December 4, 2016

Deciding Today

It is Sunday, and I am at home for a short time before I will head over to my parents’ church for a farewell celebration for their interim minister. I wasn’t going to go, but I woke up thinking that it would be the “right thing to do,” so I will do it. There is a lunch offered afterwards, and well, it just is a nice thing to do — to say goodbye and thank you — for his almost two years of service to the church and to my parents.

My hope today is that I can finish all my to-do tasks before I turn in for the night. It is almost 8 a.m., and I am already hard at work. Yes, my work never seems to end. I try not to think about it, but there are days when I think to myself, “What have I gotten myself into?” In truth, I really do love my life — all of it, and I don’t think I would even want to change it (except for the full-time position part). I really am very happy and content to live my life as it has unfolded.

I woke up this morning, thinking about my life, wondering about my future, and after spending about an hour in prayer, I decided to accept my life as it is — for good or for bad — and simply let it unfold as the Lord desires it to do so. In fact, when I read my email this morning, K-Love’s verse of the day happened to be my life verse, Psalm 37:4-5, which says,

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

I took this verse as my “life verse,” some ten years ago, and I have come to experience its truth. I have made the Lord my delight,  my all, my Source and my Sufficiency, and in this way, He has given to me all the desires within my heart (His desires, first, and then some of my desires, second). My life is full to overflowing right now with gratitude, and as I sit here and think about my options, my plans, and my desires, one thing is for sure: I desire nothing but the Lord, and all His delight and good pleasure. I really do not desire anything else. I mean, what else can I possibly want save the Lord and His love, mercy, goodness, and truth?

The Lord has sustained me through difficult times. He has upheld my honor, provided a good path for me to walk on, and throughout the ups and downs, helped me make sense of my world. In this way, I have come to terms with much hurt, hardship, and heartache. I have learned to accept my “lot” in life, and I have come to this place of comfort, of care, and of control. I feel good about the direction of my life, and as I rest in it, I realize that if nothing were to come of my life from this point forward, if I never left Phoenix or changed jobs, for example, could I be happy and content right where I am? The answer to that question has taken time for me to articulate, but I believe I could say today that, “yes,” I could be content and happy to remain fixed here in Phoenix. It is a difficult thing to say because there could come a time when I may find myself all alone. My son will invariably grow up and leave home. My parents will come to the end of their lives at some point in time. This means that I will have to be able to deal with the loss, the loneliness, and the longing for family. For a long time, I thought I couldn’t handle it. For many years, I believed that I would die should I find myself all alone. Now, however, I realize that being alone is not all that bad, really. I actually enjoy my alone time, and I enjoy the freedom that comes with being alone. This doesn’t mean that I want to live in isolation; rather, it is simply an acknowledgement that I have the freedom to choose how to live my life. I can live in community (in fellowship with others) by choice, and that simply means that I don’t have to be alone, unless I really want to be alone. It is not a life sentence, rather it is a choice to remain alone, to remain solitary for moments in time.

Solitary Singleness

I have wrestled with this concept for a long while now. I have come to enjoy my aloneness, but for a while, I was afraid of what that might mean for my life. I believe that as Christians, we were made for companionship, for community, and that God desires us to live in community as a demonstration of His love and care for His family.

Socrates once said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” It can be very easy to fill up your life with busy activities that account for nothing in the end. The busy life doesn’t necessarily equate to the fulfilled or satisfied life. I don’t want to live a busy life without purpose, and I think that is the key. I want my life to be filled with purposeful activities, with events and individuals who matter to me and to the Lord. Thus, my life, whether single or solitary, doesn’t have to be empty, lonely, or even less than satisfying. It can be full, filled with wonderful moments, and cherished memories. Yes, it is a choice to live a solitary life, but that choice doesn’t necessarily mean emptiness.

I have always desired to understand the Apostle Paul’s statement where he says that he has learned to be content in richness and in poverty. I wanted to be able to say, “I am content” and really mean it. In many ways, I have come to learn contentment, and while I have never been abased or had to live in the meanest circumstances, I have experienced enough highs and lows to realize that what satisfies the soul is not meat or wine or even comfort, but the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself. The Lord is the fulfillment of all our earthly desires and needs and wants. If we fill ourselves with His presence, with His purpose, then our life will be satisfying to us. We will feel settled and content.

Lately, I have come to this place of contentment, whereby I am able to see that all my striving for more, longing for more, wanting of more, really was just my own desire saying that I needed something plus Jesus. I do not. I know this fact is true. I need nothing else but the depth and breadth of my Savior’s love.

The rub in all of this is knowing, accepting, acknowledging that when one is face to face with the Lord, seeing Him in His glory, envisioning Him as Lord and Sovereign, one comes to understand that there is the Lord, and then there is everything else. Everything under the sun is meaningless (Eccl. 1:1-11). It is all vanity.

What is more is the fact that as I have looked into the mirror and seen His reflection, I realize that while there are good gifts to be had in the world: good things, good times, and good people, in the end, there is His work, and the outcome of that work is everything. C.S. Lewis urged his listeners to consider first things first, and stressed that by placing first things first (meaning the Lord), everything else would fall into place, into proper order and place. Matthew 6:33 says the same thing: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” for in doing so, “everything will be added unto you.” You see, when we place the Lord first in our life, and I mean really first, we come to realize that in truth, there are no seconds. There is nothing left to know save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

I guess you could say that I have resigned myself to spending my life in whole-hearted devotion to the Lord. I simply desire nothing else but my Lord and His will and work in and through my life. I long for nothing else but His approval, His desires to fill my heart, and His love, grace, and mercy to guide my thoughts, my words and my deeds. I desire Jesus alone.

