The Bible in 2 Sentences

lydiaLast August on our family beach trip, I had a moment.  My daughter was playing with me on the bed, and she started paging through the Bible.  She was absorbed in her project, and, as most two year olds do, she was providing a running narrative of every thought that ran through her head.  As she was playing, she began ‘reading’ the Bible.

Page after page, she was reading the same two sentences over and over…

But I’m scared!
You must trust the Lord.

Over and over, page after page, the same two sentences.  She probably said it twenty times. But I’m scared! You must trust the Lord… But I’m scared! You must trust the Lord… But I’m scared! You must trust the Lord… scared… trust… scared… trust.  But.. trust.  

And that’s when it hit me.  This is the Bible, in it’s most simplistic form.  Yes- there are many theological truths missing from these two statements.  True- there is no Jesus there.  But implicit in these two statements is the crux of my daily walk with God.  The essential struggle between my doubts and God’s goodness.  My stubborn need to see the future, to know the way out, and God’s good plan for my life.

Now.  Before you pop a halo on my child and begin to think about how ‘the kingdom ofno-no-noah heaven belongs to such as these,’ know that she was basically quoting the monkey from her favorite book No, No Noah.  God works in mysterious ways.  And I have read her that book approximately 3,942 times.

However.  As I continue to read scripture, I am realizing the full extent to which these two sentences capture the essence of mankind’s story arc with God.  The Garden.  Abraham and Sarah.  The 40 Years in the Desert.  The Judges. Ruth.  The Prophets.  Esther. And that’s just the Old Testament.

In Joshua chapter 1, God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous four times in a row.  The future is unclear.  Real, bodily harm is a distinct possibility.  There is much room for fear and anxiety, and yet God’s message is clear.  You must trust the Lord.

Fear versus trust is hands down one of the most dominant themes of my life.  It feels as if I slam into this choice countless times per day.  Just this morning, I sent my husband out at 7 AM to stand in line to register our 3 year old for preschool.  My fear of not getting my daughter into the program our family felt like was best for us was undermining my trust in God’s good plan for us.

She got in.

I have the best husband on the planet.

God is good.

But even if she hadn’t gotten a spot at the school, is God not still good?  I think a lot of times we struggle with seeing God as a bearded fairy godmother- one primarily consumed with making sure life is easy and light.  Yet, do we not grow more as humans when faced with adversity?  When challenged to confront our ideas for what we want and then intentionally step outside the box?

Each day, over and over, I live out the liturgy of my daughter’s scripture reading…

But I’m scared!
You must trust the Lord.

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Don’t should on yourself. 

I should take my Christmas lights down. I mean, for crying out loud, Valentine’s Day is on Tuesday. Yet there they are – twinkling proudly in front of the whole neighborhood. And, if I am going to be brutally honest in this confession, I should probably also admit to the multiple strands of colored lights that are strung along my back deck. From Christmas twentyfifteen. That haven’t been plugged in since. Strung merrily on the deck that should also be pressure washed and repainted. I should feel guilty about this. I should put this near the top of a honey do list. But…. meh. 

I have a feeling that most of us have a long list of shoulds that confront us from the moment we pull our heads off of the pillow each morning. I should have gotten up an hour earlier to exercise. I should make the bed. I should drink less caffeine. I should take a shower. I should buy stock in dry shampoo. I should have a wholesome family moment including scripture reading and some sort of commissioning prayer each morning with my kids over a hot cooked breakfast. I should not be putting on mascara while driving my children to daycare. I should listen to that voicemail blinking on the work phone. 

All those shoulds and it’s not even 9 AM.

And even more insidious than those are all the shiny happy social media shoulds. I should take my kids to the children’s museum. I should read more. I should make my own soap. I should have friends to be drinking wine with on a Tuesday night. I should go on vacation to Mexico and take pictures of my polished toenails in a hammock. I should learn to knit. I should join the PTA or PETA or the PLC. I should be doing the 21 day fix or eating paleo or crossfitting. (Confession- I am not entirely sure what any of the last three things are). 

