“For to you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11-12
God’s love for us is so great that as we wait in His presence, praising Him who is perfect love, He descends anew to and into us, drawing us into Himself. We become incarnate of His love, wisdom, and righteousness. We thereby always have love to give back to Him. In “looking, longing, loving, we become like the One we vision.” This is a built-in incarnational principle. C. S. Lewis puts it this way:
In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down…to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature he has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.
In praise, as in all true prayer and worship, we clothe ourselves anew with the Lord. There is a fresh mantle of His presence. We take on God’s character and take in Christ’s mind. That is, we “put on the New Man” and as a happy corollary we die anew and increasingly to the “Old Man,” which is the old self-in-sinful isolation. In such a union, praise is as natural as breathing.
The great miracle and hope of the incarnation never fails to amaze us as we gaze at the Christ child in His manger every Christmas. Christ living in us reflects Himself in us today. In “looking, longing, and loving” we become like Christ. Simon, the impulsive, becomes Peter the Rock and Mary Magdalene turns from her sin becoming an ardent follower of Christ. The old-self dies and God’s glory shines though us as we embrace the miracle of the incarnation. As Irenaeus wrote in Against Heresies, “the glory of God is a living man.”
Holy God, we open our hearts to You this Christmas as we gaze at You in the manger. We are in awe at the miracle of Your incarnation and we long to reflect Your incarnate glory. Awaken in us a great desire to be transformed into Your image and likeness. Quiet our hearts so that we can “become incarnate of Your love, wisdom, and righteousness.” Help us bring Christ and His radiant Heaven-scented presence into Your world this Christmas.
 John Gaynor Banks, The Master and the Disciple (St. Paul, Macalaster Park Publishing, 1954), 22.  C.S. Lewis, Miracles, (London: Collins, 1963), 115  Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), 38. Painting: Lorenzo Monaco, 1406-1410, The Nativity, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Mary Carrington, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
Joy is a state of inner satisfaction and contentment and is the best antidote for the inward depletion we call weariness. The classic Bible song declares, “I’ve got joy like a fountain in my soul!” and everyone who belongs to Christ has such a living fountain within. But like any natural spring, the fountain of joy will flow more purely and freely when it’s looked after. Here’s a reminder of some of the ways God has ordained to keep joy bubbling within us each day.
Spend time with those who calm, encourage and inspire. Listen and share, openly and honestly. Hold hands or hug. Engage your relationship with the Lord, receiving, dialoging, and exchanging with the One who is always with you and within you.
Defy the ever-serious world by choosing to smile, laugh and play. Cultivate your sense of humor. Do something creative just for the fun of it. Feast and celebrate as part of the rhythm of your Christian life. Go ahead and rejoice, dance, and sing.
Tend to your heart
Pause often to come back to your true center. Conscious prayers like “Another lives in me,” and the Jesus prayer are a powerful reset for the harried soul. Simple activities like breathing and enjoyable exercise settle our hearts in well-being. We’ve posted a guided-prayer video below to help you quiet your heart as you practice God’s presence.
Take the time you need for each activity, setting a reasonable pace. When shifting from one thing to the next, take a still, quiet moment. Thank God for what has just happened, listen for His guidance, and dedicate what comes next to Him.
“Not everything is useless which cannot be brought under the definition of the useful.”  Spend time doing nothing. Value contemplation, giving your true imagination space to receive whatever God may want to impart.
Live at the Cross
Much of what makes us weary is the result of sin. Looking to Christ’s cross gives us grace to accept ourselves as He accepts us. Remembering His mercy moves us to bear with others in their weaknesses. The clarity of His cross delivers us from the temptation to dialog with the old man and gives us divine objectivity. And the might of His cross shelters us in unassailable spiritual protection.
Abide in God’s love by nurturing your bodily self. Eat wholesome food and engage in life-giving exercise. Honor your body’s rhythm in your sleep habits and schedule. Take weekly Sabbath rest. Savor the wonder and beauty of creation.
Do just one thing at a time. Keep sensory input at a healthy level and be present, whether you’re eating, reading, or whatever you may be doing. Practice God’s presence as you perform each simple activity in Him and with Him.
We were created for fulfillment. Paul reminds us that those who don’t give up will reap in due season, implying that it’s right to desire a harvest. When gratification is delayed, borrow some joy from the future. Imagine that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess, “Jesus is Lord!” Meditate on the promise of the consummated Kingdom. Let the goodness of that coming reality cheer your heart today.
