The Weakest Reed

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.

July 26, 2014
by Rachel Gustafson
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So you’ve got all the latest. Now what?

I’ve always been afraid to admit this, even to myself, because I feel like it reveals some sort of horrible truth about me.  I hate the book The Giving Tree.  I know the “right” reaction to this children’s classic picture … Continue reading

June 24, 2014
by Rachel Gustafson
2 Comments

When they say you’re a new creation and you just don’t really feel that way

This week my kids and I threw ourselves and some lunch into the car to gather with a friend and her kids.  As happens often to the conversations between mothers at home with their young children, our words were both … Continue reading

June 2, 2014
by Rachel Gustafson
8 Comments

On having faith, being disappointed and how it all just kind of sucks sometimes

When I hear a statement like “It was even better than I could have possibly imagined,” I find myself suspecting it likely has more to do with a lack of imagination than the quality of the actual experience.  More often … Continue reading

March 25, 2014
by Rachel Gustafson
2 Comments

Lately I’ve been feeling like my dreams are no longer something to nurture or indulge, but instead something to be  pinched between two fingers, picked-up by the tail, and investigated at a healthy distance until dropped into proper containment.

Suddenly, I’m 35 and sheepish about sharing my desires, a bit embarrassed to lay open my palm and reveal that I still clutch something as frivolous as wishes. I’m wondering if hopes are too volatile, a liability to the stability of the life we’re so busy trying to keep tacked firmly to the ground.  I worry that wanting something else might give the impression that I’m not grateful for what I already have.

I don’t know if it’s my age or stage of life  or maybe it’s just unique to crazy, old me but I feel as if desire and aspiration have become suspect when just a few years ago they were the fuel that we were told would take us to the stars.  Those stars that seemed so dazzling and noble a destination 10 years ago now seem silly or maybe even dangerous.   I grow irresolute thinking that to fire-up my engines might be too difficult a disturbance for others who share my orbit.  It’s ok to “dream” within a certain safe perimeter- retirement, conventional vacations, kitchen remodeling- but beyond that, any rigorous wishing or wondering or wandering often seems to evoke discomfort or even fear and sometimes defensiveness (why aren’t I, isn’t this, isn’t it enough?) from those around me.

Or maybe it’s not just me?  I’ve had conversations with a few others, women in particular, in which we have a difficult time coming up with a list of hopes for ourselves.  We can talk for hours about dreams we have for our children- opportunities we’d like them to have, specific ways we’d like to help develop their talents, plans to ensure that everything that is unique and special about them is cultivated to proper fruition- but when it comes to ourselves, we find we are tongue-tied.  I think the leashes on our tongues are thoughts like these:  What do I have left after all of this?  If I were a good wife or a good mother or a good Christian I wouldn’t bother to distinguish mine from theirs.  Am I being selfish?  And already I have so much, isn’t this enough?  Why can’t I just be content?

A proper understanding of desire can be especially difficult to arrive at when coming from a Christian perspective.  The word “desire” can barely float to the surface without immediately being muddied by other darker associations like burning, temptation, flesh, sinful.  It feels to me that Christian culture has sometimes run the risk of making desire most often suspicious and contentment most often a goal.  But isn’t it true that contentment can be just as misleading as desire?  To be content with the wrong thing is at least as dangerous as to desire the wrong thing.  I wonder how often it is the “good” things which make it all the harder to pursue the right thing or the “bad” things which drive us to cling to the best One.

I know that desires can be godly because God who is whole and complete unto Himself did not create us humans or the world because He needed to but instead because He desired to.  And He continues to desire us! Desire existed before sin and can exist apart from sin as well.  The Song of Solomon graphically depicts but also celebrates the desire of a lover and his beloved which is also representative of the relationship of Christ and the church.     

