Advent DevotionalA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriendingDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Listening to God in prayer: My journey

Wednesday November 22 2017

Listening to God in prayer: My journey

I learned about contemplative prayer when I was around 40. It dovetailed perfectly with other things that were going on in my life.

I am an introvert. My mother is extremely extraverted. In recent years, she has developed some ability to pray alone and to appreciate quiet things, but in my childhood and early adult years, her values were totally and completely placed in the realm of activity and socializing. She has a very high energy level, she values action over being quiet, and she has always kept a social schedule that makes me feel exhausted just to hear about it.

In my teen and early adult years, I strained to be more like my mother. It was only at midlife that I began to accept myself and allow myself to be an introvert. Ironically, people call me energetic. They don’t see the hours of quiet that I need to balance outward activity.

I have always valued quiet prayer and reflection, but I felt somewhat guilty for how much I like to be alone with my thoughts and alone with God. This drive to spend time alone made me feel ashamed and inadequate. Learning about contemplative prayer gave validation to these inner drives. In fact, I find contemplative prayer very natural. I’m actually good at something that more outwardly-oriented people find difficult. But it took me until midlife to appreciate the strength of my inner life.

The specific prayer styles of contemplative prayer – examen, lectio divina, breath prayer, and so on – have given me more options for quiet prayer, more things to do as I pray. I love them all. They are very helpful to me.

What is even more helpful is the general attitude that we embrace in contemplative prayer. At midlife, I began to slow down, let go of some of my need for control, and tried to live my life more in response to God. In intercessory prayer, which I still value highly, we say, “Dear Lord, here are the things that are on my mind.” And we tell God what we long for and hope for.

In contemplative prayer, we say, “Lord, enable me to hear you. What is in your heart that you want to communicate to me today? What do you want me to think about, do, say, pray?” This posture of listening changes the whole focus, and it fit perfectly with what was going on in my life in my forties.

In my teens and twenties, I really believed I knew a lot, and I was always striving to know more. I felt that I had right answers a lot of the time. In my forties, I began to realize I am so much less certain about lots of things. That lack of certainty has continued.

I still pray lots and lots of intercessory prayers for people in need, for my children, granddaughter, husband, family members, and friends, and for the needs of the world. But because I’m less certain about so many things, I really want to be guided in how to pray. I really want to listen to God’s concerns, God’s priorities, God’s passion. I want to hear his voice in how to pray.

In my twenties and thirties, I felt very optimistic that I could do most things that came along; that I would have time and energy to explore what I wanted to. In my forties, I found I have so many relationships, so many options, so much to do, and that feeling of too many possible directions has only gotten more intense with each passing decade. I need guidance and a sense of priorities. I find that guidance through listening to God in contemplative prayer.

And I want to hear God’s voice of grace, too. All that busy activity of my early adult life came in part from my doubts about who I am and what I do. Now that I’m older, I’m more able to rest in God’s love for me, but I need to hear and feel that love. Contemplative prayer encourages me to wait and listen for it.

The specific patterns of prayer that we call contemplative are just a means to an end. And that end is a posture of listening, an attentiveness to the voice of God. I find I can’t live without it.

(Next week: The blessings of contemplative prayer, alone and with others. Illustration: Me in Stockholm in my early 50s, by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife.)

In case you missed these last week, here are two articles I’ve written that relate to listening to God:

     Letting go of agendas so we can listen to God and others   
     Following Jesus each day 

Stories I ponder: The high cost of pretending to be someone we’re not

Friday October 20 2017

Stories I ponder: The high cost of pretending to be someone we’re not

Like most kids, I grew a lot in awareness of social patterns in junior high school. I entered junior high, seventh grade, at age 12, still really a child. We were living in Hampton, Virginia, and junior high school there lasted three years. I left ninth grade one month before I turned 15.

In eighth and ninth grades, I became increasingly aware of the popular kids, the football and basketball players who moved like gods through the school hallways, and the cheerleaders who accompanied them or who walked in clusters together looking popular and so cute. Even though I had some pretty good friends and wasn’t lonely, I longed to be popular.

Right after I finished ninth grade, we moved across the country to Washington State. I saw that move as an opportunity to remake myself.