Living Wholly Devoted

It has been a long time since I committed my way to whole-hearted devotion. In fact, I made a vow to the Lord a long time ago that said that I would be wholly devoted to Him — if He would care for me, love me, and provide for me. Yes, I made a vow. I promised the Lord that I would place nothing on the throne room of my heart except for the Lord. There would be no idols tempting me to lay down before them. I would forsake all others, seeking only to follow the Lord with my sincere and complete devotion. In this way, I chose to pursue what is called in Catholic terms, the life of an oblate. Oblates are individuals, either laypersons or clergy, normally living in general society, who, while not professed monks or nuns, have individually affiliated themselves with a monastic community of their choice (Benedictine). I am not Catholic, but my heart identifies with this idea of a life of service, of pure and undefiled service to the Lord. I do not believe we are called to live as hermits or even as solitary sojourners. Rather, I believe that God places the desire of whole-hearted devotion into the hearts of some people, and these people respond to that call with a sincere desire to glorify God in every area of their lives.

I first came to understand the role of oblate while searching for devotional material online. I had read the “Rule of St. Benedict” back in 2007 as part of my classical reading study group, and I was completely interested in the way of life of these early monastics. Then, when I studied Medieval literature at Mercy College, I once again was introduced to the Rule, and I found an affinity for the Benedictine way of life. Granted, I am not Catholic, and I am not saying that I believe in Catholic doctrine or dogma. No, it is simply that the rules as they were instituted sought to glorify God through practical and spiritual work.

I was seeking clarification as to my spiritual calling one day, and the Lord pressed upon me the OSB, or guidelines for Oblates of St. Benedict. I read through these “rules,” and found that I desired this way of life, deeply longing for it. Yet, since I am not Catholic, and I have no desire to attach to a monastery or Abbey, there was little point to it. Still, the desire has persisted, and even to this day, I will sigh with great longing and wondering if my life might have turned out differently had I been introduced to this way of life when I was young.

Now that I am in my 50s, I realize that the rules are simply guidelines that demonstrate the love of Christ in tangible and productive ways. This is my heart’s desire. Moreover, as an oblate, there is a spiritual community that provides support and encouragement in order to provide strength, resolve, and discipline to all. I struggle with the idea that the Church, Christ’s church, is not doing what it was designed to do. More so, I feel that God’s people are not living their lives as an expression of His holiness nor are they bringing His goodness to the world as Christ’s mandate in scripture commanded. For many believers today, living a holy and non-world centric life is optional. There is too much out there to enjoy, and for many, this means the opportunity to live in the world, be a part of the world, except for Sundays and special Church holidays.

The Rule of St. Benedict governed every day life. It provided structure through prayers, fasting, and scriptural study so that the Benedictine monk or nun was constantly immersed in religious thought and practice. The focus was on good works, on doing good works, not for the earning of salvation, but as an expression of God’s love through His gift of salvation.

I have come to desire this simplistic focus for my life. I long for this way of life, whereby my entire being is consumed in the pursuit of His glory. I want to know what this feels like, to live this way, and to shun or forsake all other avenues in the pursuit of it. I don’t know why this is or why I am willing to give up everything in order to have it, but the desire is there, in my heart, and it has not waned in 10 years.

Perhaps this is why I have always preferred to be alone. Perhaps this is why I am now content to be alone. It is not that I desire isolation or to become a hermit, it is more that I just am OK with being on my own, with my thoughts, and that my life has such meaning especially when I am in prayer with the Lord. I want to spend all my time, all my day, in prayer. I want to focus my life on what I believe the Holy Spirit is asking me, nay calling me, to do. I want to be “all in” as they say, and that means to not allow anything or anyone to deter me from this desire.

When I was married, I had this epiphany moment when I first came to see this way of life as possible for me. I tried to share it with my then-husband, but he rejected it out of hand. He wasn’t interested in pursuing whole-hearted devotion to the Lord or a way of life that was predicated upon good works. In his view, I was becoming a lunatic. I was losing my perspective, and I was becoming as he said, “Primitive” in my thinking. I thought I had found the “golden goose,” and I wanted so much to pursue this line of work. I wanted to lay down my goods, give up my worldly ambition, and simply choose a more simplified life. In fact, I did just that…in time. I quit the family business, citing issues with honesty and honor. I found good practical work in retail whereby I could do honest labor for honest wages. I began to shake off all the worldly attachments that had pulled me down to the lowest depths, and in return, I found powerful and passionate desire surrounding my love for the Lord.

As an overall result, my marriage suffered. I lost my husband to another woman. I lost my home, my family connection, and my identity — everything — that was connected to my relationship with my husband. The Lord graciously upheld my rights, and He provided a way out for me, but in return, I promised Him that I would continue to keep Him as my focus, my soul’s delight.

Now, I am on the back end of that experience, and I am still whole-hearted and completely devoted to the Lord. I long for nothing else. I can imagine no other life than the one I have because this life fills me completely, satisfies the deep inner longings that I have, and provides me with purpose, with goals and achievements that all seek one thing: to bring glory to God, forever. Amen.

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:11 NASB).

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