 Pieper, Josef, Leisure: The basis of culture (Ignatius Press, 2016), p. 10.
A few months ago, during a time of especially intense ministry, I noticed I was feeling low. The well-known words of Galatians 6:9 came to mind, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” We might translate “let us not be weary” as, “Don’t let negative influences cause you to become inwardly exhausted.”
The exegetes say Paul was speaking to himself as well as his brothers and sisters in Galatia, a collective “us.” I’ve felt that “us” in writing this piece. You’ve been on my mind as you seek wholeness and transformation in your inner life and relationships, fighting to persevere when it’s difficult or costly. And I’ve been thinking of you as you work to lead others, care for those in need, and influence the world around you for Christ. At the same time I’ve been deeply aware of my own highs and lows, the gratifying moments when I feel inwardly full and the days when I feel weary. The pandemic we continue to live through seems to create especially acute temptations to weariness.
We are people who truly desire to live in God’s service. We are not perfectly faithful, but much of the time and in many ways we offer ourselves to Him. We want Him to have His way in us, and we want others to receive their share in the blessedness He so freely offers. We have taken up our cross to follow Jesus, and He gives us the privilege of laboring for His kingdom in ways that involve sacrifice, self-denial, and even dying. Because He commissions us to minister in a world that’s under the influence of sin, there is a risk of weariness, as Paul’s exhortation implies. Following Jesus puts us in contact with negative influences that could, if we face them apart from Him, leave us exhausted and worn. We even carry some negative influences in the unhealed places in our own souls, and we must invite His presence into these places that need more thorough conversion. But following Christ is not an inherently wearying life — rather, we may get confused and go about it in a way that exhausts our inner wellbeing. Fundamentally, taking up our cross and following Christ is a life of joy because our lives are now rooted in the only real source of joy that exists.
I’d like to look more deeply at what we really think about our lives of service and sacrifice. What do we understand sacrificial self-giving to be? A right understanding of it protects us from weariness while a wrong understanding makes us vulnerable to utter exhaustion and emptiness. God led me into this exploration by showing me something in my own heart. I was dialoging with Him about weariness when a symbol bubbled into my awareness, one I’d picked up decades ago from Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved. Nouwen summarizes his life as a Christian by saying, “I am called to become bread for the world: bread that is taken, blessed, broken and given” (42). Similarly, Oswald Chambers equates the Christian call to becoming broken bread and poured-out wine. “Keep right with God and let Him do what He likes, and you will find that He is producing the kind of bread and wine that will benefit His other children” (September 30). Many sermons and worship songs draw on this metaphor to symbolize what it means to live in God’s service.
When this symbol presented itself to give meaning to my weariness, I decided to re-read Nouwen’s book. As I did, I found myself asking the Lord, “Is this a true picture? Am I really the bread with which You feed Your people?” As Leanne Payne wrote, “The imagery really matters” (The Healing Presence, 139). The images we hold in our hearts shape our choices and our very grasp of reality, and if the symbols are distorted, we will be distorted. I could see that my heart had taken in this symbol, but not every picture, story and symbol we take in provides a right and true perception. Certainly, the broken bread picture resonates with our experiences of being spent, exhausted, and consumed. But our own subjective sense of reality may not be a reliable guide. So let us consider whether the image of us becoming bread and wine poured out for others provides our hearts with a true picture of Christian life and service.
Bread and other symbols
Let’s begin with the central scriptural symbol of bread, the Bread of Life. Jesus, the incarnate Son of Man, offered Himself in unbroken communion with His Father: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51). As Schmemann writes in For the Life of the World, all our hunger from the very beginning was a hunger for Him and all our bread was but a symbol of Him (43). Through His self-giving, the life we lost has been restored to us and we are reconciled to God. I can write these few, simple words, but in doing so I am pointing to a great mystery, and it is because our capacity for understanding is so small in the face of such wonderful mystery that we are given metaphors and symbols. After Jesus told His followers that He would give His flesh for the life of the world, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). The twelve who continued on with their Lord didn’t profess perfect comprehension of His disclosure, but only confessed that they’d come to believe He is the Holy One of God (John 6:68). As I meditated on this mystery, the Lord pointed out to me that scripture never symbolizes us as bread, and I believe there’s rich, good reason — more than we’ll have space to unpack in this short essay — that this symbol is applied only to the Messiah. Jesus revealed Himself as the Bread of Life, for He alone is the source of all life and the end of all hunger.