When I started high school in Tacoma, I decided to pretend I had been popular in Virginia. I spoke with a slight Virginia accent after three years there, which people commented on with favor. I decided to cultivate an enigmatic and secretive air. A couple of months after I started high school, a cute boy called me “mysterious,” and I knew I had succeeded in my experiment.

In my first year of high school, I had my first boyfriend and my first kiss. Then a second boyfriend, who I liked very much and had a lot of fun with. I made friends with a couple of girls. All of these relationships, however, were based on my attempts to act as if I’d always been a popular person. I didn’t let any of these boys or girls see my true self.

In my second year of high school, I became involved with my third boyfriend, the first person I fell in love with. When he broke up with me after a few months, I was devastated. Because all my friendships were been based on my presentation of a false self, I had no good friends I could turn to in my pain.

In my third and last year of high school, I was the loneliest I’ve ever been before or after. I was extremely active in lots of activities at school, and I did a lot of babysitting to earn money, so I didn’t sit at home moping. I just didn’t have anyone close by to talk to, and the pain of feeling lonely and isolated was huge.

My best friend from childhood lived in Anchorage, and I got to visit her at Christmas of that last year of high school, and then again in the summer after I graduated from high school. I don’t know how I would have made it through that last year of high school without that Christmas visit and her deep love for me.

That lonely year taught me so much. Since then, I have always tried to be authentic in friendships. I have always shared honestly about whatever I’m going through with the people around me. In some instances I am quite sure the quantity of honest sharing has been too much, but vulnerability has nurtured deep relationships, which are a great joy.

I am so grateful for that painful year that taught me how important friends are and that honesty works better than pretense in nurturing friendships that mean something to me.

Because of that high school experience, I have done a lot of thinking about friendships and how they work. A few years ago I wrote a book on friendship, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. I excerpted a chapter from that book here on this blog, about initiative in friendships, and that series begins here.

May you enter into relationships with honesty and vulnerability. May you rest in the truth that God knows you and loves you, and may this truth give you the freedom to reveal a part of your inner self to others.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
   and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
   O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
   and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
   it is so high that I cannot attain it.
—Psalm 139:1-6    

(Next week: how I learned I was an introvert and why it matters so much. Photo: me in tenth grade, at the height of my popularity pretense. I was pretty cute, but of course I didn’t feel cute at the time. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Stories I ponder: Dave’s sister’s end of life

Friday October 13 2017

Stories I ponder: Dave’s sister’s end of life

My husband, Dave, had two sisters, Connie and Jinny, three and a half and one year older than Dave. Jinny got married at 16. Connie and Dave became good friends in the many teenage years they spent together in their home in Ohio.

Connie became a nurse and in her early 20s, she married a man from Philadelphia and moved there. He came from a large, close knit family. Over the years, Connie’s family allegiance naturally shifted to the relatives nearby.

When I married Dave, Connie and her husband had been married eight years and had just adopted a baby girl. Later they had a son. Over the next couple of decades, Connie came to several family gatherings in Ohio with her family when we were there, but our contacts with her were brief. Dave felt increasingly disconnected from the sister he had once been close to.

In 2008, Dave heard from his sister Jinny that Connie had been diagnosed  with stage 4 ovarian cancer. Dave called Connie. As they talked, he noticed that she felt very alone. She had been separated from her husband for many years. Her daughter and grandchildren lived a thousand miles away. Her son lived nearby, but he was very busy with his work.

Dave decided to call her weekly. In those first weeks of calls, he listened to her talk about looking for help from crystals and positive thinking. He listened as she recounted her struggles with chemotherapy.

A few months after they started talking, Connie told Dave that she had awakened in the night because she heard a voice calling her name. Somehow she knew the voice was Jesus.

In the months and years that followed, Dave continued to call Connie weekly. They usually talked for an hour. He supported her through three rounds of chemo. He listened to her talk about her fledgling Christian faith, precipitated by that moment in the night.

At first she wanted to look to Jesus AND crystals. Dave told her Jesus wants our sole allegiance, and after some time, she got there. Looking online, I found a church in her neighborhood and contacted the minister. Connie became a part of a women’s group at that church.

In September, 2010, Dave flew from New Zealand, where we were living, to Philadelphia to see Connie. He felt strongly led to do that, and the ten days they had together were a precious time of rediscovering the intimacy that they had as teenagers. They shared many childhood memories. Plus, now they shared a faith in Christ.

Connie died in April 2011.

