The Sin of Growing Up

Theology for the Pandemic

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. – GK Chesterton

Again has been the theme of the pandemic for me. Another day dawns and I do it all again. Get to work, take the girls to the park, squeeze a run in during lunch, cook meals, clean the house, work some more. Again, and again, and again. Time is trudging along, but each morning I wake up and hear the word, again. Do it all again today. 

But this again hasn’t been the delighted shriek that my girls emit on the swingset as they ask to “go to the moon” again, it has been an exhausted sigh. A friend of mine was lamenting how mundane life feels right now; it’s enough to make one feel depressed, or at least apathetic. I often dread the morning again as I wake to my daughters crying and know that today will be tight with work meetings and cleaning up crushed goldfish and wondering “is that pee or water?”

But again is a fundamental reality of being human and the pandemic has only heightened our experience of repetition. We will eat meals, brush our teeth, clean the house, buy groceries, get in fights, and go to sleep again and again until the day we die. We are creatures of again, we are made for again. So why does again feel like a curse instead of a blessing?

GK Chesterton chastises adults in their inability to withstand monotony, arguing that children understand the heart of God, and the heart of being human, in a more thorough way than adults. He calls our weariness of repetition weakness, a diminished capacity that ought to draw us closer to our creator God who delights in each sunrise and sunset, every single daisy. 

The Christian faith is built around repetition, agains that produce meaning as we faithfully run the course. Like practicing a free throw or scales on the piano, Christian formation occurs as we accumulate agains. Time in scripture slowly accrues a breadth of knowledge. The habit of prayer tends to draw our eyes off of ourselves. Christian life celebrates agains because to do it again is to be human. God has made us to need agains so that we might know ourselves and know him better. 

But as Chesterton points out, the beauty of again can become warped in adulthood. Not unlike the curse over humanity as Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden, again will rule over us, making us bitter and unfeeling, darkening our eyes, and stealing our joy rather than giving it.  Even giving again a spiritual dimension does not exempt our lives from monotony or suffering in repetition. I have struggled more than ever with my current list of agains, as a mother to young children in the midst of a really difficult year. And yet this is my life, and my life is happening in the agains. We must be willing to accept and celebrate that we are made for repetition and look to our Father, and our children, to rediscover the beauty of again

Recovering a fierce and free spirit 

One of the reasons children are fierce and free is because they are unencumbered by the cares of the world. Though part of growing up and reaching maturity is navigating the brokenness and suffering of our world, Jesus exhorts us to retain a childlike heart; a heart that trusts completely in the goodness and provision of the Father. Just like my children trust me to care for them and give them what they need, we must take seriously Jesus’s words to not worry about tomorrow because our Father in Heaven loves us and promises to provide for us (Mt 6:34). It is easy to read Jesus’ words about caring for the birds of the air or asking us to lay our burdens at his feet and only consider them to be a nice sentiment (Mt 11:28). Jesus wasn’t kidding, and there is no virtue in bitterness or cynicism when it comes to the words of our Savior. If we ever hope to recover a childlike heart, a fierce and free spirit, we must learn to trust our Father like our children trust us. We must learn to have a childlike faith without closing our eyes to the world around us. 

The cure for monotony

Creativity kills monotony. Though I will likely be doing my current routine of again for many more months, it does not need to be monotonous. Each morning, we can choose to reflect our creator as creative people. Though many people do not consider themselves to be creative, they are wrong. Every person is creative. Every person has the capacity for imagination. It is part of what it means to be created in the image of our creator God. Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when he grows up.” Picasso and Chesterton are in agreement that maturing into adulthood most often strips us of something that we were meant to be. We must recover our ability to be creative in the ways we approach our children, our work, and our tasks with new eyes. We must ask our Father to enliven our imaginations to see our world bursting with life and full of hope.

Being the child

Perhaps the best way for adults to recover childlikeness is to remember that we are God’s children. Though my husband and I grow weary of our daughters cries of again, our Father does not. He is not annoyed when we confess the same sins and pray the same prayers. Our Heavenly Father says, “Again!” He wants us to come to him again, to delight in his goodness again, to cry out for help again, and to have our imaginations set ablaze with the hope of the gospel again. As children of God may we learn to exult in the Again of the Father, finding joy in our repetition just like our Father does. Again and again.

Running the Paths of the Lord

Theology for the Pandemic

Like many people, I haven’t set foot in a gym for seven months. I had gotten into the habit of going to the gym rather than running outside largely because pushing a double stroller on a run is miserable. But where Covid has taken away, it has also given. Leaving the blaring TVs and machines at the gym behind, running outdoors has reawakened a love for the Lord that going to the gym had dulled.

