Following the Thread

Several years ago I read a book by Tim Keller called King’s Cross. This week a specific story from the book came into mind, and I wanted to share it with you all. Here is the story that Tim Keller writes about:

About 150 years ago George MacDonald wrote a children’s book called The Princess and the Goblin. Irene, the protagonist, is eight years old.  She has found an attic room in her house, and every so often her fairy grandmother appears there.  When Irene goes to look for her she’s often not there, so one day her grandmother gives her a ring with a thread tied to it, leading to a little ball of thread.  She explains that she’ll keep the ball.

“But I can’t see it,” says Irene.
“No.  The thread is too fine for you to see it.  You can only feel it.”  With this reassurance, Irene tests the thread.

“Now listen,” says the grandmother, “if you ever find yourself in any danger… you must take off your ring and put it under the pillow of your bed.  Then you must lay your forefinger… upon the thread, and follow the thread wherever it leads you.”

“Oh, how delightful!  It will lead me to you, Grandmother, I know!”

“Yes,” said the grandmother, “but, remember, it may seem to you a very roundabout way indeed, and you must not doubt the thread.  Of one thing you may be sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.”  A few days later Irene is in bed, and goblins get into the house.  She hears them snarling out in the hallway, but she has the presence of mind to take off her ring and put it under her pillow.  And she begins to feel the thread, knowing that it’s going to take her to her grandmother and to safety.  But to her dismay, it takes her outside, and she realizes that it’s taking her right toward the cave of the goblins.

Inside the cave, the thread leads her up to a great heap of stones, a dead end.  “The thought struck her, that at least she could follow the thread backwards, and thus get out…But the instant she tried to feel it backwards, it vanished from her touch.”  The grandmother’s thread only worked forward, but forward it led into a heap of stones.  Irene “burst into a wailing cry,” but after crying she realizes that the only way to follow the thread is to tear down the wall of stones.  She begins tearing it down, stone by stone.  Though her fingers are soon bleeding, she pulls and pulls.

Suddenly she hears a voice.  It’s her friend Curdie, who has been trapped in the goblins’ cave!  Curdie is astounded and asks, “Why, however did you come here?”

Irene replies that her grandmother sent her, “and I think I’ve found why.”

After Irene has followed the thread and removed enough rocks to create an opening, Curdie starts to climb up out of the cave- but Irene keeps going deeper into the cave.  Curdie objects:  “Where are you going there?  That’s the way out.  That’s where I couldn’t get out.”

“I know that,” says Irene.  “But this is the way my thread goes, and I must follow it.”  And indeed the thread proves trustworthy, because her grandmother is trustworthy.

When Jesus told the disciples, “We’re on the way, follow me,” they had no idea where he was going.  They thought he was going to go from strength to strength to strength.  They had no idea.

Imagine sitting down with a seven-year-old and saying to her, “I’d like you to write me an essay on what you think it’s like to fall in love and be married.”  When you read the essay, you will say it isn’t very close to the reality.  A seven-year-old can’t imagine what love and marriage will be like.  When you start to follow Jesus, you’re at least that far away.  You have no idea how far you’ll have to go.

Jesus says, “Follow me.  I’m going to take you on a journey, and I don’t want you to turn to the left or to the right.  I want you to put me first;  I want you to keep trusting me; to stick with me, not turn back, not give up, turn to me in all the disappointments and injustices that will happen to you.  I’m going to take you places that will make you say, “Why in the world are you taking me there?” Even then, I want you to trust me.”

The path Jesus takes you on may look like it’s taking you to one dead end after another.  Nevertheless, the thread does not work in reverse.  If you just obey Jesus and follow it forward, it will do its work.