Although the Spirit-breathed scriptures never call us bread, we are offered many ennobling and hope-filled symbols of who we are and how God’s love flows in and through us. We are sheep who know His voice and belong to His one flock. We are branches in the true vine, pruned for greater fruitfulness. We become members of Christ, unique and complementary parts of His Body. Something deep in my soul shifts to a better place when, rather than thinking of myself as food for others, I meditate on these whole and living images. Consider that you are a living stone built right into the wall of the house of God, a tree whose roots draw from the cool, fresh steam of living water, and an athlete who is growing stronger through your challenges and trials. These are images of vitality rather than weariness, of inner fullness rather than of exhaustion, and of union rather than separation.
Our attraction to the picture of broken bread and poured out wine relates to a theological confusion known as substitution. In substitution, we confuse following the Messiah with being a messiah. We confuse our witnessing cross with Christ’s once-for-all atoning cross. Rather than rejoicing that we are the disciples who get to share the Bread of Life with the hungry crowds, we start to think of ourselves as the Bread. Of course in our rational minds we know we are not saviors or redeemers. But in our intuitive, emotional being, we can slip into supposing that we are somehow given away or consumed so that others might experience healing and redemption.
This confusion manifests in many subtle ways in our approach to Christian service and what we understand bearing one another’s burdens to mean. At a gut level we may believe being converted means we’re now content to be the one who gets eaten so someone else doesn’t go hungry. The imagery in our hearts may suggest that Christian conversion changes one’s position in the eat-or-be-eaten equation. Perhaps followers of Christ are the meek and docile who no longer chew others up, and instead are ready to be consumed as a remedy for others’ deprivation. I suspect this subtle distortion also confuses our picture of what it means to be long-suffering.
I would suggest that thinking of ourselves as bread means we’ve unwittingly traded a different story for the gospel which is centered on the death and resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our cross is not an atoning cross, and no one is saved by it. Although we will suffer in following Christ, our suffering does not serve as a trade or replacement for any one else’s suffering, not Christ Himself, a loved one, or a stranger. Our cross is a cross of testimony, a witnessing cross, and as we carry it, we are continually transformed. So we can’t be food, but we can be witnesses, and witnesses bring glory to God!
Martyrdom & Joy
In being witnesses, we engage the battle in which the forces of evil attempt to thwart God’s loving and victorious actions in this world. Jesus has commissioned us to baptize others into His new life and make them into disciples. As we do so, we will suffer some of the hatred with which this world reacts to Him. Our witnessing cross can lead to drinking His cup. How essential it is then that we go about our lives of service thoroughly centered in Christ. Our offering of ourselves must be to Him, in Him, through Him, and for Him. If we deputize ourselves as substitute saviors, we’ll be devoured by the very world into which He’s sending us as witnesses. But if we do His works in union with Him, rather than making us weary, any suffering we undergo will have redemptive power.
This sort of suffering is what Paul is referring to when he says, “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body” (Colossians 1:24). The closest thing we find in scripture to the image of us being poured out wine is Paul’s admission that he will soon be poured out like a drink offering. Paul knew his martyrdom was near. The original Greek root of “martyr” means “witness.” Those who are persecuted or put to physical death for their testimony are witnesses to what Christ accomplished on His cross. Whatever we may suffer for His sake brings Him glory because we are witnessing to His offering, urging all to find the answer to their hunger in Him.
The story of the Maccabean martyrs gives us a winsome picture of the joy of witnessing, even when it involves great suffering. During the Greek persecution of Jews in the second century BCE, seven brothers and their mother were arrested. The king demanded that they eat swine’s flesh as a way of renouncing their faithfulness to God. These brothers valiantly refused in the face of cruel torture and death. In this telling of the third brother’s death we hear a joyful witness:
“When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said bravely, “I received these from heaven, and because of His laws I disregard them, and from Him I hope to get them back again.” As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.” 2 Maccabees 7:10-12
Although this man lived and died before Christ’s incarnation, he demonstrated eucharistic living, entrusting his whole being to God’s triumphant reign. Like him, we joyfully offer ourselves in Christ’s service because His perfect self-offering has freed us to be faithful witnesses. As we follow Him, rather than being made into bread and wine, we become whole men and women who are increasingly able to testify that He is the Bread of life.