At some point in college I stumbled across Psalm 119:32; “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” Running the bluffs in Iowa, this verse became a mantra that would come to mind when my breath got short and legs wore out. 

I run the path of your commands for you have set me free. With a literal path unfolding before my feet, running became a place of worship and prayer, a time to be quiet in the woods, soaking in the beauty of trees and streams and limestone bluffs. Running felt like freedom for me, and the Lord was meeting me on those trails, reminding me of his presence and promises, and becoming a faithful friend as I poured out my heart to him. Two years into raising twins, I was beginning to forget the joy of running and opportunity for intimacy with Christ that time on a trail produced. 

But as I have gotten back into running, these words have challenged me in a new way. A literal translation is, Whenever you widened my heart, the way of your commandments I ran.”   What does a widened or free heart look like? What does it mean to run in the path of God’s commandments? Though running makes me feel free, obeying commandments can often feel like the opposite of freedom. Our culture tells us that to be a free individual, perfectly authentic to your true self, we must cast off any rules that might inhibit us. But on the other hand, most Christians will find themselves at some point thinking that their freedom comes from how good they are or how well they keep the rules. But this verse rings in my ears asking me to consider more deeply the widened heart that God gives and the freedom that God gives his people as they run the path of his commandments.

A Widened Heart 

The concept of a widened or expanded heart occurs in a few other places that help us to understand what it means. Isaiah says that Israel’s hearts will be widened when they see God’s glory revealed and every nation proclaims Yahweh as Lord (Is 60:5). When Solomon became King of Israel he asked God for wisdom and God gave Solomon “wisdom and very great insight and a breadth of understanding (the same language as a widened-heart)” so that he could rule Israel in a godly way (1 Kgs 4:29). Paul says that his heart is wide open because of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in him, and he desires that the Lord would widen the hearts of the Corinthian church as well (2 Cor 6:1-13). God opens our hearts so that we can love him more and do his will.

One of my favorite things about running is being outdoors and seeing the splendor of God’s creation: vast skies, mountain vistas, dense woods. Running provides the quickest entry point for me to stand in awe of God’s glory. But running and spending time in prayer while I run also propels me back into my day with a deeper resolve to follow the Lord. I find myself back at home, stretching and thanking the Lord for his goodness and also that he has once again reoriented my heart to desire him and know him. This is what it means to have a widened heart; a heart that God has broadened to love him more and compelled to act in his ways (run in his commandments). But God does not widen our hearts just once, he widens it again and again. This is why the literal translation is whenever you widened my heart, the way of your commandments I ran. Our God desires to widen our love for him whenever we need it, sending us out to be people who bear the image of Christ to our nieghbors.

Running with purpose

Whenever you widened my heart, the way of your commandments I ran. Running in God’s commandments is the response to a widened heart. In 1 Corinthians, Paul exhorts the church to run with purpose. 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly…But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. – 1 Cor 9:24-27

Just as a serious athlete trains with the goal of winning their race, Paul argues that Christians must purposely pursue the ways of God. Jesus says that if we love him we will keep his commandments (Jn 14:15). With hearts widened to love God, we should run in the way that God says is good. Our running should be disciplined and self-controlled as we take his commands to heart, earnestly desiring to make his ways our ways.

But command-keeping can become a religion in itself. God gives us commandments so that we might know what a holy God is like, and so that we might begin to look like him as we obey his commands. But all too often, we can interpret commands and obedience as the ways that we earn God’s love. Though Paul charges us to run, to not sit back in our faith, but to pursue the things of God with discipline and zeal, our running is always in response to the widened heart that our God has given us. And more than that, we run in response to our running Father.

A Running Father

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. – Luke 15:20

In the story of the prodigal son, after the son has abandoned his father, spent his inheritance, and insulted him in the worst possible way, the son returns home hoping he might become a servant in his father’s house. But rather than shaming his son because of his disobedience, instead of being disappointed by his failures, the father ran. The father of a disobedient, small-hearted son, ran towards his child extending him the grace and forgiveness he did not deserve. In this action, this running father widened his son’s heart; he showed him love and grace. This is the heart of our Heavenly Father. A gracious God who runs towards us so that we might run the path of his commands, hearts free, knowing that we are loved. 