MacDonald, author of The Princess and the Goblin, put it like this in another story:  “The one secret of life and development, is not to devise and plan… but to do every moment’s duty aright… and let come- not what will, for there is no such thing- but what the eternal Though wills for each of us, has intended in each of us from the first.”  And in yet another:  “You will be dead, so long as you refuse to die.” That is, you will be dead so long as you refuse to die to yourself.   Follow the thread.  You say, “That sounds pretty hard,” and you’re right. How can we possibly follow the thread?  It’s simple but profound.  Jesus himself does absolutely everything he’s calling us to do.  When he called James and John to leave their father in the boat, he had already left his Father’s throne.  “He left his Father’s throne above, so free, so infinite his grace.”  And later he’s going to be ripped from his Father’s presence, on the cross.  It’s going to look as if your thread is taking you into dead ends, places where you’ll get bloody, where the only way to follow the thread looks like it could crush you.  But don’t try to go backward.  Don’t turn to the left, don’t turn to the right.  Jesus Christ’s kingship will not crush you.  He was crushed for you.  He followed his thread to the cross so you can follow yours into his arms.

These days I have been contemplating a lot about my career path and trying to lay out all the necessary steps to pursue different careers. Tim Keller’s final words that close the story have prompted me to reflect on what I prize in life. “[Jesus] followed his thread to the cross so you can follow yours into his arms.” What is it that I am longing for in following this thread? Is it a life that pans out the way I want it to? Is it respect? Is it a “plan A” life that I think God has willed for me? Is it safety? Or is it a Person?

In Philippians 3:14 Paul states that, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s goal is Christ. In the midst of his crazy life of being put in jail and experiencing utmost suffering, Paul encourages his readers to continue “straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13).  And what lies ahead is Christ.

This week as I ruminated on and catastrophized life decisions, a simple stop sign appeared before these running thoughts. In the midst of feeling restless over the uncertain end of my educational and professional pursuits, I was reminded that the end is indeed certain. While I cannot guarantee what my life will look like at the end, God has guaranteed what I will see at the end: Christ. This isn’t to say that it’s not important to plan and be wise. Instead, this is a gentle reminder that you always have security, hope, and a Person, even in moments of insecurity, discouragement, and loneliness.

So Jen, keep following the thread. Life is confusing at times, and the thread feels so bare. Sometimes you experience hurtful, significant events, and sometimes you even wonder why you had to experience them. Sometimes you are at a loss of words, and sometimes you struggle to make life decisions. In these moments, I know you are tempted to turn to yourself and your own “wisdom” to make sense of it all. I know you want to direct the thread your own way. But remember don’t fall into yourself, fall into the arms of a Person. To be honest, I’m not even sure what that means or looks like. But to think it and want it is at least a start…

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Hidden in Christ

John Chrysostom, a church father in 400 AD, was brought before the Empress Eudoxia. She threatened him with banishment if he continued to preach, and their exchange was as follows:

John: “You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.”

Empress: “But I will kill you.”

John: “No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.”

Empress: “I will take away your treasures.”

John: “No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.”

Empress: “But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left.”

John: “No, you cannot, for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to harm me.”

These days I’ve been feeling like I am losing things. However, I am realizing that in losing these things I am uncovering something better. And that something better is all the life, treasure, comfort, security, and peace hidden in Christ, which are eternal and imperishable.

It’ll take me awhile to understand this exchange and even believe that it is worth it and good. But I believe. (“I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24).

 — The Lord gives and takes away. A sobering yet comforting truth. And even greater than that, He gave His Son and took away my sins, sorrows, and separation from my Father. In moments where I feel like I am losing things, remind me of what is already won.

A Thing Called Trust

In the past two weeks, I have been extremely stressed about my final projects and papers and other responsibilities. (“Other responsibilities” are more personal so I won’t be specific).  Yesterday, Jesus’ promise in Matthew 11:30 flew into my mind and made a nest. All throughout the day and night, I struggled to understand what it means and especially what it feels to believe that Jesus’ burden is light and yoke is easy. As I wrestled with this lack of understanding, God reminded me of something beautiful.

My Heavenly Father is less interested in what I know about Him. Not to say that I should not strive to know Him more and more. What I mean is that instead of knowing everything I could about Him, I think He is more interested in if I trust Him or not. Of course, trust requires some knowledge about the object of trust, but trust in itself implies a lack of knowing.

