The Weakest Reed

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

January 19, 2014
by Rachel Gustafson
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The Insult of “We Just Want You To Feel Happy Inside”

One of my most favorite people in the world wrote about a difficult time her 4 year old daughter was having.  Her little one was acting out a bit at pre-school, unsuccessfully trying to control the actions of her friends, … Continue reading

January 14, 2014
by Rachel Gustafson
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When We Do Wrong, Does God Separate Himself From Us?

Things got pretty ugly in our kitchen a couple nights ago. And by things, I mean both of us. I’m going to hazard to guess that more divorces result because people hate who they “become” living with their spouse than … Continue reading

January 8, 2014
by Rachel Gustafson
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Sacred Objects: Jesus Toast, Walmart Receipts and You

I’m at the stage in my life when there’s really not a single surface of my home that hasn’t been vandalized by my children.  Paint peeled off of walls.  Scratches etched into our leather couch.  Covering my books and window … 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

September 18, 2013
by Rachel Gustafson
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How I dreamed of Africa, heard voices and went anyway. Twice.

Today, I had the honor of writing a guest post over at one of my friend Cate’s (two) blogs.  She has had Uganda on her heart lately and, as you know, it’s a very important place for our family.  She’s an … Continue reading

September 3, 2013
by Rachel Gustafson
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What it’s like to be a Permanude, a worm-eating mole and a child of God all at the same time.

You know that classic nightmare of showing up to school completely naked? Parenting has done that to me except there are no clothes in sight because they’re all in dirty piles in the laundry room and every day seems to … Continue reading

June 30, 2013
by Rachel Gustafson
2 Comments

God’s Ode to the Common Cooking Pot

A good friend was stopping by with her daughters for a last-minute play date that added a bit of buzz and delight to what was otherwise a quickly depreciating Friday afternoon. It had been a chaotic week. I can’t tell … Continue reading

June 22, 2013
by Rachel Gustafson
2 Comments

How to Save the World In Fewer Than 10 Steps

1. Even if you have all the power, splendor and resources of God himself, come into the world unattractive, poor and in a social standing generally regarded as powerless.  Isaiah 53:2-3 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, … Continue reading

June 17, 2013
by Rachel Gustafson
2 Comments

I walked down the dirt road on which my in-laws’ cabin sits and let the beauty of nature wash over my senses. The sun does not not neglect to generously warm each inch of my skin. The breeze offers a cooling balance and stirs the long grasses to release their sweet scent. The ferns on the forest floor stretch out their fronds in endless configurations of orderly beauty against the rakishly disorderly backdrop of the forest floor.

It is all there, whether I choose to enter into it or not. This feast for the senses, almost an embarrassment of riches in a place like the cabin–the sun, the breeze, the sweet grasses, the fern fronds, the birch forest- it all would have existed even were I not here to experience it. This uncultivated beauty is unlike the more civilized variety that we humans maintain or mold by our own efforts. Natural beauty simply IS. By no effort of mine it exists in glorious splendor, free for me and all the rest of humanity to enjoy.

I walked and I felt the tongue of my soul thirstily lapping up all that was around me, I started to wonder why I am made like this.  Why is natural beauty the food that feeds my particular soul?  In my life as a mother of three young children there are a long list of things I need to do in order to receive the benefits of healthy relationships, a passably hygienic home, meaningful work, even recreational pursuits require a lot of effort at this time of life. For every single arena of my life there is a litany of requirements for maintenance.

Yet the beauty of nature excites and soothes. It inspires and humbles.  It wraps around my senses in endless varieties and provides satiation.  But I do nothing to receive such a lavish feast as is provided by a place where natural beauty prevails.

I do not need to pay nature in order for it to administer these gifts to me. I do not need to feed it. I do not need to work for it. Entertain it. It seems as if it would balk like a strong but good-natured grandfather if I tried to coddle it.

Natural beauty requires nothing of me.  In fact is one of the few things, perhaps the only thing, that I feel no sense of guilt as I enjoy it. It is undoubtedly good, so I feel no shame as I bask in it and I do not accumulate debt as I accept its gifts. I can be free to receive what it gives me with no sense of needing to reciprocate. It takes nothing from me, not even requiring my appreciation of it as sometimes I feel about beauty that has been produced by human hands.

Natural beauty does not require me to maintain it in order for it to be.* It existed before I came along. It will exist after I am gone. It is remarkably persistent, tenacious even. Fire consumes acres and dainty, green tendrils begin to shoot through stricken soil soon after. Disasters occur to wipe out entire landscapes, but natural beauty reappears before humans can even begin to rebuild. Destruction may seem to have overcome, but glitter spills in night skies above and the sun will rise amidst a never-identical show of enigmatic shades of color the next day. Natural life will unfurl its tentacles wherever chaos strikes and slowly but surely begin to re-order itself.

And for a soul as hungry as mine, it is a blessing and a wonder that inherent in the character of natural beauty is that it is perpetually available. There is not a time of day in which it does not exist somewhere around you, most likely within immediate reach of at least one of your senses: loamy soil’s scent, a dancing tree’s shadow play, smooth stone rubbed between finger and thumb. It. Simply. Is. Moment upon eternal moment. Cycles of light and life never ending. The beauty of nature is there to take in.

As I round another curve on that dirt road only to arrive upon another landscape ripe with pleasure for the senses, I realize that I cannot think of any other thing besides natural beauty of which I can say this is true of its relationship to my soul: It requires nothing of me and yet my whole self- mind, body and soul- feel saturated with enjoyment of it. I receive so much without giving a single thing to it but my attention. And even if I do not give it my attention, it still exists within my reach for whenever I do tune myself to it again.

And as I turned back on the path towards the cabin again, the brilliance of the sun’s reflection on Lake Superior dazzled my eyes. In the same sort of flash I realized why this natural beauty is food for my soul. Because the beauty of nature is, to me, as clear a picture of God’s grace as I can seem to experience. And none of us can survive even a moment without grace. Grace is that which is present around me at every turn, whether I call it or not. Whether I recognize it or not. Whether I do anything to deserve it or not. It requires nothing of me and yet exists for me in the tick and tock, hum and drum, press and pull of every moment. This is what grace is: It is the thing which is there for us to receive freely and be filled. 

I may not always be tuned to appreciate it, but as sure as natural beauty IS whether I choose to tune my attention to it or not, so is Grace.

Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. Romans 1:20

What feeds your soul and why?

*Though, of course, if we are not stewards of it we do squander it. But sometimes I question if humans have the ability to completely destroy it. Though our efforts contribute, a hand greater than ours truly holds the power of life and death. And I think we see this common grace and the faithfulness of God in the persistence of natural life despite our best and sometimes worst efforts.

 

 

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.