We spend so much of our lives shoulding all over ourselves. And, my friends, should is a dirty word. Should is a sibling to shame. Kin to guilt and insecurity and depression. When has a should in your life ever brought you a feeling of freedom? Ever come with a sense of joy? Shoulds never do. They are heavy and muddy brown. A burden, not a gift. 

And this too – most shoulds are not actual shoulds. They are not necessary to sustain life – I would posit that one could live a full happy life without bowing to many shoulds at all. 

In fact, here is a thought experiment: what if you turned all of your shoulds into coulds? Instead of I should read that book: I could read that book. All of a sudden an obligation has turned into an invitation. One that you were free to either except or decline. You could learn how to can vegetables, or you could not. By changing one tiny letter, you sweep the desk clean from stacks of imaginary burdens, and create room for possibility. 

If should is connected to shame, could is akin to whimsy. To opportunity and, dare I say it, joy. Could invites the imagination to engage. It automatically puts you in a mindset where you can decide if this is something you actually want to do… something you actually have time for. Should forces its way in, while could simply knocks and waits. 

So. Next time you discover that you are shoulding all over yourself, stop. Ask your self if this is truly something you want to do. And even if you want to do it, ask yourself if it is something that you ever actually will accomplish. I will give you a hint – if you are anything like me, starting your own garden and/or learning to quilt automatically goes in the “I’m never going to do that” category. 

Let your should turn into what it actually was all along… A could. And see if that invitation sparks joy, or anxiety.

So yes, I should take down my Christmas lights. But darn it, I like them. So shine on you gorgeous twinkly stars. Life’s too short to should your pants. 

Practice

Ever notice how yoga teachers are always thanking you for joining their practice that day? I used to think it was a humble brag, like look I can pretzel my legs behind my neck while reading a magazine but I’m calling it practice so you can tell me how awesome I am. But now I realize that it’s something different altogether. Practice as a way of life, as a way of centering yourself, honing your skills, training  your muscles and ingraining your craft into your very bones. 

I am reading two amazing books right now… You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith and Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Wilson. Both books focus on the premise that souls are calibrated by more than just facts. That right thinking isn’t the end goal of discipleship. Rather, our daily practices, our actions and reactions, the way we live our lives, reflect the true desires of our heart. And the only way to become more fully aligned with Christ, to issue in the Kingdom of Heaven, is to intentionally shape and reshape our daily practices to point us more closely to God.

For years, I had an ingrained daily habit of ‘quiet time’. However, when my son was born, all of a sudden I had a LOT more going on. Free time was at a minimum. Free hands were inconceivable. And add to that some Big Feelings that I was reluctant to face head on. The thought of journaling filled me with anxiety. And so, I put the journal away. And have only picked it up sporadically since. 

Interestingly enough, it was about the same time that I felt like I was becoming unmoored in my spiritual life. I felt like it was harder to hear from God, harder to feel centered and secure in my relationship with him. I told myself it was because my journaling had become an idol – a way to ‘check off’ my good behavior for the day. That I felt like I wasn’t feeling God’s presence because I wasn’t stuck in my old habit. But, what if I was feeling this way because I had simply walked away from over a decade of daily spiritual practice? What if it was neglecting a way that my soul connects with God, a way I had learned to process my thoughts and feelings and lay them before the Throne? 

If what we do shapes who we are, then our daily practice, the times when we intentionally engage with God, become all the more vital. Not in a legalistic way – having a quiet time or not does not change God’s love for you. But does it change our consciousness of him? Or does it change us? Is fasting for God, or is it meant to remind us the true source of our daily bread?  Does God keep record of how much we read his Word? Or does reading the Bible make us more fully aware of who God is?

In the past few weeks, I have resolved to start journaling again. Not because I ‘should’, but because I want to. Because I want to more fully attune my soul to my savior. To remind myself of what matters and how the pattern of my days point to God’s work in my life. To remember my prayers, and watch as God answers. To have tangible written proof of the story God is writing in my life.

Journaling isn’t a magic bullet. It’s not a must for being a good Christian. But it is a tool. A practice, if you will. A way to take the head knowledge of our redemption and pull it in to the center of who we are.

And as I proceed, I will continue to ask myself… how do the things I do point towards the things I love?