The Joyful Loss of Covid Weddings

Theology for the Pandemic

Covid has reduced our lives to their simplest terms, but this reduction has allowed us to recover the beauty of a simplified life. Home cooked meals. Uneventful weekends. Sweatpants. Lots of family time. Most of our life has been simplified, including weddings. 

I’ve attended three Zoom weddings in the past few months, and they have been striking. Any fairy tale sentimentality is stripped back by a full dose of reality. The world has not stopped turning for this couple, and they are fully aware of it. People are missing–siblings, grandparents, best friends. Masks remind everyone second by second that something is amiss that even love does not overcome. But in spite of the harsh reality that there is a raging pandemic unlike anything we have seen in the past century, there is something profoundly beautiful happening during zoom weddings.

The reality check: grief and joy

Life exists in a tension between beauty and grief, hope and suffering. But Covid weddings have captured this dynamic in an elevated way as they allow grief to show up like an uninvited guest. Weddings are supposed to be the best day of your life precisely because it is a day without grief or loneliness or sadness, a day that is meant to offer supreme happiness–bliss. But Covid has knocked this idea off of it’s pedestal, and its actually a good thing. 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4

Just after John’s vision in Revelation of the marriage supper of the Lamb, he sees the new Jerusalem, the city where God will dwell with his people in perfect wedded bliss. At this wedding death shall be no more and every tear will be wiped away. 

Weddings often feature crying; I cried when as my dad walked me down the aisle, Andrew cried when he first saw me in my dress. But these are the tears of hopeful expectation or joyful remembrance. At the Covid wedding, there are tears of joy, but also tears grief over loved ones that aren’t there, the brokenness of our world, and a day that did not go according to plan. 

But in spite of sorrow that tinges this wedding day, Covid weddings are more in tune with reality. They embody the truth that the days ahead of you will not all be easy. Your life will be marred with loss and sadness just as much as it is blessed with joy. And that is ok. 

As Christians, we don’t need to pretend that the brokenness of our world isn’t there, to sterilize a day from sadness in an attempt to imagine a world without pain. We have this perfect wedding day as our hope that we look forward to. At the marriage supper of the Lamb there truly will be no more tears or pain or grief. The beauty that we so long to create in earthly weddings will be realized and the tears will be of remembrance for the broken world that our savior has restored and redeemed once and for all. Whether we like it or not Covid weddings remind us that we are not there yet and force us focus center our attention to the purpose of the wedding ceremony: the covenant. 

The Beautiful Covenant

A covenant is a promise; two people promising to stick it out for better or for worse. Covid weddings offer an embodied experience of “for worse” in a live fashion. At my wedding, our pastor pointed out that we will probably never look this good again. We were getting married at a “for better” moment in our lives. It was easy to marry Andrew when I wasn’t exhausted all the time, when I felt like our world was stable albeit broken. But when the world is falling apart before your eyes, protests threaten your second wedding venue, or you may be deported because you are an international PhD student, you are getting married in a “for worse” time (all real examples). 

The Bible begins and ends with a wedding, and all through the middle God chooses to describe how he relates to his people as a husband loving his wife. Biblical marriage is sacramental because it points to the greater spiritual reality of the church’s ulitmate and forever marriage to Christ. In Ephesians 5 Paul says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Paul quotes Genesis 2, anticipates Revelation 21, and says that human marriage is actually about Jesus and his bride, the church. 

This is what weddings are about, and this is why people are getting married in the middle of a pandemic. I have heard about weddings being indefinitely postponed, a couple opting to wait it out. But when a wedding is about this beautiful covenant, a promise that embraces suffering with joy, it is a celebration that can’t wait. Covenant chooses to enter into a broken and beautiful relationship because it is a physical reminder of God’s promises to his people. These small weddings in a broken world are acts of faith that one day Jesus, our true groom, will make all things new. 

The Perfect Wedding

The marriage supper of the Lamb is the ultimate wedding and what every wedding on earth is testifying towards: perfect union with Christ and the redemption and restoration of all things. At this wedding grief is wiped away with joy, once and for all. 

But this hope is also something we participate in today. Jesus, the beautiful one, our savior who is acquainted with grief (Is 53:3) stands by us in our longing and sorrow. He enables us to face brokenness and despair knowing that our joy is in him rather than our circumstances. When we are disappointed or grieving he stands firm in his covenant to us, promising that he will never leave us nor forsake us.

Today, he stands beside you promising for better or for worse.

