Being Content in Every Circumstance
What I call our “Ambassador group” consists of four of us. There are three American women (in two different states) and one man from Kenya. We didn’t know each other when we started. After talking through the initial ambassador stuff, we kicked off the group several years ago by going through the In Between the Cross and the Coming material (videos on Larry Crabb’s 7 Questions of Spiritual Theology by Larry Crabb). Two of us in the group had been to SSD and NextStep, and two had only gotten to know Larry through his books. We were all quite blown away by that material. I was listening to those talks while my husband was going through a below-the-knee amputation of his leg. It was a dark time–for both of us. Those talks, which we were doing twice a month back then, kept me going. They constantly reoriented me–brought me back to what was real and true and important. (I could write more about that, and will do that at some point.)
Right now, we are going through the talks from the Summit. We take turns picking out a talk, writing discussion questions, and then leading the others through the discussion. (All on Zoom, of course.) I have found this especially rich and helpful, as when you are at the Summit in person, there’s so much coming at you in a short amount of time that it’s difficult to process it very deeply. So listening to them again, taking notes and talking through them with others has been really wonderful! Thank you so much for recording the Summit and making it available that way!
I had shared a brief thought with Kris about something I had taken away from Kent’s talk, and he asked if he could pass it on. I wanted to write a little more before he did that.
Kent put words to my struggle with an ongoing feeling of futility. I am grateful for that, as I better understand what’s going on in me and can recognize it more easily. The fact that Kent, a mature believer, struggles this way after so many years has been tremendously encouraging to me. Please don’t take that the wrong way–I know it may sound weird. I am not happy that Kent struggles like this. But I am encouraged to know that he does and glad that he shared it. He also said that his bouts of futility seem to be getting worse. I’m 68, have been a believer for 50 years, and my inner battles have increased, not decreased, over time. My own bouts of futility seem to be more frequent.
The wonderful quote by John Owen that Larry has in his 1 Thessalonians chapter of 66 Love Letters often comes to mind in this regard as well: “…Older, more experienced Christians often have greater troubles, temptations and difficulties in the world. God has new work for them to do. He now plans that all the graces they have be used in new and harder ways. They many not find their spiritual desires to be as strong as before, nor have such delight in spiritual duties as they had before. Because of this, they feel that grace has dried up in them. No longer do they feel and enjoy the springs of holiness that once joyfully flowed in them. They do not know where they are or what they are. But in spite of all this, the real work of sanctification is still thriving in them and the Holy Spirit is still working it effectively in them. God is faithful. Therefore let us cling to our hope without wavering.”
So yes, I am glad to be reminded from two saints, John Owen and Kent, that futility, discouragement and disillusionment happen. They are part of the journey. They may even increase over time. Expect it. Be ready for it. And “man your post!” I understand better than I ever did while Larry was alive why he talked often about finishing well, and why it meant something to him that he didn’t quit. The temptations that plague us in later life are often about giving up–sitting comfortably at home in our rocking chairs, content to become more curved in on ourselves, feeling we deserve a rest.
Karla’s talk too, challenges my tendency to curve inward. There are a couple of sentences that have come to mind repeatedly. One is this: “We do not need to feel the presence of God to know the deep intimacy of being united with Him in purpose.” So when life feels futile, when I wonder, as Owen says, where I am and what I am, can I still be united with Him in purpose? Yes, I can! And I want to! I’m so addicted to feeling good, but I don’t have to live and relate from that place. Jesus didn’t, even from the cross.
A second sentence from Karla’s talk has repeatedly challenged my constant curving in on myself. It is this one: “We can so look around for something to join our lives to that we miss the person in front of us.” Oh, man–that sure describes a tendency of mine! To battle my sense of futility I look for projects that will infuse meaning into life. What is the next “shiny object” that will take my mind off my pain? Karla also shared about telling Larry near the end of his life that she wanted to be available to her daughter to help her with the kids, etc when her son (or son-in-law? not sure) was out of town. Larry raised his head and said, “Now, that’s important work!” (I can picture him doing and saying that with a very direct look into Karla’s eyes.) I’ve been thinking over the past few weeks how our family members can be some of “the least of these” that Jesus talked about. Can life have meaning if mostly what I do is love my family? If there are no big projects, no recognition, nobody telling me how impressive I am? Is it really true that when I fold laundry, accompany my husband to a medical appointment so he won’t be alone, clean the toilet, listen to my son’s troubles at work that I am doing these things as “unto Jesus”? Can I be allied with Him in His purposes for them, no matter how I feel at a given moment? Can I recommit everyday to not MISSING them–the ones I live with, the ones whose little idiosyncrasies often get under my skin?
I have wept as I have written this. Wept because I’m so grateful for this community of NewWay and Larger Story friends who continue to impact my journey so wonderfully and deeply. Wept because the LS community “gets me” and lets me know what I experience on the journey is “normal” and I’m not alone. I have struggled for years with finding a church where I feel comfortable. I don’t yet have such a place. I have brought the guilt I feel for not attending to God, and I feel He has said, “Be content with what I’ve given.” And what He has given is very rich and deep and challenging and forming through the community He’s provided from my association with Larry.
Thank you all for the tremendous work that went into the Summit! Not just work, but the pouring out of yourselves in listening to the Spirit and preparing your talks. For the pouring out that happened as you organized and agonized over all the Summit plans. For the suffering in various ways that was required of you to provide something very good to others. It was and continues to be a rich meal for me. It helps me to not quit, to remember that grace has not dried up in me, and that I may be called to follow Jesus in new and harder ways as time passes. The recordings are invaluable.