? Are the things apart from necessary needs of body and mind function and survival…are those sinful and indulgent?  Is it idolatrous for me to enjoy things or desire things? Is it wrong for me to be sad when I am called to give things up? Does that sadness reveal that I really don’t understand Jesus at all? That I’m consumed with things? I find materialistic consumption, dependency on possession, and idolatry absolutely detestable and I don’t want them to have any place in me.  I want to abandon any idols and anything professing to be god and demanding my attention. I don’t want simplicity to become an idol. I want to see blessing in a healthier way. I want to understand Jesus… because He is calling me to surrender everything and follow Him. I want to, but I don’t think I really know what that means. Does this mean that I really don’t understand Jesus at all? Oh Jesus, will you please show me my things? Will you please give me understanding? Will you increase my faith and lead me to obedience? Does obedience have to look joyful? Is sadness okay? Or does that mean that I don’t have any idea what it means to follow You and need to reevaluate everything I’ve ever said or promised or prayed or committed to? What do I hold on to? How do I respond when things are lost or taken from me? They are, after all, just things. I want to be free from the world…but does that mean I have to give up everything and find no pleasure or enjoyment in it anymore?

What does Jesus say? What is the truth? I’m sick of hearing teachers and speakers and motivators and condemners and convincers and inspirerers and charitable persons and evangelizers and givers and takers and criers and shouters and everyone talking about things and what they have to do with the kingdom. “Give it all up!” “It’s all blessing! Enjoy it!” “Get as much as you can and steward it well and give the extra!” “Tithe your money!” “Blessing is a sign of obedience!” There are so many “answers,” but I don’t think enough of us are asking questions…. we just want to know the best way we can live without being wrong.

But I actually want to know. Am I blessed or am I hoarding? Am I truly giving and sacrificing or is this just garbage anyway? How can I worship through giving? Is it really worship if it’s just giving out of plenty, if it doesn’t bring me down or make me humble in some way? Am I living simply or does it just look simple because I’m comparing myself to everyone else? What is simplicity and why do I desire it?

Jesus, what are you calling me to? Please give me wisdom to understand and bold courage to obey. Wisdom without obedience or follow-through is pointless and I’d be better off not even knowing in the first place. Solomon was the wisest man in the world…his wisdom was given by You. But he fell into temptation and lusted and worshiped other gods. He didn’t actually get it. Oh God, I don’t want to be like him. When I pray for wisdom, I’m praying not just so I can know, but so I can act on it. Please give me courage because I know what you’re calling me to isn’t easy. But I want to obey. I want to worship. I want YOU.

 

Here are some articles that I have read from Word Made Flesh writers. I appreciate the honesty and truth written here: 

http://www.wordmadeflesh.org/the-cry/the-cry-vol-16-no-1/first-things-first/

“I struggle most with the sin of self-righteousness: the attempt to prove to God, others and myself that I am good enough to merit God’s (and others’) approval. And it is this sin that is at the center of my struggle with simplicity. Rather than freely receiving the riches of God’s grace and seeking to grow in a heart of simplicity, I fall back again and again into worrying about how what I have looks to those around me and grading myself on my own scale of simplicity success.”

 

http://www.wordmadeflesh.org/the-cry/the-cry-vol-16-no-1/confessions-of-confusion/

“Honestly, these days I don’t really get simplicity. At times, I have lived more simply here, often getting sick. Now my pendulum has swung the other way, living with better “self-care” and “sustainability,” some would say. Are these just the latest buzz phrases to justify my selfish, hedonistic tendencies?

Why doesn’t this ever-always guilt go away? I am tired of being idealistic. I don’t know how to be simple. Can I just go Home? Maybe I don’t have enough faith.

Hmm. Maybe that’s it. Faith. Simplicity springs out of faith. If we honestly believe in a loving, just God, we can be free to be simple. We can only be as simple as our trust in the goodness of God.”