Surviving vs. Beholding

Theology for the Pandemic

If I’m not careful, I can get through a whole day without really looking at my kids. Sure, I see them running down the hall and throwing blueberries at one another, but I can be so busy and preoccupied with whatever else I am doing, that I don’t really see them. I don’t gaze upon them. I don’t enjoy their triumph of climbing the rock wall or notice the deep empathy of one comforting the other. Especially in this season, I can approach motherhood with a survival mindset, just trying to make it through another day.

This same phenomenon happens with God. I can go a whole day, a whole week even, without gazing upon the beauty of Christ, being struck by his majesty or humbled by his power and grace. I can get through another day, doing the things that need to be done but drifting on the surface of a relationship that wants to shake me awake, pull my eyes upward and command my heart’s attention.

In the Bible, this kind of attention is called beholding. “And behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). “Behold, the kindness and the severity of the Lord” (Rom 11:22). “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). 

Behold means to look and learn; to pay close attention to; to gaze upon. God has created us to be beholders, but we often find ourselves keeping our heads down just trying to get through. This past year has caused unique stress and suffering and it might seem like the easiest way to cope is to merely survive until the pandemic is history.

But this bucks against the very fabric of how we are created. We are created to be present in our lives and the lives of others especially when it is painful and uncomfortable. We are created to stand at attention to our God in every season of our lives, so now more than ever we need to learn how to lift our heads and behold.  

Made to behold

When our daughters were first born older mothers kept telling me, “Enjoy every second; it goes so fast.” Though it became so familiar that I barely even registered the advice, after a few months of sleepless nights and spending all day feeding two newborns, this advice started to bother me.

Am I truly supposed to enjoy this? All of this? Not every second of motherhood is enjoyable. Not every second of life is enjoyable. Enjoy was the wrong word, what the mothers were trying to say was, “Behold every second with them, it goes so fast.” Behold. Pay attention, gaze upon the beauty of your child, watch them closely, this season will turn before you know it. 

But we are not simply made to behold our children, we are first and foremost made to behold our God. As the church we should be like older mothers whispering to one another, “Behold the goodness of the Lord this week. Behold his power and his grace. Behold your risen King who loves you. This day, this week, this year will go quickly. Pay attention to what the Lord wants to show you.” Our God reveals himself to us and we must remember that he has made us to see him, gaze upon him, and as we do so, to love him.

Beholding takes discipline  

When was the last time you were surprised or caught off guard by something beautiful? Awe and wonder strike without warning–the way a sunset lights up the clouds, a perfect fall day, a child exuberantly shouting, “I did it, Mama!” Though awe has an element of surprise in its nature, beholding is something we must cultivate, and learning to behold begins with deciding what is important. 

My husband and I clean the house on Thursdays and I love to get a jump-start on the process. I wipe down counters while the girls eat lunch, do dishes while they play in the living room, and even vacuum in spite of knowing their sheer terror of the machine. Calls of “Mama, come look” and “Mama, NOOO” (regarding the vacuum) produce an uncomfortable tension in my mind–what is most important right now? I may want to sit down at 6:30 pm with a clean home and be done for the week, but right now my daughters want my attention, want to show me the chalk drawings they made and how fast they can run. I must choose what I will do: vacuum that floor, or turn my gaze upon them and pay attention. 

Likewise, each day the creator of the universe wants to catch and hold your attention. He wants to draw your eyes to his majesty, his goodness, his mercy, and his grace. Maybe it is less obvious than a child crying out for attention, but all of creation witnesses to the love and greatness of our God. We must train our ears to hear the invitation of the Lord to come and look and train our our eyes to see glimpses of God’s glory in the midst of dailiness. We must learn how to walk away from distractions and behold the everlasting God today. 

The lifter of our heads

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. – Psalm 3:3-5

Our god is the lifter of our heads. We don’t have to live these days in survival mode or just keep our heads down. He lifts our heads, he hears our cries, and he sustains us so that we might behold him. Today, allow the Lord to lift your head so that you might behold his glory. Today, allow the Lord to lift your head so that you might behold his sovereignty and love. Today, allow the Lord to lift your head so that you might gaze upon the beauty of Jesus. 

Getting Disney+ and entering the Frozen story

Theology for the Pandemic

Three months into shelter-at-home, Andrew and I got Disney+. The first movie our daughter’s watched was Frozen, which turned out to be more than a hit as they cried, “SISTERS!” Each of our girls identified more with one of the sisters–Abigail insisting on being Anna, Evangeline only talking about Elsa. AnnaElsa or ElsaAnna (depending on who you are hearing from) quickly became one of the phrases emerging from our daughters mouths as they attempted to tell us what happened in the movie, who was singing in their favorite song, or explain why one was upset. 