Dave continues to be grateful that God nudged him to make a commitment to call Connie weekly for three years and to go visit seven months before she died. He’s even more grateful for that voice calling Connie’s name in the night.

I can suggest so many take-aways from this story. Here are a few:

  • God works in ways beyond our expectation and our comprehension. Our job is to rejoice, respond in obedience, and pray for more of his acts.
  • We must speak up like Dave did when we see people trying to follow Jesus and something else.
  • We should never completely lose hope about important relationships, even when it seems people have become very distant. God can change things.
  • We should always make that phone call when we are nudged to contact someone.

(Next week: the high cost of pretending to be someone we’re not. Photo: Connie and Dave at age 17 and 16. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

Last week I preached at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Seattle on staying motivated in caring for creation. A link to an audio recording is here if you have any interest.

Stories I ponder: How I changed my mind about women in ministry

Saturday October 7 2017

Stories I ponder: How I changed my mind about women in ministry

In my childhood, in the various places we lived, we went to church every Sunday, and the ministers were always men. The doctors and dentists we went to were all men. My dad worked, my mom stayed home to raise kids and keep the house, and all my friends’ parents had the same pattern.

Oddly enough, out of the five aunts I had, two of them worked full time. One was a secretary, like my mother had been before she got married, and the other one was a teacher. So as a child I dimly understood that some women – a very small number, mind you – worked outside the home in roles like secretaries or teachers. I literally had no picture in my mind, no ability to imagine, a woman working in any role other than a support role or a teaching position.

I became a committed Christian at 19, and soon after that a new InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff-worker came to my campus, Becky Manley (now Becky Pippert.) Becky took me under her wing, gave me all sorts of encouragement, and helped me grow in faith in so many ways.

Becky did a lot of speaking at our college fellowship group and at conferences. She was part of a staff team headed by a man named Fred Wagner. It was always clear to me that Fred was a strong and competent leader of the staff team, and I enjoyed getting to know him at conferences.

As I got closer to graduation, Becky and Fred invited me to join them on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I ended up serving as a staff worker for four years. In those years I often spoke to groups. I led retreats. I exercised a variety of teaching and leading roles, always under the umbrella of Fred’s leadership.

I got married in my years with IVCF. Dave and I left Seattle and served in Iran and Israel as self-supporting missionaries. I did a variety of leadership and support roles in our churches in the Middle East while pregnant and while our first son was young. Then we returned to Seattle, got back involved in our big Presbyterian Church. I taught adult Christian education classes there.  

In this overview of my life, I have now arrived at September, 1982, a life-changing moment. Our older son was almost 3 and our younger son was six months old. At this point in my life, I had never met a woman doctor, dentist, lawyer or ordained minister. I had led many small groups and spoken at many conferences, always under the oversight of a man.

I was aware that 1 Timothy 2:11 says that women should not teach or have authority over men, and I took comfort in the fact that all of my teaching and leadership has been directed by or encouraged by a man. So, with respect that that verse, I felt “safe.” But I definitely had questions.

Those questions motivated me to attend a conference at the Seattle Center sponsored by Christians for Biblical Equality. I arranged babysitting for my older son, and I took my baby with me each day. We sat in seminar after seminar. Sometime I nursed him while I listened intently. I collected handouts and articles.

The speakers talked about various possible interpretations of 1 Timothy 2, along with 1 Corinthians 11 and 14. They discussed the possible meanings of headship in Ephesians 5. They talked about the centrality of Galatians 3:28: “In Christ there is no longer . . . male or female.”

They talked about the fact that people of Jesus’ time accepted slavery, but the book of Philemon lay the groundwork for the abolition of slavery. In the same way, they argued, the people of Jesus’ time accepted leadership by men, but Galatians 3:28 and Romans 16 lay the groundwork for the equality of men and women.

Fifteen years after that conference, I was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, breaking every pattern I learned as a child. I could not have moved toward ordination, or thrived as an ordained minister serving a congregation, without the knowledge I gained at the Christians for Biblical Equality conference.

Resources can change our lives: conferences, books, seminars, classes, sermons, even conversations. Pray for yourself and for those you love, that God would bring life-changing resources into your life and their lives. Pray that God would use you in ways that change other people’s lives.

(Next week: my husband and his sister. Photo of me on my ordination day, 20 years and 2 months ago. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

You may be interested in an article of mine that recently received an award from the Australian Christian Press Association: To be a Neighbour Must Include Listening.

