Why I play (thoughts on worship and creativity)

piano

It’s been with me since I was five, the antique upright piano.  Its finish is deep ebony, the surface crackled with age, the keys chipped here and there like a well-worn smile.  And when I can’t find the words, I go there and let the contents of my heart flow out in the pure form of music instead.

So I’ve been there a lot lately, sitting on the bench with its worn white and green brocade.

What I can’t find words for flows through my fingers on these different, more familiar keys.  After all, I learned to play them before I learned to type, before I really even learned to write.  It’s like slipping into a first language– the one you rarely get to use but often find yourself dreaming in.  I play the old favorites I learned as a child; Beethoven, Haydn, Chopin, Brahms.  I play new ones, hymns and worship songs and pieces I’ve picked up because I’ve always loved them.  And I play what comes to mind and then through my hands, sometimes in such quick succession that I’m not sure where the music comes from at all…it moves through me and surprises me and makes me laugh, and makes me cry.

Sometimes when no one is watching, I lean against the piano as I play, my cheek against the smooth black surface.  I feel the music, the vibration of many strings against brass soundboard, resonating through old wood and flesh and bone. I feel the hum in my bones and soul and wonder:  Is this how the Universe vibrates, with the echoes of the Creator’s voice….“Let There Be Light”…. humming through an infinity of tiny strings strung between all of creation that glows and breathes and sings?

Perhaps true worship is simply playing in tune with Him. (click to tweet) A Rhapsody on a Theme by El Shaddai, sung by a choir not bound by time or space or the limitations of flesh.  Do you know these moments?  When what began as poetry or paint or the pressing of black and white keys, the draw of a horse-hair bow across silver strings…becomes transfigured? When light falls in and through and lifts art from human hands to God inspired, when every note or word or brushstroke is praise and you know, you know that there is more to it than ink or paint or notes splashed across five thin lines. And as the last note sustains and washes over you, you just want to stand there and raise your hands and whisper his name….Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

In Heaven, friend, that’s how it’s going to be.  Every day, every word, every breath.

Why we humans create, why there is art and music and poetry must be this:  Our hearts were created after His own image, they long to hear the symphony and strive for those moments in which they resonate in perfect pitch with the Creator, in which they catch a glimpse, as in a mirror dimly, of the glory that is to come. And in that moment the soul understands that it cannot understand, only give in entirely to that which is incomprehensibly greater and more beautiful than we can imagine.

A post from the archives

When you feel burned out

burnout

Burnout.

Chances are good you’ve experienced it…if you’ve got a ministry, you know what ministry burnout feels like. Whether you’re a missionary, a pastor’s wife, a counselor, a teacher, a mother, a wife, a worship leader, a Sunday school teacher, a writer, a nurse, an evangelist, a manager…you know what I’m talking about when I say that some days, despite the fact that you’re following your calling and despite the fact that you fervently want to live out God’s will for your life with joy and perseverance and despite the fact that really, you honestly do love what you’re doing, some days you just feel done.

You feel like you’ve been working so hard for so long, you feel like you’ve put your everything into this and nobody has even noticed. You feel like you have given it your all, everything you have, and despite that fact (or maybe because of it) you find opposition all around you. You’ve spent years, money, sweat, blood and tears on this venture only to reach a point where you’re wondering if it was all in vain, all for nothing. You’ve done your best to do the right thing and it’s been hard and it’s meant sacrifice and you really didn’t want credit for that, you never expected a parade in your honor or even a “thank you,” but on the other hand you also didn’t expect dishonest gossip and backstabbing from the very people you were serving. You’ve run the marathon and you’ve spent the last shred of energy you had left to reach the finish line, only to find that the line’s been moved another 3 miles away and yeah, maybe that’s the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Maybe you weren’t cut out for this.

Maybe this just isn’t your calling.

Because if it were, if it really were, wouldn’t this kind of opposition be easier for you? Wouldn’t you be equipped to deal with it? And while we’re at it, would you even be facing this sort of trauma, drama, and grief if you were on the right path? If God really were calling you to continue on in this crazy, hair-brained scheme of His, wouldn’t you be stronger/better/more patient/thicker-skinned/smarter and in general just plain more than you are right now? You started out feeling confident that this was the path you were supposed to take. You prayed about it, and it seemed like God opened doors. But now, you’re wondering if maybe the whole thing was just a big mistake. Maybe you misread it all from the beginning.

You’ve had enough, and every fiber of your being is exhausted.

You.

Want.

To.