On a rainy day, I ventured to Target with them and was immediately overtaken by shouts of AnnaElsa! AnnaElsa pajamas, water bottles, hats, dolls, toys. They were everywhere. Every turn brought a shriek of joy as one discovered sheets featuring Anna and Olaf or a figurine of Elsa. 

Our world has become saturated with the Frozen story. Our daughters want to watch it every single night. Their whole world is being shaped by Frozen and everything connects back to the story. The horses at the farm are Svens (the name of the reindeer), girls with brown hair are Anna, and girls with blonde hair are Elsa. They want to listen to the music in the car, during meals and are learning all the words. They ask for AnnaElsa tattoos. Truly, Anna and Elsa are a way of life. 

Andrew and I were laughing about how crazed they are, but then it hit me–seeing the story everywhere, in everything, and wanting to talk about someone all the time is the same kind of transformation that should happen in the life of a Christian after discovering the beauty of the gospel. I can laugh at their profound commitment to Frozen, but perhaps they understand something that I do not–our lives should be saturated and overwhelmed by the story we love. For Christians, this is the story of God. And if you find yourself underwhelmed by the story of the gospel, the promises of Jesus, and the ongoing work of the Spirit, we must ask ourselves what story are we living in most. 

Not living in the story of our circumstances. This year has provided a unique set of circumstances. We moved in early March. January and February were filled with lots of goodbyes and lots of packing. Within two weeks of moving, we received the shelter at home orders. No exploring a new city, no childcare while we transitioned into two new jobs, no getting to know new people, just hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. Our lives have probably never been more dictated by outside forces than this year and it is easy to find myself thinking my moments of hopelessness or anger or despair are simply because of our circumstances. 

It is easy to live in a narrative that is based on our circumstances. But the story of God supercedes circumstances. Take Paul. Though his circumstances were grim during imprisonment, he chose to live in the story of the gospel and give thanks, encourage his brothers and sisters, share the gospel in the prison, and fully believe that to live was Christ and to die was gain (Phil 1). This is a man whose joy and hope was not dictated by his circumstances. His hope was in the gospel, which is unwavering, unchanging, and unfailing. 

Not living in the story of our emotions. Every single day of the pandemic has been a rollercoaster. I have cycled through enjoying sweet time with family, raging over having to vaccuum again, missing family, feeling isolated. I can be completely run by how I feel on any given day, and it is a dangerous way to live. 

The story of God not only allows for our emotions but validates them as part of our human existence. Our emotions are God-given. They are road signs to how we are actually doing and part of our spiritual maturity is learning how to interpret them. The Psalms are devoted to faithful followers crying out to God, asking for help, questioning what he is doing, or how long they might feel a certain way. The story of God accounts for our emotions but warns us not to live by them. So join in the story of the saints by bringing your joy, sorrow, grief, and despair to your Father who hears and desires to comfort you.

Not living in the story of our culture. When Andrew and I were watching Frozen 2 for the first time, we were struck by one of the songs that sounded like a worship song. In it Elsa sings, 

“Show yourself, I’m no longer trembling. Here I am, I’ve come so far. You are the answer I’ve waited for all of my life. Oh, show yourself, let me see who you are. Show yourself, step into the power, grow yourself into something new. You are the one you’ve been waiting for all of your life.”

In her journey of self-discovery, Elsa finds that she is in fact the one she has been waiting for all of her life. She is the one who will uncover her power, who will transform herself, and who will bring herself into full self-actualization. Though I might find myself singing along unquestioningly, the story Elsa is telling is the story of our culture. But more than that, it is not the story of God. 

The story of God is better than any story culture can tell us. Do you believe this? Largely, I get the sense (and sometimes believe myself) that Christians are mildly ashamed of the story they inhabit. Though Elsa’s story might seem innocuous enough, the narrative of individuality and self-discovery apart from our loving creator who made us to worship him leads us into a never-ending trail of self-centered living. The Christian life is a life that is distinctly not about me; it is about God. And this is good news. I get to uncover my identity in Christ— he promises to sanctify and grow me. He tells me I am made with purpose, for good works, and to bring him glory. My story is wrapped up first and foremost in the story God tells about me. And this is the good story I want to choose to walk in each day. 

What story are you living in today? Ask the Lord to move in your heart in such a way that you would delight in His story, the story of your salvation, and the promise of your imperishable inheritance in heaven.