I am sitting on my back porch, drinking coffee, and doing an experiment. Yesterday, I was reading a book that challenged me to wake up and not pick up my phone. Don’t even look at it. To get up, go have a cup of coffee and do nothing but….nothing. Just drink the coffee and let my mind wake up. So I came out to the porch to breathe real air even though it is humid and the middle of summer. Lately, I’ve been waking up with my shoulders all knotted up as if I’m carrying a great log on them every morning and honestly, I’m rather desperate to be done with it. I have always carried stress in my neck and shoulders and have struggled with it for as long as I can remember. I have tried all kinds of things and some have worked, yoga is the best. One of the things I’ve been learning over the past few years is how your body communicates to you. It will tell you that something is wrong. It’s saying “Hey, pay attention here—you need to deal with this.” What is my body trying to tell me? Am I trying to do too much? Always.
I read that CS Lewis said once,
“It’s not the load you carry but how you carry it”.
I read that and think, “obviously, I am carrying it wrong”.
Truthfully, I love my load. I love my job and what I get to do. I love the creative partnership with the Spirit of God in discovering, “What is next?” and “How do we help people grow their leadership?” and “How do we reach more people with the love and power of the good news of who Jesus is?” I love the interdependent teamwork of creating opportunities to help people connect with God. I love being able to dream and imagine a world in which every woman, everywhere, knows that they are loved by God and are set free to live the truth of it in every area of their lives. I love it.
I also (apparently) carry the weight of responsibility of it on my shoulders whether I want to or not. Which is why I’m on the back porch, sipping my black coffee and listening to the crickets that don’t know the sun is up. I’m watching the butterflies and bees dance around the bush right outside my lanai. I definitely need a dose of God’s love this morning but I am not used to not using a Bible or my phone to do it. What I mean is, I usually read a devotional on my phone while I play worship music and then grab my Bible to do a soul-satisfying investigation of whatever verse catches my attention. But the book I was listening to yesterday is challenging me to let the natural sounds around me provide the worship music and breathe in the natural warm air to breathe in the presence of God. My eyes follow the squirrels in the backyard as they run around. They remind me of circus acrobats as they launch themselves about and make me smile.
I don’t have my phone, so I don’t know what time it is. I am so tempted to go get it to find out. But I don’t. It’s my day off. I have the time. “So take the time”, I feel the Spirit, whisper. “Stay. Be here with Me”. A few minutes later, I’ll start crying and I don’t even know why. So I ask Abba, “What am I carrying that is so heavy?” “How am I carrying this wrong?”, “Can we fix this please because I’m tired of waking up feeling like this”.
I put down my coffee cup and just cry for a bit. I begin to release the frustration of being frustrated. I realize that I don’t allow myself room to be frustrated, I just work on fixing it. This “unplugged” space is giving me room to feel the frustration. It is making room for me to feel sad about the things that break my heart, like how so many people in our community are lonely and disconnected during this time. Humans are not made to be isolated and without human touch. Human touch is healing, a hug is healing, and yet when we greet each other at our church (that is now open on the weekends), we refrain from hugging. We must mask up. We must distance ourselves. I know it is necessary and that we are trying to protect ourselves and others from catching the virus but meanwhile our souls are starving. Our spirits are shrinking and the weight of anxiety is driving depression to unprecedented levels. As a Pastor, I want to fix it, figure out a way to heal it. I want to do…something. It is overwhelming and heavy. It makes me so sad. Heartbroken.
And I haven’t allowed the space in my life to feel it. Instead of feeling it, I just want to fix it, hoping that by fixing it, I will fix the feelings that come with it. Or I distract myself from them by getting busy or reading a book or watching Netflix in my “downtime”.
But you can’t fix feelings, you have to feel them.
Feelings are a part of being human and alive. You and I are supposed to experience our feelings not suppress them. But we do, don’t we? Feelings are like the thunderstorms that blow through every afternoon during the summer in Southwest Florida: they blow through and then clear up. You don’t “fix” the storm, you can only experience it. You can ignore it but that doesn’t change it from happening. My favorite way to experience a storm is on the porch. But lately, I have been too busy. I will hear the heavy raindrops on the roof for a minute and instead of stopping to listen or go to watch it for a few minutes, I go back to whatever it is I’m working on. I see how this is a great way of explaining how I deal with my emotions: I recognize them for a minute, then ignore them to go back to what I’m “working on” to fix them. Until my shoulders begin to let me know something is up that needs to be resolved and it is almost always unacknowledged feelings. Hello, shoulders, I am so thankful for you.
The apostle Peter, who had a lot of strong feelings (just read through the gospels) wrote a letter to the early church to give them some guidance on a few things. One of them was to help them deal with the overwhelming pressure of loving others in a broken world. He warns them to not give in to the world’s way of dealing with stress but to remember how powerful God is. When you do that, it reminds you who you are to God: you are His child, He is your Father. You don’t have to have all the answers because God does. You can’t change or save people but God can (and does). Then he says, in 1 Peter 5:7, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (NLT)
The Apostle doesn’t say, “Don’t feel your emotions – give them to God and He will make them go away.” He says, “Give your worries and cares to God.”
What do you care about?
What are you worried about?
You already know the answers to those two questions but have you created any space to allow the emotions that you are carrying to rise up? Give them space to move through you like a summer storm and when the last drop of the emotion leaves your heart then give those worries and cares to God.
Why? Because He cares about you.
What does God care about? You.
What does God worry about? That you are trying to do this without Him.
The Apostle Peter isn’t trying to paint a pretty picture over the brokenness of the world or have us see the world through rose-colored glasses. He wants to remind us that even though it is dark and may seem hopeless that God’s vision for the world is bigger and more extensive than we can see. He wants us to remember that believers all over the world are suffering and struggling as well. He wants to remind us that the enemy of our souls is working hard to distract and sabotage our relationship with God, who is the source of life.
There is a version of the Bible on YouVersion App which I like these days and it is called the Easy Version. I kid you not, the Easy Version of the Bible, and maybe I like it right now because nothing else in my life seems easy these days.
This is how the Easy Version translates 1 Peter 5:9, “But you must be strong to fight against him.”
Trust God completely.
Remember this: Believers all over the world are having the same kind of trouble. Yes, you will have trouble like this for a short time. But after that, God will make everything right.
He is completely kind and he will always help you. Because you belong to Christ, God has chosen you to live with him in heaven forever. You will join him in that beautiful place. Then God will make you well again. He will make you strong in your spirits. You will be able to stand strong.
Yes, God rules with power forever! Amen! “
So, beloved friend, my challenge to you today is to take some time to disconnect from your phone and just be. Don’t distract yourself with your phone or Netflix or your do-to list. Just be quiet. Invite God close and see what He brings up.
Whatever it is that comes up, let it rise without judgment and move through you. Feel it. Then give the worry connected to the emotion to your Father in heaven who lavishly loves and is able to take care of you.
– Pastor Cindy Grasso