Quit.

burnout2

Christian, I understand. I’ve been there, been in the thick of it, been right there in the middle of it. And the thing I’m learning is, it’s not failure to feel burned out. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s not happening because you’re not good enough, or because you’re not strong enough, or because your faith is lacking. You’re not struggling with burnout because you’re not cut out for this.

If you’re feeling burned out, it may simply be because ministry burnout is part of ministry. (click to tweet)

And if you’re feeling burned out, you’re in good company. Consider this:

Elijah, the prophet, had just come down from an amazing showdown between God and the prophets of Baal. Do you remember the story? If you’ve got a moment, go read it again. In a spectacular act of faith and courage Elijah, the lone prophet left in Israel, set the stage for God to show His people that He was the one true God. The Lord was vindicated, the false prophets were destroyed, and surely that must have been the most triumphant moment of Elijah’s career as prophet. Surely, this was the moment that the music swelled, the triumphant hero raised his hands in victory, and the credits rolled!

What really happened was that Elijah, who by all rights should have been basking in what must have been the conference high of all time, was forced to run for his life because of the wrath of the wife of king Ahab. A prophet at the peak of his powerful career, with the image of God’s consuming fire still etched on his retinas, was forced to turn and run for his life…from a woman. The very next chapter of 1 Kings finds him cowering under a broom bush, feeling utterly spent and worthless, praying for God to take his life.

Yeah, burnout happens.

What I find helpful is how God dealt with Elijah’s burnout. He didn’t get angry with him, he didn’t roll his eyes in frustration. God didn’t tell Elijah to snap out of it, to pull himself up by his bootstraps and get on with life for crying out loud. God, the same God whose awesome power and wrath condoned the destruction of the prophets of Baal, treated Elijah’s broken spirit with gentle compassion. The Lord let Elijah sleep, then gently woke him and fed him. He let Elijah rest some more, then once again strengthened him with food and helped him on his journey. When Elijah hid in a cave, God didn’t throw up his hands and walk away from him, he didn’t give up on him and choose someone else to finish his work. Instead, he pursued Elijah.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”   1 Kings 19:9-11

The Lord allowed Elijah to rest, gave him food to build his strength, and pursued him when he retreated. He listened to Elijah vent his frustration at the situation, and then, rather than chastise him for being weak, or for lacking faith (and hadn’t Elijah just witnessed God’s miraculous power in a way most people can never hope to see?) He chose to give Elijah the greatest gift imaginable…to surround him by His presence, to show him a glimpse of His great glory.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  1 Kings 19:11-13

I find it fitting, and so very comforting that despite His capacity for awesome power, despite His righteous consuming wrath, the Lord came to the exhausted servant of God in a gentle whisper.

God’s example of dealing with Elijah should speak to all of us when we’re struggling with burnout…whether it’s our own or someone else’s. After all, Elijah’s ministry did not end there under the broom brush! He went on to do more for the Lord, eventually training his own replacement. I believe he was able to carry on fruitfully because God knew that what was needed was a gentle touch and rest, not ridicule or harsh discipline. Some lessons we can take away from Elijah’s story:

  • When dealing with burnout, treat yourself gently. Don’t beat  yourself up for feeling this way, just realize that burnout is part of ministry.
  • Allow yourself to rest. When you feel the signs of burnout coming on, schedule a break! It’s OK to tell people that you need some personal time in order to be more effective in your ministry. Even a few days at home with your phone and computer turned off can make a huge difference.
  • Allow others to help you. Share your situation with a few people you trust, being honest with your feelings. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and (I know it’s hard!) say “yes” when help is offered.
  • Get some extra sleep…take a nap, schedule a day to sleep in (have someone take your kids for the day if you need to). Lack of sleep due to stress or the pressures of care-taking can really interfere with your ability to keep perspective.
  • Feed your body well. God sent an angel to feed Elijah…allow someone to bring you a meal or two, eat out, or order in.  Take a moment to evaluate your diet; sometimes stress, time or financial restraints can lead to poor eating habits which also contribute to exhaustion and depression.
  • Feed your soul well. Spend some quality time in the presence of the Lord. Take a day dedicated to just you and God, with no distractions! Just spend that time in prayer and quiet mediation, reading the Word and letting the gentle spirit of God wash over you.
  • Find a helper to work alongside you. God sent Elisha to help Elijah in the last part of his ministry, and it must have helped immensely to know that he was not alone and that the work would carry on after his time in ministry was over.
  • Don’t give up! Just because a person has gone through a difficult period of burnout doesn’t mean that they’re not right for the job. Pray for guidance on whether to stay in the situation, but know that often it’s a case of naturally needing rest and refreshment and not a case of not being in the right line of work. Unless you have clear direction otherwise, trust God to be able to refresh your spirit and turn the situation around.

burnoutvert

They’re talking about burnout over at The High Calling, too. If you or a loved one is dealing with this issue, consider heading over there for some excellent articles on preventing burnout.

