Prepositions are important. They can significantly change the meaning of a sentence with just their presence. For many of us, the words god is mad tell a story that deepen a sense of unworthiness and wretchedness that some preachers and teachers seem to relish explaining. The world around us and some of our human relationships may have also reinforced a message that we are not lovable unless we perform in specific ways. It’s a transactional kind of “love” which might be described as no love at all. So, we hear those words and supply the word “at” because of the underlying idea that God is at mad at us.
However, the words “about” is a much more accurate preposition to use when we hear those three words. God is mad about you! This completely reverses the meaning and trajectory of those words. He is crazy about you. He has deep affection and even passion flowing from the depths of who He is. Are there layers, depth, and nuance to God’s stance toward us? Of course. And yet, the foundation is one of passionate, captivating love.
Often, theologians describe a “legal” standing that we have before God because of the cross of Christ which can feel quite cold and dispassionate. While there is certainly deep meaning in the cross, the default or “factory setting” in the relationship we have with God is one of intense love and affection. Also, many of us tend to see God primarily as an authority figure and perhaps even coldly stoic in His duties to care for and sustain His creation because of how our earthly parental relationships shaped us. On the contrary, cold and/or dispassionate is not how God describes Himself.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, we are given a picture of divine love in which God says, “You have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes.” (Song of Songs 4:9) Another way to say it: “I look into your eyes and I am in love.” God is in love with you. He is crazy about you. Sit with this for moment. Pause. Don’t move on too fast.
God is described as being overwhelmed by you, captured in heart.
To develop this a bit more, it is helpful to see the poetry of the Hebrew which quite literally says: “you have hearted me.” In other words, you have my heart. You’ve taken my heart. In the back and forth relationship of pursuit and desire we observe in the Song of Songs, God says, “you checkmated me.” “You’ve got me.”
Hear this, know this, believe this, trust this: God says to us, “You have my heart.”
As you consider this, how do you receive this reality? Do you notice anything shifting in you? Are there views and perceptions you have had of God which might be more in line with the idea that God is mad at you? How has that affected the way you have related back to Him? How might your approach and relationship with God shift in knowing that He is mad about you?
In 1 John 3, we are invited to look at, or “behold,” the love of the Father. What is invited is not merely an intellectual exercise although it involves the mind. It is an experience of contemplation … of being shaped by this reality in mind and heart.
From centuries ago, church mothers and fathers wrestled with what it means to engage in this kind of contemplation. What emerged was a four-fold process involving: reading, meditating, contemplating, and praying. Take a few minutes (or, more) and walk through the exercise below as you contemplate the love and affection God has for you.
“You have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes.” (Song of Songs 4:9)
Meditate on this verse. Mull it over. Notice how this truth lands in your heart. Consider the ways it might reshape some things for you.
Simply sit in a stillness and quietness of heart … resting in the reality that you do not have a transactional relationship with God. You can be quiet and release your hold on all things because you have nothing to prove, nothing to achieve, nothing to earn.
Respond to God by praying what you notice rising up in your heart and soul as you consider the depths of His love for you.
Every leader should have a spiritual director!
I generally do not like black and white, all or nothing, kind of statements, but I feel very strongly about this one. Let me explain.
As my friend Steve Macchia likes to say, “The soul is the most neglected part of the leader’s life.” If we didn’t have so many examples (both seen and experienced personally), I might have to spend more time qualifying or explaining this statement. It is tragic irony that spiritual leaders, entrusted with the care of other’s souls, usually do not adequately take care of their own.
The care of one’s soul involves things like rest, reflection, prayer, and contemplation. However, most leaders do the minimum and then get to work, often working from a place of deficit and fatigue. Many leaders go on without examining motives or hurts or questions. This can work for a while but will inevitably lead to a crash, a burnout, or even quiet desperation. Many spiritual leaders will tell you, privately, that they feel stuck or afraid or hopeless, or perhaps all three. Those who are exceptionally skilled and gifted can keep up with the pace and demands of ministry, but it often comes at the cost of relationships with those in the church and family at home. The central purpose (relationships) becomes the casualty of ministry rather than the focus. Unexamined ambition or pride or insecurity can be the fuel that burns so hot it brings burnout and/or singes those closest to us.
Jesus lived a slow, relaxed, quiet and intentional life. This is not the picture for many of us involved in spiritual leadership.