Think about a child who is standing outside of the pool looking at her dad in the pool with arms open wide, inviting her to jump. Surely, she knows her dad, but she does not have detailed knowledge about her dad. Perhaps, the child knows that her dad is a teacher and that he’s ridiculously tall. She also knows he likes watching T.V. and that he sometimes makes her laugh. But consider all the things she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know that he came from a poor family and had to work hard to get into college. She doesn’t know that he completed a rigorous Ph.D program in English and that he is a Professor at one of the best universities.  She doesn’t know that he was a comic nerd growing up or that he kisses her every morning while she is asleep. (A fictitious father).

Despite not knowing everything about her dad and despite not knowing her lack of knowing, she knows the most important thing about her dad– He is her father, and her father is strong. Thus, in a split-second she trusts her father and takes a leap of faith, literally and metaphorically.

Contrary to the child’s split-second decision to trust and jump into the Father’s arms, I stand paralyzed on the edge of the pool. And let me tell you something, standing there is stressful and anxiety provoking! In this standstill, I realize that doubt is an underlying experience. I doubt that I will experience any change or relief with my stress and anxiety. I doubt that I know how to evoke that change. I doubt myself because I have head knowledge about God’s sovereignty and goodness but lack the heart knowledge. In all this doubt, I thought the solution was knowing how to “let go and let God,” but this implied a solution focused on my efforts and understanding of the process.

In conclusion, God was gracious to remind me about child-like trust, in which the relationship and bond is both the holding environment and impetus. Trusting God is embedded in having a relationship, and trusting God reinforces the relationship. And as the little child teaches us, life does not depend on your robust knowledge of God but the truth that God is Your Father and that He is robust.

I can and should probably just jump.

 

Exercising Our Faith

Last year someone told me something he was struggling with. In Christianity you’re not supposed to “do”, I mean Jesus did everything for us and God is the One who does everything (He grows us, saves people, approaches us, teaches us, etc). At the same time, we have to “do”, we should. For example, we should pray, read the Word, etc. So then how do we not do but do? I began to ask that too…

One Pastor mentioned that this paradox of not doing but doing is like how a fish lives. I don’t remember it perfectly, but a fish floats because of its buoyancy. Fish have a swim bladder that allows it to float up and down in water. The physics and physical property of buoyancy allows the fish to float, but the fish must also do its part to stay afloat or descend by filling the saac with the right amount of air.

I still struggled with this paradox, but today God helped me understand better. (Things are always better when told from the Source, right?!) I’ve been struggling with laziness and lack of self-discipline, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to combat. I think God kind of rebuked me or maybe it was confrontation… The phrase that came up in prayer was, “Pick up your mat and walk”. I was stunned. You know what He was saying? I’ve been praying for God to give me self-discipline, and He was saying, JUST DO IT!

Yes, we need to pray for God to help us because He is the One who can ultimately change and help us. God doing. But we also must do our part. Us doing. Jesus CAN heal the paralyzed man, to whom he said, “Pick up your mat and walk.” But the paralyzed man will never know He is healed until he picks up his mat and walks.

Thank God for showing me that He CAN help me with my lack of self-discipline with such a real and convicting story in the Bible. (And one phrase that I so easily overlooked). Furthermore, it’s actually nice knowing that not only He can change me, but I can too! If I just have the faith. Just believe and try!

I know it will be a process, but I will try. I will try today and tomorrow to have self-discipline! God doing and me doing. Goes hand in hand. And it’s kind of nice you know… That I get to be part of the process of change. Not because God needs me to, but because there are so many blessings that come with exercising our faith. I guess exercise isn’t so bad after all, huh?

John 5

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

(Here the blind man thought he needed someone else to pick him up, when all along Jesus knew he could pick up his mat and walk without another’s help. That’s what happens when Jesus comes to you, heals you, and says everything is yours– His power, His love, His righteousness. Sometimes it feels like doing something or following commands/rules or even a God are enslaving, when in reality it’s freedom and empowerment. Look, the paralyzed man picked up his mat and walked all because He met Jesus, believed His Words, and exercised his faith.)