 

http://www.wordmadeflesh.org/the-cry/beyond-simplicity/

 “A lifestyle of simplicity is a place to which God is calling us all, but there are some dangers in walking this narrow path. First, there is the danger of moving from detachment to depreciation. Detachment is completely abandoning ourselves to the Father whose love demands our all. Depreciation is devaluing the things we are attached to so that it is easier to give them up. Detachment is looking to God; depreciation is looking to our “valuables.” Soren Kierkegaard speaks of depreciation in his book Fear and Trembling. Commenting on the call of Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah, Kierkegaard points to the temptation to depreciate that which one must renounce. If Isaac meant less to Abraham, it would be easier to give him up. But God does not call us to depreciate. Rather, God calls us to resign ourselves wholly, trusting that God will reorder our values.

 lifestyle of simplicity has another danger. It is the danger of seeing simplicity as an end in itself. It is the Pharisaic temptation of dropping our eyes from God to humanity. Simplicity is a relative term. A simple lifestyle in the US looks different than a simple lifestyle in India. If I strive to live more simply than the Jones’, then I make simplicity its own end and am nothing more than a pious Pharisee who wants to be admired for his religious acts. Jesus says that he has no reward with the Father who is in heaven for he has received his reward in full. Pharisaic simplicity is thanking God that we are not like ‘other people.’ “

“The” Our Father

Jesus, when you said “pray these words,”

did you mean exactly those words?

They just sound so…. ugly

in their monotone lifelessness,

with absent hearts disconnected from their meaning.

 

When you said “this is how you should pray,”

I can’t bring myself to believe this dead, memorized chorus is what you intended.

 

Do you cringe or weep?

Does your anger rise?

Or does this really bring you glory? 

Are you pleased?

 

Jesus, teach me how to pray.

Anger in love

Remember… 

Kolkata. July 24, 2012

 Matthew 13:47-50  

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind,  which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away.  So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Anger rises up in me when I read this. All the fish brought in and then separated…some thrown into the furnace. The wicked from among the just. I think about the people here–who’d be thrown? So much of their idol worship and the injustice is because they just don’t know the truth. They are forced to live in survival because of the darkness and evil here. They were created pure, but evil has corrupted them. It’s not their fault. 

I held a two month old baby today while I was in the slum and he fell asleep in my arms. He was so light and warm, innocent, precious, and beautiful. I kissed his forehead. God created him and knows him here. He really was beautiful. He is loved here in the slum. The power was out in the small school room, so the younger kids came up and fanned me and baby with notebooks and slates to keep us cool. They are still so innocent too. But they are growing up in this place… evil is so present here in this slum. It’s not their fault they are growing up here in this system. It’s not fair that they could grow up to be rickshaw pullers because of intractable poverty. The men who fight, who cheat, who assault, who swear and murder and kill…they all once were innocent children. They were babies once. They were held and kissed and cuddled. And now they are living wickedly and are corrupted and would be of the fish cast into the furnace.

Jesus, I don’t understand. I want to know. I want to understand your love and justice for these people. If you come back now, most of these people would be cast out. It breaks my heart and makes me angry. I have fallen in love with these people. I dream of this place being beautiful and worshipful. I prayed as I looked at the dirty rotten road that one day it will be a street of gold. That the billboards would declare your life and glory and love. That the people would be full of joy and their eyes full of life. I have the deepest desire for this place to be renewed and restored…and that not one of these people would be absent from it when it is restored. One of the things I fear is that your kingdom will come in full and this city will be empty. Jesus, have compassion on these people. Have VICTORY over this place…I want them to know, to LIVE! Jesus…let it be done. Save your people. Crush the evil and oppression. I love these people…and my heart aches to think that they would be thrown away. It’s not their fault! It’s the system, the evil, the demons, Satan’s sly quiet destruction. God, these tears and this desperation shows me that this love is real. Help me understand your justice. Give me wisdom. Turn my anger and sadness into righteous emotion. 

When your kingdom comes, may the trains be just as full and the streets just as loud with the children flooding over everything with beautiful joy and laughter.

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Spirit reign, flood into these thirsty hearts again. Jesus come. You’ll come.