If we embrace the image that God makes us bread to feed His world, the most troubling consequence is what this suggests about God Himself. It implies a zero-sum game in which God must take from one to give to another. It suggests some sort of scarcity in the Kingdom, some need in God’s economy that is met by using up the lives of His children. When we put it this baldly, we know it is untrue. The God of the universe has all He needs, and all we need. In pointing to the joy that Christ’s cross brought to this fallen world, Alexander Schmemann notes that this joy “is pure because it does not depend on anything in this world and is not the reward of anything in us” (For the Life of the World, 55). This gift of joy was made complete through Christ’s sacrifice and is given freely and eternally to all who will receive Him. Our God is the One who says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all its fullness are mine” (Ps 50:12). He neither needs nor desires to spend us. He has plenty to feed His children because He has given of His own life which is infinitely abundant. He is the great I AM, an unfathomable depth and height of love, and as the Father gave His only begotten Son, He poured out grace that is utterly and absolutely sufficient for all.
You’ve likely heard “The Blessing,” a worship song written in the early days of the pandemic and recorded and shared by community choirs around the world. If you’ve heard it, you’ve likely been moved as the song culminates with the simple but life-changing words, “He is for you.” This truth feeds a hungry place in us, a place where we need divine assurance: in the morning, in the evening, in your coming, in your going, in your weeping, and rejoicing, He is for you. If we offer ourselves to God, He wonderfully involves us in His redemptive work. He even gives us to one another, but not as food. He gives us whole and the giving makes us more of who we are. As He gives us we remain in Him, and we are not exhausted but rather filled and fulfilled. We are not bread; we are sheep of one flock who know His voice. We are not wine; we are oaks of righteousness. We are given, but never given away. Even as He gives and sends us, we never leave His hand.
Chambers, Oswald. My utmost for His highest : selections for the year. Uhlrichsville, Ohio: Barbour & Co, 2000.
Jobe, Kari, Elevation Worship, Caries, Cody. “The Blessing.” Graves into Gardens, Provident Label Group, 2020, 4.
Nouwen, Henri J. Life of the beloved : spiritual living in a secular world. New York: Crossroad, 1992.
Payne, Leanne. The healing presence: curing the soul through union with Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995.
Schmemann, Alexander. For the life of the world : sacraments and orthodoxy. Crestwood, N.Y: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973.
Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, 1852-1929, The Last Supper.
Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1311, The Last Supper.
Rodrigo Fernández, 2015, Jesús multiplica los panes.
Fra Angelico, 1402-1455, Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saints.
A video for those who are suffering with depression, despair, or suicidality, prepared by Sarah Colyn.
No matter how long or deeply we’ve suffered in a dark place, Christ has opened the path of life, love and true fulfillment by His cross. We pray that His life-giving Word will flow through this video into your soul today.
Need more teaching and prayer on hope vs. despair?
Listen to this audio recording of a ministry session on the virtue of hope from our Wheaton school.
Clay McLean’s 3-part teaching on recovery from depression
A heart-to-heart talk by Clay about the roots of depression and a loving invitation to come up into God’s healing light (Grieving Childhood Losses; Recognizing Self Pity; Extinguishing Burnout) available at mcleanministries.org.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
To connect with a counselor for emotional support and other services via web chat visit the Lifeline website.
New Hope Crisis Counseling Hotline – 714-NEW-HOPE (714-639-4673)
New Hope Crisis Hotline provides telephone intervention and telephone suicide prevention counseling. Trained crisis workers provide peer counseling to those who are struggling to cope with day to day life. Services are free, and are available 24 hours a day/7 days a week. A faith based, ecumenical program of Catholic Charities of Orange County.
Need help finding a skilled counselor?
We’ve provided this guide on finding and working effectively with a counselor, pastor, or mentor in your healing journey.
If you’re unable to find a personal referral in your area, Focus on the Family provides this Christian counselor referral service.
Lifeline Aotearoa Call 09 5222 999 if you live within Auckland or 0800 543 354 for those outside of Auckland.
A brief teaching video about how God’s everlasting arms hold us securely through seasons of grief and loss, prepared by Sarah Colyn.
We pray that the Lord will anoint this video in a way that perfectly matches your need today.
Resources for the grieving:
Psalms of lament: Many find Psalm 22, 55, 69, 77, and 88 a good starting place in voicing the lament of grief. At least a third of the Psalms express lamentation, so you will find voice for your grief throughout these songs of scripture.
GriefShare: Find seminars and support groups through the GriefShare website.
Music: The MPC Music playlist includes many consoling songs. What songs help you share your sorrow with the Lord while lifting your eyes to Him in worship?