Importance of Imagination

Just watched The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. When I was hard-hearted, this world of Narnia, the majestic Aslan, and personal characters passed the barriers and defenses that I had held up. Thank you, C.S. Lewis for your imagination, that is not less than truth, but the gateway to truth.

“Because Aslan is in myth, you are able to access truth with your imagination that your mind would have defenses against.”

Kathy Keller

“Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.”

C.S. Lewis

Core

i’m eating an apple, and i just bit to the core. thus, the makings of this title.

i just had a good talk with one of my roomies. we talked about what we’re going through, the thoughts we’re processing, the journey we’re traveling on.

it wasn’t the ‘typical’ topics of “how we’re doing”. it was the sharing of the core of our state– the emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical. health is not only about the spiritual state, and sometimes i get caught up in my spiritual coverings– the immediate blessings or moments with God that i’ve experienced. but really, how am i doing as a whole person, beyond all the smiles, activities, and rituals?

this talk was really eye-opening– my eyes opened again to the core of myself. God confronted these things again: my past hurts, feelings, insecurities, friendship situations, family upbringing, etc etc etc. i wanted to run away from these things, ignore them, shove them into my bookbag and keep on marching…

but God won’t let me. today, he reminded me that he intends to fix me from the inside out. we can keep on walking with that heavy bag, but very honestly, we won’t get very far. as unpoetic and un-eloquent this allegory is, God doesn’t want me to walk with this heavy bookbag, which is my security blanket, the thing i ignore but hold onto. (unconsciously, i’m holding onto all these false identities.) he wants to take it away from me and give freedom. he wants me to run.

you know, it took awhile to get to the core of the apple. i had to pierce through the tough skin, and then bite away. one two three i bit and bit. but i finally got to the core, and when i saw the core i saw seeds.
sometimes we are seeds covered by a mess and a hard exterior. it takes time to chip away at those, but i’m longing for it– life, because life is always at the core. and seeds…. we’re just seeds at the core waiting to be exposed so that we can finally grow.

(hope this made sense. it’s okay if it didn’t)

Because people are having real, and helpful, spiritual experiences in certain areas of their lives– such as worship, prayer, Bible studies, and fellowship– they mistakenly believe they are doing fine, even if their relational life and interior world is not in order. This apparent “progress” then provides a spiritual reason for not doing the hard work of maturing.

…..

God intends our deeper, truer self, which he created, to blossom freely as we follow him God has endowed each of us with certain essential qualities that reflect and express him in a unique way. Part of the sanctification process of the Holy Spirit is to strip away the false constructs we have accumulated and enable our true selves to emerge.

Peter Scazzero

….. 

Set it [our humanity] free to develop richly, in all its capacities, under the influence of grace.

Thomas Merton 

Faith

My friend shared with me that when she was born she was supposed to die, but she didn’t. She was a miracle. And I remember she said to me, “Because I lived, I know I have a purpose.”

As we grow up our perspectives change, and we gain some sort of wisdom. As a child all you think about is me me me. You only live in your own world. Gradually, you learn that there are other people living in the world, said with a grain of humour. I mean, who knew? And then you realize you live in quite a big UNIVERSE. And in a world of (a little less than) seven billion people, the odds seem against you. What is the purpose of one person? What is the importance of one person?

However, my friend’s story resonates with me today. She was supposed to die, but she lived and lives with purpose. Like so, I was supposed to die. I was supposed to die because of the sins of man, my sins. But now I live because of Christ, and deep down I know have a purpose. I live with a purpose.

grant me greater faith

mighty hands uphold thee &with great love he sees thee

When we have fallen short as a daughter or son we apologize and quickly make efforts to become a better daughter or son to our parents. When we have forgotten what it means to be a good friend we sincerely try to be a better friend to our friends.

When we have failed before God we often decide to stay in shame and disappointment, “humbly” refusing to try again and do better… when all he wanted was for us to try again.