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Facing the Inner Darkness

Wednesday March 1 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Facing the Inner Darkness

Lent begins this week, on Ash Wednesday, March 1st. If you'd like to look over my Lenten devotional using a psalm for each day of Lent, you can download the pdf here.

As we grow in maturity, many of us experience increasing honesty about the powerful and dark forces at work inside of us that draw us away from God and from what we know to be good. In our early adulthood, we can often fool ourselves into the illusion that we are pretty good people, free of irrational anger, vindictiveness, all-encompassing fear, and petty desires. Many of us find that as we age, we experience all sorts of ugly emotions, and it is no longer possible to hide the truth from ourselves. We truly do have a lot of ugliness inside us. We realize the complexity of our inner emotions: rejoicing and content in God’s grace one moment, irritable and unpleasant the next.

With maturity many of us face our addictive behavior with new honesty. We begin to see more clearly the various counter-productive ways we have tried to fill the God-shaped vacuum inside us. We know our deepest longing is for God, yet over and over we choose food or shopping or pornography or alcohol or something else to try to satisfy that longing. Common to maturity on the journey of faith are honesty and humility in acknowledging the incredibly inappropriate ways we strive to fill our emptiness.

How can we change? How can we learn to live with our emptiness and longing, when all the cultural voices around us are telling us to hurry up and fill up that hole? Gerald May believes that we need to change the way we view life and come to understand that emptiness is a part of the earthly journey, a part that our culture will do nothing to affirm and everything to negate. As I expressed in the blog posts in this series about the Psalms, praying and pondering the Psalms has been a significant source of help, comfort and re-orientation in addressing this issue for me.

Gerald May, in his book The Awakened Heart, discusses the seeking and longing that characterize our lives.

Emptiness, yearning, incompleteness: these unpleasant words hold a hope for incomprehensible beauty. It is precisely in these seemingly abhorrent qualities of ourselves – qualities that we spend most of our time trying to fix or deny – that the very thing we most long for can be found: hope for the human spirit, freedom for love. This is a secret known by those who have had the courage to face their own emptiness. [1]

Gerald May writes that we are able to fall in love with life and enjoy each day when we learn to befriend our yearning rather than try to avoid it, when we enter into the “spaciousness of our emptiness” [2] rather than trying constantly to fill it up. This is easier said than done, but many Christians have described a kind of contentedness and peace that comes in accepting life as it is and looking for God’s presence in daily life, rather than constantly expecting God to make everything easy and nice.

Unfortunately, in our culture, we are encouraged to fill our longing for freedom, wholeness, and joy with countless material objects and endless thrilling experiences: clothing, cars, home furnishings, food, sex, alcohol, drugs, vacations, sports, and so forth. Our culture tells us that if we are experiencing desire of any kind, the most important thing to do is fill that desire with something – anything! – immediately. Thus we rush to satisfying our yearnings and cravings without sitting with them long enough to learn from them and to allow them to draw us towards God.

Seminary professor David Rensberger writes,

Although our hunger and thirst are for God, we are always trying to satisfy them with other things. . . . Indeed, our consumer society energetically organizes these means of avoiding the quest for God, offering us a false quest that is sustained with enormous force and skill by the engines of economy, media, and government.[3]

Rensberger believes that it requires an equal force and determination to resist our culture and cling to the truth of the Gospel that only in God can we find what we long for. How do we find in God what we long for? By facing our inner darkness, accepting it, bringing it to God (perhaps by praying the Psalms), relying on God’s grace and forgiveness, and resting in God’s love and presence with us through the Holy Spirit. These are all part of drawing near to God with the heart.

This is the fifth post in a series about Drawing Near to God with the Heart. Previous posts:
Introduction: Drawing near to God with the heart         
God woos us          
A journey with the Psalms           
Praying the Psalms        
God's presence through the Holy Spirit

(The series continues next week with "Tears."  Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, available in paperback here and on kindle here.)

[1] Gerald May, “Entering the Emptiness,” inSimpler Living, Compassionate Life, Michael Schut, ed. (Denver: Living the Good News, 1999), 48. (An excerpt from The Awakened Heart.)
[2] Ibid.
[3] David Rensberger, “Thirsty for God,” Weavings, July/August 2000, p. 23.

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