Tag Archive: Lent


Mountains, Gandalf, Mountains

I should be sleeping.

It’s past midnight, I’ve been driving for over 5 hours, and my body is kind of shutting down without my consent. But in these last moments of consciousness, I have such a brimming sense of joy and satisfaction that I feel an urgent compulsion to scrawl some derivative of this feeling down.

My eyes are crusty with the bleariness of wind-exposure followed by hours of wide-eyed observance of the road. Every inch of my legs are (nigh) incapacitated with a screaming ache. My feet are mottled with blisters and my ankle swollen from a bit of a scuffle with a mountain. And I cannot explain to you how much I am loving life right now.

Hiking in the Blue Mountains on the outskirts of Sydney is beautiful. Well, it can be. When there is impenetrable fog and constant rain, it’s less beautiful and more extreme; the drenched rocks and leaf matter conspire against you getting anything resembling traction at every footfall.

But, my goodness, it is so much more of a character-revealing experience.  The relentless rain removed the incentives of the normally stunning vistas of the vast wilderness, clouding visibility to virtually nothing, but exposing more about our hearts than we had expected.

As we sat huddled in the girls’ tent on the first night, we laughed, exchanged stories, and laughed some more. We also spent a beautifully uncontrived time listening to the Scriptures and praying. Sitting in the darkness, we lifted our gaze out of our circumstances to remind our stupidly forgetful selves who it is that we exist for, and who it is that the world, every tree and every rock, every person and every situation, exists to magnify the worth of.

Getting outside into the bush clears my head and reminds me in a very physical way who is God and who is not. When scrambling across a sheer, and very (frighteningly) slippery side of a mountain that is being pummeled by waves of rain and gusts of icy wind, instantly everything that had been clouding my awareness of the power and majesty of God strangely evaporated and His enormity was in my face every precarious step.

Every moment, we have to decide who we are going to be. I’m not suggesting that we have the power to instantly recreate our self with every passing breath; that’s silly. I mean that we have to choose from the reservoir within our personality how to react.

On a practical level, there are decisions like: Will we climb this mountain as night is falling, or will we camp here, far away from where we expected to be by this time? Will we risk climbing the staples in this rock face which are slippery in the rain, or will we take the slippery traverse around the side that we are unfamiliar with? Will I charge at this hill and push through the pain barrier, or will I fall behind by 10m?

On a deeper level, the questions we are faced with, whether we are on a mountain ridge or in our office or at home, are ones like this:

Will we choose to love another at our expense, or prioritise our comfort? Will we take a risk and be forced to lean heavily (more than we might like) on God and His faithful provision, or will we veer off into the safety of convenience? Will we choose to foster gratitude or bitter complaint? Will I choose to throw off everything that hinders me from running after Jesus, from burrowing into deeper depths of intimacy with Him, or will I tolerate them as though they weren’t robbing my affections for Him?

I think being on a mountain brings the consequences of these decisions into sharp relief. As the season of Lent wrapped up on Easter Sunday, being away from the world gave me much-needed clarity about and reprieve from the clutter in my head and heart: What do I treasure more than Jesus? What is displacing Him from the first place in my heart? What hampers a growing affection for and intimacy with Him? What manifestations of my traits do I justify to myself so that I don’t have to root it up out of my heart?

To be honest, the reason that I think it’s a problem to have anything apart from Jesus occupying that place in my heart is that those things were not designed to withstand that pressure. If I look for wholeness in a particular relationship, then not only am I going to be let down (I don’t believe we can be fully satisfied in romantic relationship, however great and beautiful), but I am going to pin that person down under the weight of expectation to be the X factor that will make me whole. And I don’t think any person can bear the weight of that. It’s destructive to them, it’s destructive to me, and it’s destructive to our relationship. Don’t mistake me; relationships ARE good! But they work best when they orbit around a relationship that is already fully-satisfying, so that you do not stake your wholeness on a person, who, for all their beauty and value, cannot make you whole. When you, a broken person, look to other broken people to make you whole, it is not going to end well. If, on the other hand, you anchor your self in a relationship that CAN make you whole, you are free to relate to others in a way that doesn’t expect them to be something they cannot be. That’s why I don’t shut up about wanting Jesus being the first place in my heart; because all of life works BETTER that way.

I don’t suffer from the pretence that I’m there yet. I constantly displace Jesus from that place in my heart with other things. But I want Him to override those other things, so that I can love others more fully – not with a power-playing game of leveraging and self-preservation (whoever cares least in a relationship has the most power, right?), but with a reckless abandon, disregard for self, and a genuine desire to prioritise the interests of the other person above my own. Because when that part of your heart is already filled up to the overflow, and is fully satisfied, whole, you can afford to love people dangerously.