The Consoling Beauty of Truth: During seasons of loss, reading beautiful Christian writings brings deep comfort to the heart. What is a favorite book that you turn to for the comfort of gospel truth?
Books on Grief: Wise authors help our grief make sense and shine a light on the radiant path through the valley of the shadow of death. Some Christian classics: A Grief Observed, Lewis; Lament for a Son, Wolterstorff; A Grace Disguised, Sittser; Streams in the Desert, Cowman.
A pair of videos with worship, teaching, and prayer to help us grow in fortitude, prepared by Sarah Colyn.
This is a 2-part teaching: the first video introducing what fortitude is and how we use it, and the second looks at how we grow in fortitude. The second video closes with a time of prayer, looking to the power of the Cross to dismantle barriers and strengthen us in fortitude.
We pray that the Lord will anoint this video for you in a personal way. Fortitude is a substantial topic, and so these teachings aren’t so brief or simple. Take your time with them and give yourself space to dialog with the Lord and ponder these things in your heart. As you watch, remember to invite God to actively minister to you, connect your head and heart, and move in your life with His great power and love.
Thanks to Fr Ryan and Emily Brotherton of Holy Trinity Edmonds church for the music clip.
Part One: What fortitude is and how it operates in our lives
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. Deut 31:6
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him… the spirit of counsel and might. Isaiah 11:2
But take heart, I have overcome the world. John 16:33
casting down the evil one like the strong young men of I John 2.14
We are afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. 2 Cor 4:8-9
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12
When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” Deut 20:2-4
For love is strong as death… Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
Song of Solomon 8:6, 7
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38-39
Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows My name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. Psalm 91:14-15
I love you, O Lord, my strength. Psalm 18.1
Leanne Payne, Heaven’s Calling
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
Josef Pieper, Four Cardinal Virtues, and On Hope
Servais Pinckaers and Bernard Gilligan, Virtue Is Not a Habit
Craig Titus, Resilience and the Virtue of Fortitude: Aquinas in Dialogue with the Psychosocial Sciences
“We Christians are called to an apostolic courage based upon trust in the Spirit…” (Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 219).
“act courageously on behalf of the good, the true, the beautiful, and the just… to initiate change and impact the surrounding culture positively ” and the “capacity to live fully in the present moment, recognizing the transcendent, the ‘gift of eternity’ in it… (Payne, Heaven’s Calling, p. 295).
“Now I think that I understand a bit more about what it means to truly love, because for my men, love was something much more than emotion…” (Donovan Campbell, Joker One, p. 301, 302, 303)
“Virtue enables us to perform excellent actions easily and joyfully, in a stable manner, with profound interior freedom, the freedom of children of God” (Charles Nault, Noonday Demon, p. 77).
Fortitude doesn’t allow “oneself to be forced into evil by fear,
or to be kept by fear from the realization of the good” (Josef Pieper, Four Cardinal Virtues p. 126).
“Cowardice is almost the only vice at which men still feel shame” (C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, p. 51).
To “meet the challenges that we face concerning meaning and commitment, coping and constancy,
and constructing something good out of human suffering and failure” (Titus p. 134).
“the friendly and intelligent assistance of another” (p. 81).
“It is afraid of the light and air of the spiritual world” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 154).
A video with worship, teaching, and prayer to encourage us in fear of the Lord while ministering healing to any fearful heart, prepared by Sarah Colyn.
We pray that the Lord will anoint this video for you in a personal way. Before you press “play,” please get comfortable in a place where you feel free to stand, sing, and speak out in prayer. Invite God to minister to you, and be fully responsive as He accepts your invitation!
A friendly exhortation: this teaching and prayer is not a substitute for participation in your local church. Please don’t let this video or any of the other Christian media that’s currently on offer turn you into an isolated consumer. Active engagement with your local church body, even if from a physical distance, is essential now — you need your church, and your church needs you.
This is a brief teaching (the video with worship and prayer is just 24 minutes) — those of you who’ve been to an MPC event know that is a big victory for me! There is much more to this topic, so if you’d like to dig deeper, consider these resources:
Leanne Payne, Restoring the Christian Soul Through Healing Prayer, chapter 1 on self-acceptance.
An MPC lecture and prayer on sense of being and well-being can be downloaded here
Josef Pieper: On Hope, chapter 5, “The Gift of Fear;” the section on fortitude in The Four Cardinal Virtues.