Proverbs tells us that hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.  Actually Proverbs doesn’t need to tell us that, we all know it to be true from personal experience.  But somehow, to hear it as an expected and perhaps even appropriate pattern of human experience is so affirming.  God tells us in Psalms that He opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing and that He satisfies the the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.  Desire can be painful and even scary because it is a recognition of where and what we feel lacking.  But without desire- without acknowledgement of our hunger and our thirst- what movement would there be towards God, towards good, towards anything?  In perfect contentment, we would be completely still.  But God places desire in us so that we would seek, reach out and grasp what is good!   Desire is the heartbeat of creativity, reconciliation, reformation and renewal, all pursuits which can reflect the character of God and which can all lead us deeper into Him.

When I think about God, I fear I think of Him too often as withholding.  I am afraid to ask because what if He says no?  Or what if I ask for the wrong thing?  And lots of times I am asking for the wrong thing. But if I am asking the right Person, He will make my joy complete nonetheless.  I am an imperfect mother whose own life is sometimes subsumed by my desire to see my children’s hopes and dreams fulfilled, but He is a perfect Father who wants to give even better things to those who ask Him.  The more I read what He says and come to know Him as He is, the more I understand that it doesn’t matter what I ask,  He wants to fill up my desire.  He won’t always give me exactly what I ask for, but His answer to my every request is better than that: To pour out His perfect goodness into each part of me and my life that I bring to Him to fill.

Who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.  Psalm 103:5

Check out a great quote by CS Lewis on desire.

 

January 27, 2014
by Rachel Gustafson
0 comments

Do you ever get the distinct impression you’re living someone else’s life?

I am currently living the life that I once mocked.  A friend and I sometimes reminisce about a day when a particularly ornery chaplain at our college spoke to a group of campus advocates outlining all the ways in which … Continue reading

So you got what you always wanted and it is still not enough

October 5, 2013 by Rachel Gustafson | 0 comments

There’s this passage in Isaiah that has come to mean a lot to me these last few months. It depicts a desert. A wilderness where there is no water. A barren wasteland without enough shelter or shade or sustenance. If you saw my life from the outside, you might wonder how I could relate. I certainly have enough of what I need to live a nice, comfortable life in a material sense. I don’t lack for the basic necessities and on the surface I’m relatively well-established in my home, my marriage, my current chosen career of motherhood, my community. But those who know me well, know that this last several years of my life has been a wilderness time for me.

It’s amazing how God can arrange a wilderness meeting with us at anytime and anyplace he needs to (more accurately, when we need Him to). We can be smack dab in the middle of the land of plenty and somehow we find ourselves with a parched tongue lolling from our mouths like a dog, a stomach engaged in a painful and distracting constant rumbling, uncomfortably sun-burned, on the verge of heatstroke with beasts of madness circling around threatening to become our most intimate company.

I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself up for not just being able to be satisfied with what I have here. And honestly, the world tells us that we can be satisfied, that we should be satisfied, with what it has to offer.  In fact, the most well-meaning people, myself included, can be heard saying, “Look at what you’ve got.  You’re so blessed.  Just be grateful!”  And it’s true.  But what if it is not The Truth? What if it is not greedy to want more, but instead if it is exactly what we should be wanting?  Recently, I’ve tripped over John 7:37-39 a couple of times. Something new stands out and I find myself being called to attention, bending over to examine it.

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

The Jews are celebrating the Feast of the Tabernacles. It’s the last day of this eight day long festival, considered one of the most joyful of the Jewish holidays. On this day, Jesus stands up and raises his voice to make the invitation. It has been a week of partying, being filled with good food and drink and company, and the point is made in scripture that this is the best day of the feast. Everyone is revved up and satiated and ready for the culmination of this merry affair. The religious people have already held daily water-drawing ceremonies that have been surrounded by great joy.  On this last day, this part of the celebration is even more elongated and elevated, serving as an exciting climax to all that has proceeded. “This was a time of joy so great that it was said, ‘He that never has seen the joy of the Beth he-She’ubah [water-drawing] has never in his life seen joy.’”  Apparently, even the most serious and stoic of religious followers were literally dancing like crazy at this point. Theoretically, everyone should be happy and full, but Jesus chooses this time to announce loudly that anyone who is thirsty should come to Him to drink.  