I want that.

I am so thankful for Caitlin, Tim, Mim and Jez for their company in the mountains. Thanks for your graciousness, your love, your ridiculousness, your metaphysical discussions about fog, your vivid imaginations and recreational mythologising about emerald seas and ships captained by talking bears, (your apparent descent into insanity), your sincere pursuit of God and His purposes, and just generally for being fun people who are up for killing themselves impaling their bodies on unkind mountain ridges on their holiday. TBC indeed.

Grace and peace 🙂

PS. Another great thing about hiking is the people you meet on the track. We met an hilarious troupe of 5 men in a hiking club at the top of Narrowneck. They were on the fifth day of their treck, and were on the final leg of it. They appeared a very unassuming lot for a 5 day hike: some wearing volleys, others in boardies. We soon realised why.

“Where’ve you come from?”

“We started on the other side of the Falls.”

“Oh! How the heck did you get here? What track did you take?”

“We swam across the dam.”

“… Sorry, you what?”

“We swam across the dam. Well, actually, we went across on lilos and pool ponies.”

I couldn’t stop laughing. The image of these tough-looking guys frolicking across a kilometre of icy water, very much illegally (the fine, had they been caught, was $1000s per person), was utterly fantastic. We exchanged stories and bantered back and forth for a while, as it progressively dawned on us just how extreme these guys were. We hope the Park Rangers weren’t waiting for them at the end of the walk!

Jez and Caitlin. Narrowneck ascent.

Tarros Ladder. We lowered our bags using a very sophisticated pulley system... (Also known as fanging them down with a rope).

The Sauna. Dubbed thus after spending time on the other side of this cliff face, which was bearing the brunt of the wind; this side was practically a sauna comparatively. As Tim said, 'Bring on the pina coladas! Hola chicas!' Discussions about why on earth none of us thought to bring a hipflask of whisky ensued.

The first of the lilo gang (to the far right).

Caity and Me. Incredibly thankful to have made it to the top of Narrowneck intact.

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Coffee

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits –
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
(Psalm 103.1-5)

It’s a significant social currency of my friendships; the medium of relational engagement for nearly all uni students; the salvation of all 8am law lecture attendees; and one of the most beautiful artistic creations the senses can delight in.

Coffee.

Part and parcel of spending four years at a university in the inner city of Sydney is the way the coffee culture seeps into you, pretty much by osmosis. It also comes with having a coffee snob for a brother. But no complaints in the latter respect; he makes me coffee for free! As much as I’d love to digress about it (actually, I’m super tired so I wouldn’t like to), the point is this: my skim flat white is a part of my everyday life that I am pretty significantly dependent upon. I don’t get physical withdrawal symptoms (emotionally, though, is a different matter…), but I do find it very difficult not to buy a coffee every day. It’s a habit.

Which is why for the past month and a bit since the season of Lent started, I chose to cut coffee out of my life. Not because God is impressed with my (very weak) exercise of self-control; not because He thinks of me as a better follower or loves me more dearly (it’s coffee, for goodness’ sake); not because it gives me greater intimacy with Him. No! None of that is true in the slightest. The one true living God is adamant that He wants nothing to do with our religious externalities:

‘Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me.’ (Isaiah 1.13)

This fasting from coffee isn’t about any of that. There’s nothing I can do to earn a closer standing with God; no amount of ‘moral’ living, church-going, religious-talk, prayer, fasting, whatever. None of it cuts it. The SOLE reason I can know God is because when Jesus’ flesh was beaten and whipped and crucified, he took on Himself everything in me that obstructed my relationship with God. He transferred into my heart His perfect relationship with God.

This is nothing I have done.

If you read through Isaiah 58, it is unequivocally clear that God is painfully frustrated when people fast and pray and do all the stuff that we associate with religion without the kind of heart renovation, the fruit of which sees our desires aligned with His: justice and healing for the oppressed. If whilst I am preoccupied with my personal spirituality I’m ignoring the plight of those who are hungry, poor, refugees, oppressed – then how can I claim to be in a living relationship with the God? There is a colossal disconnect.

But I don’t think Lent is a bad thing. It can be an effective mechanism to stop spending disposable income on unnecessary luxuries, on MYSELF, and think more seriously about keeping track of my money. It’s an easy way to identify a chunk of money that I allocate to myself monthly (around $80!), and confront myself about whether when I talk about wanting to disregard comfort and consider others better than myself, I actually mean it. Do I mean it when it’s halfway through admin law early on Thursday morning, and all I want is a coffee hit? Or does my resolve cave as soon as it’s hard? It’s not that this is a massive deal; I think it’s just that it’s more of a litmus test for my heart. Is loving the poor just about when I have time, when I have energy, when I feel like it? Or do I become my first priority when I am tired and busy? That the answer to this disconcerts me is an understatement.

“Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” Collect for the Fifth Sunday of Lent from the Book of Common Prayer

In some reflections on this prayer, this blog writes:
We have chosen serving ourselves over serving those in need around us, and in so doing we have chosen ourselves over the God we claim to love. Our self-service has blinded us to the needs of others, and we have failed to do our part in revealing God’s love and kindness to a world in deep, deep need. All around the world, humanity languishes in poverty, disease, and hopelessness, and yet we have turned a blind eye to them. How can we call ourselves children of God if our behavior toward suffering is so different from his own?

I realise that this post is getting too cluttered, but there are so many thoughts zooming around my head that I need to get at least some of them down in order to make sense of the chaos in my brain.

So. This coffee-abstinence isn’t about external activities that I think make me a more pious and impressive believer; instead, it’s a way to give myself a physical reminder to spend this season being switched on about the things that I treasure more than Jesus, the things that consume my attention and affections more than the One my heart was made for. When I say ‘physical reminder’, all I mean is that every time I would typically have a coffee, I pause and reflect on why it is I’m saying no.

In this season so far, I think God’s started quite a substantial amount of heart renovation. I’ve realised afresh how much I prioritise myself and my own comfort. I’ve realised that I’ve forgotten my desire to live an extravagent life in which I NEED God to come through for me. I’ve also realised that I have roving eyes that seek for other things to displace His place in my heart, the place of Most Highly Treasured. I’ve realised that repentance isn’t about trying harder to avoid breaking regulations, but about returning to a God who invites me to re-enter into relationship with Him, despite the countless times I’ve broken His heart.

And most recently, I’ve noticed in my heart a desire that has been troubling me. It is not a bad desire in itself; but it always makes me anxious and unsettled whenever it resurfaces. Maybe partly because I’m just afraid of other related “stuff”, but I think it’s also very likely that it is a desire that competes with Jesus for my attention and affections.

You see, whenever I go through a bout of this particular longing, it consumes so much of my energy, and distracts me from the things I would prefer to be doing. Suffice it to say that it disconcerts me enough that after a couple of weeks, I have been sufficiently terrified out of my longing, and have successfully shut it down. The problem with this is that by shutting it down, I’m not actually dealing with the issue – and so I’m not severing the unhealthy part of the longing (the part that consumes an inordinate amount of my attention, displacing God) from the healthy part of the longing.

The point I came to late last night was prompted by reading Psalm 103, above. I love – LOVE – that my Father satisfies my desires with good things. He knows what I need, before I even ask it. When I have a longing for something, I will often look to something which I think will satisfy that desire. On a physical level, if I have a longing for something sweet, I will look to, say, chocolate because I think it will satisfy that desire. On an infinitely more significant level, God doesn’t say that He will give me what I want, what I have determined will satisfy that longing. He says that He will satisfy my desires with good things. They’re not always the same. In my case, rarely. It’s kind of like I’ve eaten a Kit Kat, and found that it didn’t hit the spot at all, and I still have the craving. (OK, not my best analogy, haha)

If I have been looking to something which ISN’T good to shove down my heart to satiate that longing, it would hardly be in my best interests for Him to give me that! No; He knows my heart – he fashioned it Himself! (Ps 33) And so He knows that these longings, desires, can only be satisfied by certain things. And these things which will satisfy are good.

Here’s the thought: I think that I often look to the wrong things to satisfy the longing to be known; the desire for intimacy; for communion with another.

And I think that looking to these things for satisfaction of those desires is unhealthy because it is a longing that can only be fully satisfied in Jesus.

These other things (OK, I’ll stop being cryptic: romantic relationships) are good! But they weren’t intended to occupy the first place in my heart. I can’t look for my significance or worth in them. When I do, they will consume an unhealthy amount of my attention, and I will treasure them with such an intensity that they won’t be able to hold up under the weight of expectation I’ve pinned on them.

Relationships work best when they fall into a place in my heart which orbits around Jesus as the centre.

Because only in Him can I find the deep satisfaction my soul longs for. So, heart: taste and see that the Lord is good. You’re not being deprived.

I hope that this is a season in which you too can figure out what things you treasure above everything else. And maybe reflect on whether those things are treasures that can satisfy the longing that made you put it on that pedestal in the first place.