An MPC lecture on seeing God rightly, and prayer for healing of fears can be downloaded here
This Godly Play Parable of the Good Shepherd sneaks past the watchful dragons of the rational mind and impresses the heart with the reality of our Lord’s faithfulness in places of danger.
We fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18
To acknowledge the Unseen Real requires a concerted effort of the will at first. We might think of it as actually practicing the Presence. The practice of the Presence then, is simply the discipline of calling to mind the truth that God is with us….Brother Lawrence, writing to a friend who is in great pain and suffering, tells her what it means to see the “sovereign Physician who is the healer of both body and soul,” with the eyes of the heart: 
I can feel that which faith teaches; I can sense what faith sees. This, of course works great assurance in me….So continue always with God. To be with Him is really your only support and your only comfort during affliction. 
Practicing the presence requires discipline but it gives us great assurance that God is with us and within us. We often do not remember, especially when we suffer, to acknowledge the Unseen and practice His Presence. We are often tempted by digital distractions or other hindrances instead of practicing His Presence. When we practice His Presence, He comes quickly to help us, encourage us, strengthen us and comfort us. In our time of affliction let us persist in practicing His Presence.
Gracious Lord, forgive us for not acknowledging the Unseen and practicing Your Presence. Enlarge our hearts so that we may enter into Your Unseen and Ultimate Reality and YourHeavenly kingdom. Nudge us gently back into Your Presence when we stray or are tempted by digital distractions and other hindrances. Like a good shepherd, lead us beside the still waters to refresh, encourage, and strengthen us in Your Presence. Thank you for the assurance that You are our Father and You are always with us.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), p. 25, 26, 31.  Practicing His Presence: Frank Laubach, Brother Lawrence, Library of Spiritual Classics , vol. 1(Portland, ME: Christian Books, 1981), p. 6, 7. Painting/Stained glass: Alfred Handel, d. 1946, photo:Toby Hudson St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales The Good Shepherd [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Meditation prepared by Mary Carrington, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
COVID-19 has altered the gestures and rhythms of life, and while we’re able to cope and adapt, our hearts still register these changes at a deep level. As Leanne Payne observes in The Healing Presence, we are mythical creatures who depend on symbols to bind up reality for us. I’ve recently been pondering how our hearts read the symbols of the pandemic. In many places around the world, we are seeing one another less. And when we are together, it may be behind masks or at a 6-foot distance, possibly forgoing handshakes and hugs. On a conscious level, we understand that these gestures and rhythms are a symbol of care for one another, an accommodation to the reality of the coronavirus expressing our commitment to the well-being of all. But beneath this rational understanding of circumstance, our hearts have a language we’ve spoken all our lives. And in this language, the distance and barriers necessitated by COVID-19 may symbolize the opposite of care.
In the ordinary lexicon of our hearts, declining to touch or draw near to one another symbolizes a lack of familiarity and intimacy or even ambivalence, aloofness, or rejection. A mask may symbolize illness, vulnerability, or danger (or perhaps highway robbery for big fans of spaghetti westerns). We’re finding new ways to convey a warm hello, offering a big, squinty-eyed smile that is visible around the edges of a mask, keeping our heads turned to the side for a COVID-safe hug, or using words to fill the gap of distanced body-language.
Through all this complexity, our inner translator is working overtime. Our rational minds can explain the reasons for it all, but that takes repeated, conscious effort. The number of times I’ve had to go back to my car for my face mask before entering a store proves that I haven’t learned these symbols by heart yet. I believe this is one of the factors that’s causing weariness as the pandemic continues.
There is much more to us than our rational grasp of circumstances. Coping is good, but to embrace life in God’s healing presence we must listen to our hearts and how these symbols are registering deep within us. The gestures and rhythms of the pandemic may be echoing with past experiences where the pain of separation or deprivation of touch and warmth were threatening to the life of the spirit within us. Even the present inhibition of our own reaching out may resonate with earlier times in which the love we were eager to give wasn’t welcomed and received. We needn’t suppress these echoes, because the One who can soothe them and heal the wounds they uncover is near.
At the peak of my pondering on these matters, I received a beautiful letter from a dear sister in Christ. She was writing to share how God had drawn near to her, working through the pandemic for her good. I was moved and encouraged, and so glad when she gave permission for me to share her story with you. Our merciful and compassionate God truly is nearer to us than we are to ourselves, and stands ready to show us our hearts that we might receive His life more wholly. I pray the Holy Spirit will anoint her story with illuminating, liberating, healing power for you today.