And this is where spiritual direction comes in. A spiritual director is someone trained to provide space to slow down and attend to realities of one’s soul and life in the context of listening prayer. In Psalm 96, we are reminded that the people of Israel hardened their hearts to a listening posture. (“If today you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.”) John of the Cross, the 16th century spiritual writer and poet, observed that God’s first language is silence. 1 Kings 19 makes it clear that God’s voice is a gentle whisper at its loudest. Leaders need regular time that is spacious and quiet in order to attend to the voice of God.
Couldn’t a leader do this on their own? Yes and also no. The gift of meeting with a spiritual director is that the leader is placing themselves in another’s care and opening themselves to the mirror that another can provide. Trained spiritual directors know how to sit with someone and help them look and see and perceive. As in most things, another set of eyes helps. We are not designed in a way that “just doing it ourselves” is the best approach.
To have a space on a regular basis where a spiritual leader is not “on” or in charge but instead is being cared for is a gift and, I would strongly urge, a necessity.
Want to learn more about Spiritual Direction? click on the Spiritual Direction tab at the top of the page/menu. For a great directory of Spiritual Directors, check out https://sfsaz.org/spiritual-directors/
Christmas, In our minds, is supposed to be a time of joy and coming home to all that is right in the world. It is supposed to be a time when we can set aside all the confusion and hurt and pain and believe again. However, more often, it is a time when the brokenness of our lives and world actually become more apparent because of the contrast and our inability to manufacture joy in our own strength and power.
It is easy to romanticize Christmas as a respite or reprieve from all that hurts but if we reflect upon that first Christmas, we see that it wasn’t a respite or a getting away from pain but a movement through it all that actually leads us home rather than some sort of a manufactured, illusory, temporary reprieve. Consider these words from Brother Keith Nelson, SSJE:
“Mary and Joseph’s consent to the divine initiative was offered in the thick of public disapproval, private confusion, painful risk, and gathering scandal. Being human, they struggled. If they had not come undone – if they had not broken open, even just a little – the words of the angel would not have had room to land and to grow in their hearts. They offered their lives to this mystery, trusting in its power to do more for them than they could ask or imagine.”
In many ways, Mary and Joseph had to experience a deconstruction of previous categories to enter into the strange experience of being part of the incarnation. Make no mistake – it was strange and foreign to anything they’d ever know. Our willingness to be “undone” and embrace it in these strange and foreign times that are modern life is the path home. It is the path toward wholeness and healing and the birthing of something new in us. What might God be birthing in you? As you let go of previous categories and conceptions of what makes up “the good life,” may you begin to see life in the context of His life in you … shaping you and bringing a life that is more than you could have imagined … free from anything but the God who is the lover of your soul.
Lord, in Your mercy, may I be undone and broken open so that my heart can receive. Give me the strength to trust and hope in what You are doing, not what I can see in front of me. Amen.
Lord, thank You for giving me tastes of your goodness,
In the rising and setting sun …
In the embrace of another beloved soul …
In the kindness of a stranger …
In the smiling face of a child …
In You …
… as You speak to my heart in the early hours
… as You direct my steps when I can’t see
… as You save me over and over again
… as I experience Your presence with me
And then, I don’t seem to be able to taste Your goodness as it seems absent. I thank You for this too because it is Your goodness as well. In the absence, I am led to seek You and Your heart because I’ve tasted and seen that You are the only One worth seeking. You are the source of all goodness and life … whether in deep presence or seeming absence.
A Sunday Morning Reflection
Colossians 1:17, 19: He is before all things, and in him all things hold together … in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
If I’m honest, I don’t know much with certainty … I can’t control things … I often feel lonely and lost. There are strong forces within me that want to fight … fight for certainty and control and acceptance. And again, if I’m honest, they all seem out of sight … beyond reach. As I allow myself to truly feel this reality and I give up the fight for even a moment, I begin to see. I see in every square inch of the universe that there is One who holds all that I long to hold. He holds all things, including me. I begin to see that I am a creature, not the creator. If I allow myself to get lost here … absorbed in this reality … I move past seeing into being. I begin to experience rest and freedom because all that I’ve longed for has been available all the time … in the hands of the One who holds all things. I may not know much but He does. I may not be able to control anything but He holds it all together. I may not feel like I fit but I fit in Him. To detach from my self-determination is the battle … a battle of release rather than grasping. O, maker of all things, may I rest here today … even for one moment. Tomorrow, maybe two. May your Holy Spirit prompt me to release when I’m tempted to grasp for things on my own rather than rest in You.