I can imagine a similar scene at the Emmys. It’s a room full of some of the richest, most powerful, best accomplished and famous people in the world and all night they’ve been relishing the best-of-the-best in terms of food and drink and clothing and luxury and entertainment. No one should be feeling too sorry for themselves. Now imagine Jesus breaking in at the end of the night and running up to the front and saying to the winners clutching the gold-winged award figure in their hands, “Hey, if there’s anyone out there that’ has still not quite had her fill, come to me and I’ll give you what you need.”

At that point, who is going to admit that they are still thirsty? You have to be feeling pretty desperate or greedy or maybe even a little crazy in the world’s eyes to run up front and say, “Yeah, um, all that was okay but I still want more. Give me what you’ve got.” Or really, couldn’t it be an act of humility to run up in front of everyone and speak the truth? “I’m willing to admit it: I may look like I’ve got it all, but I certainly don’t have it all together. I need you.”

See, I think that might be exactly why Jesus waited until the end to make his offer. Maybe he was waiting until all other options for being filled had been exhausted. The people had eaten their best foods and hung out with all their closest friends and family and even completed their religious obligations for that time. In that moment, they should feel pretty darn good. But maybe they didn’t. Maybe deep down inside, they still wanted more. I can’t think of anything more deflating than doing everything you thought you should do or finally getting everything you thought you’ve always wanted, only to realize it just doesn’t quite cut it. That thing that you’ve always thought would bring you so much fulfillment only makes you more aware of how ineffectual you are at trying to fill yourself.

The life I have is a blessing and everything in it is a gift but it is nothing- it is absolute rubbish, in fact- compared to the deep satisfaction of communion with Christ. Everything we have in this world, no matter how good it might appear, is simply not going to quench that deep-down, soul-thirsty desiccation that we all know we’ve felt in the wee hours of the night when it’s so quiet that there’s not a sound in the house loud enough to drown out the terrifying moaning of all deepest longings and fears of your heart.  In the lunchroom surrounded by a crowd people when you feel nothing but drenched in loneliness. In the arms of the person who just can’t quite hold you close enough to soothe that thing tearing you apart inside, that thing that you thought you’d buried and blockaded safely enough. After you’ve reached the height of your career, worked long and hard and sacrificed so much, and find you just don’t feel quite as satisfied with yourself and everything you’ve achieved as you thought you’d feel. Let’s all admit what comes to mind first in those moments: That if we just had that one more thing or that one perfect human relationship then we’d finally feel fulfilled. The truth is, you or I can get everything we’ve ever wanted and still be dying of thirst.

You may wander around and find a bit here or a bit there of something to wet your tongue, but it won’t last for long and it won’t, I promise you it won’t, reach down to bring refreshment to those parts of you that feel shriveled and dry deep down inside. There is only One source for that.

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

This new version of this old song has been circulating this week.  It’s a good one.

I Need Thee O I Need Thee

June 7, 2013
by Rachel Gustafson
2 Comments

We had one of those fights yesterday that was based on an old theme in our marriage.  It sent us down a well-worn path,  the soft, grassy buffer of newlywed naivete had long worn away from it.  It’s a path that’s we’ve trudged many times before, choking on kicked-up dust or getting entrenched in the deeper muck when it rains. Ruts have been worn and on darker days one or another of us might get hurt tripping and falling into one. Exhausted by the end of it, sometimes it doesn’t feel worth the effort to clean up again all the way before we get on to the next thing.  We think we’ve washed clean enough, forgiven enough, but the time is too short before we’ll put on those dirty, wet walking sneakers again and blisters result. And then we’re rubbing against raw on our next trek.

This thing is not something that is about a difference of opinion and I don’t even know that it’s totally about a particular sin either (though it certainly is true that without sin we wouldn’t feel this disunity).  We’re coming up against a fundamental difference in who we are and how we see the world. Talking about it doesn’t seem to help and ignoring it doesn’t seem to help either.  I’ve prayed about it (a lot)  and we still don’t seem to be able to find unity.  SO, where does that leave us?