As you know, COVID has altered life in many many different ways. It’s been difficult for me to remain resting in God’s peace through the changes and difficulties of life during a pandemic. An issue that is hurting me a lot, but is also being used by the Lord to reveal what is still on my heart, is my deep sense of rejection and the feelings of not belonging, not having a place, not having the right to exist, and being excluded.
I’ll share the picture of my personal situation: I live alone, a 40 minute train ride from my father’s home. My father is elderly and has leukemia, although he is currently doing well. My single brother lives with him and takes wonderful care of him. My sister has also lived with them for the past year. During the COVID lockdown they have been afraid to get sick and have remained strictly isolated because of my father’s illness and chemotherapy a few months ago as well as my brother’s asthma. I did not visit or see them for three months. When the quarantine was lifted, I went to see them for the first time since covid, but things had changed.
I thought I was understanding and accepting, but pain and hurt began to emerge strongly. I felt a bit shocked, for I was not allowed to enter the house (my family home) and hadn’t expected it. I was only allowed to be in a very small terrace they have. I was not allowed to touch anything, and they did not allow me to enter further into the living room or house. I was shocked and hurt, but tried to be understanding and patient. After a few week my father asked his doctor about my coming to see him. I only know this through my sister because my father does not speak much, but he told my father to let me in and not to be afraid of getting sick. So after some time I was allowed to have dinner in the dining room, but just sitting on the chair, right on the spot, don’t move, don’t touch, don’t go around!
I was and am hurting a lot, more and more. I tried to bear it and brought it all to the Lord. I’ve tried to accept whole situation. But as I realized last Sunday when I burst into tears, pain and anger, I was in fact burying all my emotions and pain inside. Last Sunday I went for lunch with my father and sister (my brother was out that day). It had been two weeks since my last visit as I’ve seen them just a few times. At this visit I exploded.
You should know that throughout all my life and to the present day, I have been “perfect,” ok, joyful, and without problems in front of my father. I’ve always pretended, wearing a full mask all my life. A tear has never come out of me at home, but I cry rivers and flood of tears in the street and at church. As my real I, my true self is growing, there are things I cannot hide or bear anymore. Last Sunday I burst into tears in front of him, something I think I never did before! I was full of pain, anger, and sadness. The little child, little girl inside me finally came out and poured out all her pain and expressed her anger! Sadly my feelings were and are “forbidden” at home. No wonder I have been in pieces all my life. I expressed my pain to him and said I was hurting, that I felt like a leper, excluded and not belonging. I felt their way of relating toward me was out of proportion (I could give more details about this) and I was hurting. I said I wondered whether to come back, or what I should do. My father despised my feelings and told me to “stop being dramatic.” He said that if I felt not to come back during this situation of social distance, “then don’t come!” It was painful.
Afterwards, once I was at home and bringing all to the Lord in prayer, I felt strong shame. The Lord showed me how I was confusing the present situation with my deep wounds that this situation brought to the surface. The Lord brought light to what happened. I felt so ashamed, for I could see that little girl crying, demanding to belong, to have a right to exist, to be, to be accepted. I saw my immaturity in dealing with the present situation. I believe a mature way to act and speak would be to express my thoughts and feelings in dialog with them, to listen to their fear and feelings, and try to reach a place of agreement where their fears are taken into account, but my feelings have also a place. Instead I repressed it all inside myself and related to them in the immature way I had usually done. I sense the Lord wants me to grow, to mature, to not react to present situations and difficulties, but live from my true center instead of from the hurting child. I still do not know how to do this, but I believe growth and blessing will come. I ask for prayer for this.
I also realized that when I was child in my home there was no place for feelings, I had no right to be, and couldn’t be vulnerable. On Sunday I really was despised and ridiculed for expressing my pain and feelings. I expressed them correctly, not in a way that was extreme or out of order. But I believe most importantly that the Lord revealed to me what is still in my heart, blocking my becoming: the deep sense of rejection. I began to put into words and to write concretely and bluntly what I felt and thought: “I have no place; I don’t belong; in my father’s house I am rejected; there is no place for me; I am an outcast.” It was painful, but a grace. For at the same time that I felt strong shame as I tried to digest it all and pray over it, in me there also was, and is, a small, soft song of victory, shy but real. For for the first time, I dared to speak out and express my feeling, and in the midst of the pain something in me had been released.