 

 

 

 

 

The Leadership Influence of Mothers

biblenotes

I’m sitting in a quiet corner of the living room with an open book on my lap, not reading. The book is a decoy, the pages are still turned to the place where I haphazardly opened them because what I’m actually doing…what I’m honestly up to…is eavesdropping.

There are a dozen teens out on the back deck, plus a couple of dads. Eldest is leading a Bible study tonight, he’s been working all week reading scripture and commentary and writing thoughts on scads of little post-it notes, sprinkled like confetti throughout the second chapter of the book of John. He’s spent the afternoon in the garage, heedless of the heat and the smell of bike tires, wood shavings and motor oil, practicing what to say.  He has worked hard and I know he’s nervous, wanting to get everything just right. He’s hard on himself, this boy.  A lot of prayer (on both our parts) has gone up on behalf of this study. Does it ever get easier, as a mother, to watch your children step out in faith and take a risk? This mix of love and fear, this letting go…my heart out there in the open on the deck as I sit here inside.

From the time they take their first step, it’s a battle of emotions…cheering them on as they move forward, taking a piece of you farther away with every step. The sleepless nights, the hours of school work at the kitchen table and the fevered afternoons, cool washrag pressed to hot forehead. Who can ever sum up the job description of “Mother?” And all this, when they never really belong to us in the first place. Ultimately, the job of a mother is to make herself obsolete.

Mothering is not something you get recognition for, nobody’s going to give you a raise or a commendation and there is no hazard pay, no overtime, no vacation days. Sometimes I rail against that reality and sometimes, sometimes the Bible seems like a boy’s club and Biblical leadership seems to come with a sign that says “No Girls Allowed.”

And I hear from the deck, in a voice that’s stronger than I remember, Eldest reading John 2:3-5.

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Do whatever he tells you, she said. At this, the first miracle of Jesus, his mother put him forward in an act of confidence that showed her faith in who her son was, what he would become. And Jesus, God of the Universe Himself standing there on earth’s thin crust?

“He obeyed his mother,” Eldest points out to the group of teens.

Suddenly I remember a treasure I found in 1 Kings. Encouragement for mothers, hidden there in the list of the names of kings set forever in the Book for all to read. Some of them did evil in the eyes of the Lord and some did good. But if you look it over, the kings whose mothers’ names are mentioned….they all did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, every one of them.

The influence of a mother’s leadership may not earn worldly awards, accolades or prestige. But one thing we can be sure of…it makes a difference, maybe even all the difference. God-made-flesh experienced the love of a mother, He knows its value in an intimate and very real way.

Perhaps that’s why mother’s don’t get paid…our work is priceless.

 

Linking up with The High Calling for “Leadership Influence: Beyond the Stereotype”

Picasso’s Dog

http://kellywalkerstudios.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/picass1.png

Image source: http://kellywalkerstudios.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/picass1.png

 

Picasso’s Dog

You wandered in, made yourself

at home there

in an artist’s arms, and unaware

of his status or yours

you simply lived

as man’s best friend

un tres bon chien

unwittingly deconstructed on canvas.

I wonder if you saw yourself

in that single, ink-black stroke

a portrait, or an artist’s joke?

If you’d found him earlier in his career

perhaps there would be more to you than

one black line, continuous and thin

 “Garçon avec un chien”

must have made you howl

with jealousy.

Perhaps that’s why it’s rumored

you developed a taste for canvas and so

became le chien qui a mangé un Picasso?

 

 

Just having a little fun with a poetry prompt from TS Poetry, where they are talking dogs this month.

 

Honeylocust

honeylocust

Honeylocust

she holds them, cupped in dirty hands

raised up to the light

palmsful of blossoms, fuschia spilling over

and the scent of honey, of myrrh.

how can it be, she asks

that this treasure grew

from that tangle of thorns?

i put them in water, cut-glass winks in

filtered sun

touching velvet petals, fingers trembling

i remember other treasure

the roots of which twine in painful thorns

how beautiful, that which is born

in bitter, piercing weeds