I’ll tell you where it left me at about 4am this morning when I woke up after something fell off our bed to clatter loudly on the floor: feeling hopeless. Wondering if he’ll ever really get me.  Agonizing over how to live a life of one flesh with a person when it feels like the only way to fit together is to kill off some part of me.  But maybe then without that gangling part of Me, could we at least be a more neatly fitted We?

I try it sometimes, just  kind of a light neglect, not exactly starving that part that doesn’t seem to fit but maybe putting it on a rigorous diet.  It doesn’t work. Instead the opposite seems to happen. The more I ignore it, the more it demands to be seen.  It takes on a life of its own over there in the periphery to which I’ve relegated it.  Flashing all sorts of colors and morphing into shapes and dimensions unexpected, it’s impossible to kill it.  It’s so alive.  It’s even kind of winsome, doing its own charming thing in the corner.  Like a toddler in a time out after I’d forgotten I’d put it there too long, it starts singing some beautiful song to itself and I just want to join it.  It’s no use.  It’s just an inextricable part of who I am.

So what now? Does this mean I chose the wrong life or that God dealt me a harder hand?  I honestly don’t know.  Theology is tricky like that.  But I know that the more married women I connect with, the more I realize that this kind of marital imperfect-fittedness is not rare.  In fact, I think it may be the norm.  There always seems to be something that husbands and wives don’t get about each other, even in the best of marriages.  And we learn to live with them, hopefully appreciate the differences even, because we’re committed and because we chose love and we continue to choose love every. single. day.

But what about that pain?  What about wondering if we’ll ever be understood, appreciated, “gotten?”  What about the deep and fulfilling intimacy that we think marriage should be?

The answer was made undeniably clear to me this morning. It’s nothing new, but it’s the kind of bread I need to eat daily in order to be sustained by it.  I subscribe to a service called Go Tandem.  It’s awesome and it makes it really hard to ignore Truth in the midst of my busy life.  It sends me mini, individualized devotionals throughout the day.  I get texts and emails and voice messages and calls at times I’ve chosen.  It’s just the right amount of intrusive.  (And free.  Sign up now, I know you’ll love it).

Anyway, usually I get one automated call in the morning around the time I get out of bed.  And then if I don’t answer, it sends me the same message via email.  Well today, I got this same call THREE times in a row.  And then I ALSO got the same email THREE times.  Now that’s just weird.  Actually, it’s just God.  The message was clear and the Messenger was beautifully and faithfully relentless in His pursuit of me, like the most devoted of suitors.  I could barely hang up the phone before the call came through to me again.  And then appeared in my email.  Again. Ok, that may seem a bit stalkerish.  But sometimes I need that because I’m dense when it comes to feeling loved.

I pasted it below, but basically it was a reminder that my husband isn’t meant to totally get me.  He’s not meant to fulfill me.  He’s not meant to complete me.  If he could, I might be too easily satisfied and neglect to go after the real prize:  a profoundly deep, intimate, fulfilling relationship with God.

You Can’t Complete Me

Hear from God

Listen to today’s CallIt’s so easy to look to other people to satisfy our needs. Let’s be honest, they’re here, human, tangible. But don’t fall for that junk! Jeremiah explains that only God can truly meet our needs–and he will! 

Jeremiah 17:5-8
This is what the Lord says:
   “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
      who rely on human strength
      and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
      with no hope for the future.
 They will live in the barren wilderness,
      in an uninhabited salty land.
 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
      and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
      with roots that reach deep into the water.
 Such trees are not bothered by the heat
      or worried by long months of drought.
 Their leaves stay green,
      and they never stop producing fruit.”
Satisfaction only comes from God.

May 29, 2013
by Rachel Gustafson
0 comments

Your Kingdom Come to My Water-Logged, Mortgaged, Suburban House

Disappointment has been an aggressive and mean-spirited stalker who relentlessly pursues me. His only goal in life, it seems, is to be present every single time I let that majestic hot air balloon of hope start to lift me into … Continue reading