In prayer, trying to receive from the Lord, I see He is not asking me to change my family, though I can speak my opinion and act accordingly. Rather, He is building my sense of being and well being, my identity and belonging in Him, in the Father, who affirms me and has a place for me in His heart. He asks me to bring all my pain, hurting, and the lies that are still in my heart about who I am to Christ on the Cross, and to receive from Him. Secondly, I am also learning to communicate, to be, to relate to others from my true center, my real self, so that circumstances and the attitudes of others, whatever may happen, do not break or crush me.
I am in this process right now. I do not know how to do it and I have fear about when I will go to my father’s house, but I turn to God. I can testify how many blessings He is giving me through this difficult time we are all in. I can’t thank God enough for the grace of knowing at a heart level that He truly is my Father, and is daily present in my life. I thank Him for the grace of practicing God’s Presence more and more. The Spirit really does remind me that Another is in me! At the same time, He really is breaking all my schemas, at all levels. And often, almost always, I feel so weak, so needy, so blind. It is so hard to let go, so hard to let Him “undragon” me. My heart feels the need to share this, and as I share and give testimony more grace and light comes upon me, it becomes more solid.
Paintings: J Rossakiewicz, 1989, The Last Supper; William Holman Hunt, 1827-1910, Light of the World [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
God’s children are sometimes the most bitterly tried. For them the fires are heated seven times; they suffer, not only at the hand of man, but the heavens seem as brass to their cries and tears. The enemy of souls has reason to challenge them with the taunt, “Where is now your God?” You and I have perhaps been in this plight. We have said, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?” 
The matter of suffering is seldom dealt with today in such a way as to help us either understand or undergo it. Some of the popular drivel we hear seems almost to deny that the Christian does suffer….This is one more example of the modern’s estrangement from his own soul. 
The Christian does suffer, but we can lean into the heart of a loving, compassionate, and merciful God, walking through suffering with Him. Many of us are currently suffering from anxiety and fear and other negative emotions as we experience suffering from the Covid crisis but we can trust that God will help us. When we suffer, the enemy of our souls taunts us with the thought that God has forsaken us but this is far from the truth. We may think that God has forgotten to help us, but our loving, gracious God always holds us in His attention and care.
Lord, we acknowledge the reality of suffering. Remind us of Your love and comfort when we endure suffering. Reassure us that You are with us and walk through the fires with us. Let us fervently believe that You will never leave us or forsake us even in the greatest suffering we endure. Thank You that we are always held by Your gracious and loving arms and that we need not fear.
 F.B. Meyer, Our Daily Walk (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1982, March 21.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), p. 207.
Painting: Simeon Solomon, 1863, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Mary Carrington, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.
Blessed is the one who is not offended in me.(Matthew 11:6) Whether or not the suffering is remedial or that produced through the redemptive activity of carrying the cross, we need to understand that “blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me” (Matt. 11:6 KJV ). F. B. Meyer refers to this as “the beatitude of the unoffended, of those who do not stumble over the mystery of God’s dealings with their lives.” It is the blessedness of those who, though they do not understand the trial, yet “rest in what they know of His heart.” We are tempted to stumble. . . . But it is then that we have the chance of inheriting this new beatitude. If we refuse to bend under the mighty hand of God—questioning, chafing, murmuring at His appointments—we miss the door which would admit us into rich and unalloyed happiness... 
Christians suffer and often we don’t understand why we suffer. If we do not yet understand why we suffer, we can still rest in God’s great love towards us.As we undergo suffering and patiently walk through our suffering, God blesses us with His abundant grace and comfort. Let us choose to “not be offended” by suffering. As Jesus entrusted Himself to His Father we can entrust ourselves to our Heavenly Father and “rest in what we know of His heart.” As we are still before the Lord and quiet our souls before Him, His comfort, blessing, and peace will come even in the greatest of tragedies.
Gracious Lord, forgive us for murmuringas we endure suffering. Help us to be still and quiet our souls before You. Let not suffering and sorrow harden our hearts but let us chose to open our hearts to You so that we will be filled with Your tender healing and comfort. Help us by Your grace to enter into the blessedness in our sufferings. May we not forget that Christ, the Hope of Glory, lives within us to strengthen and encourage us.
 F.B. Meyer, Our Daily Walk (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1982, March 21.
 Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995), p. 207.
Painting: Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1873, Kristus i Getsemane, An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Meditation prepared by Mary Carrington, drawing on the writings and ministry of Leanne Payne.