Desolate Places :: On Finding Time



“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you!” Mark 1:35-37
I read this verse recently while doing a devotional and had to laugh. I thought to myself “three decades in and I think I found my life verse.” In this season of life, it often feels like every attempt I make at finding a “desolate place” to pray is filled with distractions. When I find our spare room quiet, I often get giddy and try to settle in. And sure enough, within minutes my game of ‘Hide’ has grown legs and become a one round game of ‘hide and seek.’ This game lasts approximately 32.2 seconds, as my children have expert skills. With their finding me, they bring their requests. On the off chance I was wise enough to get them all settled, and I manage to make up my mind to set my phone down and away from my body, a few moments in, I hear it ping. One ping is no issue, I have resolve. But then it pings again. And again. And again. And it’s in the other room and I don’t know if it's urgent or if someone died or if my husband needs our single car…. And if it isn’t the phone or the kids, it’s a knock at the door, it’s our dog who has escaped, it’s remembering the garbage man is coming.

I often used to read about the life of Jesus and conclude that he was able to do the things he did because-well, he was God. He had the fully man part to contend with, sure, but he also had the reality that he had GOD in his body. I surmise, while he may have had these fleshy struggles as I do, he had more tools to fight them.

But my Jesus speaks to this and refutes such a claim. When he tells his disciples in John 14:12,  

"Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."
He silences my arguments.

How? He tells me this:  I have even more available to me than He did on this earth.

We live on this side of the cross. While men and women before Christ’s coming had access to the Father (and Christ as well, but not his finished work.) God appeared often and guided his people. We then see in the NT, Christ is made available to us in the most physical sense ever seen. He moved in next door. Then he took it further and made His relationship the father our relationship with the father. He moved us into his house.  His finishing work on the Cross is now ours, we’re sons now too. We don’t live in the wait of a savior King. We know him by name and we carry his name as ours. In fact, we claim his work as our redemption. We have him as Lord, and Savior.  As if it that weren’t enough, He does more.  He sends us his Holy Spirit to be our counselor and guide. He moves inside our souls.
We are able to do every bit of what he’s asked us to because he has done all the work to make it so. Any claim I have that 'he had easier' is silenced.

And so, I find my desolate place over a bunch of dirty dishes (actually, that feels like a perfect modern depiction of a desolate place...) because he doesn’t need an hour of silence to do his work in me. He lives in me. And while there’s still noise and everyone is still ‘looking for me,’ I’m learning, by his Spirit, how to pray anyway. How to pause and discern what must be done. In the evenings, in the mornings, in the in-between car rides…. There’s a million ‘desolate places’ the Lord has made available to us. And finding those minutes gives me a chance to do what he has shown us is worth our time: spending it with him.  

May I be a woman that seeks out desolate places and when I find them, speak his name.

Letters to self : to the weary one.



To the weary one,

Remember how you cried on the treadmill a few weeks ago? Not because you were sad, but because you remembered how your body pushed out a whole baby three times over and now you were running full speed like you did so long before all that? Remember the ache and the burning lungs and how the memory of what you've done allowed you to do the task in front of you? Remember the fire it lit in you and how then, when you got in the car, you gave a few wobbly air pumps to yourself and nodded at the holy moment that happened there.  You were weary then.

I want to remind you of a few things. I think you need the reminding. Let's keep going, 

Remember when you woke up the next morning exhausted? How your body screamed at you the rest of the day for your moment of glory?  Remember when you looked at the calendar and commented that this season was hard? and busy? and tiresome? and then your husband agreed? You both were weary then.

And remember how you loaded the dishes and did the late night grocery run and laughed at the kids jokes and homeschooled and scheduled the doctor appointments and fed the friends and told them you were doing fine because, you were doing fine? Remember how you cleaned up the dog and chased her down to the hwy more than once and went knee deep into the pond of that random neighbor (sorry neighbor) to get her and you didn't even say anything unchristian at her as she drenched your front in swamp scum as you carried her home? 

You were extra weary then and a little salty towards that stupid dog. 

(I love you, you stupid dog.)

But wait.....Remember how much you used to resent this work? How much you used to not be able to laugh at the absurdity? How much you used to grumble against the kids and the husband and the God you serve while scrubbing dishes?   Didn't he know your limits? didn't he know you didn't want a life like this? Didn't he know you were made for more than all these unseen lonely days?  Remember how you would sometimes scream at the ceiling?  Oh love, You were so terribly weary then.

And remember how your God was brutally kind enough to allow you to lose the life you worked so hard for but cherished so little? And remember how much he showed up in the heartbreak? in the weary of yesterday? Remember how you threw the things and cried red-faced and all the people you needed were there? And how they didn't look away? How they shared in the weary then?

These days you remind yourself constantly how 'it's not the load that weighs you down, but the way you carry it.' Recently you've decided that you've been saying it all wrong.

It's not the load that weighs you down, but who you think must carry it.

Remember how your Jesus says his burden is light? Why do you think he says that? 

Remember how your Jesus took naps? Stole away to the gardens? Allowed others to come to him? 

Why do you think he did that? 

and the freedom starts to grow, doesn't it? When you decide taking the nap is acting like Jesus. When you become okay with not keeping up for the approval of the friend and the neighbor. When you decide that the Lord is not so bent on your productivity or your performance as you are. When you step out of the race, out of the running. Let the other ones get the gold and the silver. When you embrace 'basic' as you jokingly report your newfound self to your husband.

You still find yourself weary, though. don't you? Because as we've said, you're still very limited. These bones and this flesh and this brain with its broken tendencies... ...Yes, still weary. Mostly because you've three kids in tow through lovely young years and a kind husband whose job requires much. You're still weary because your heart has always ached for the world and it still groans in its waiting for it all to be made right. You're still weary because Jesus hasn't come back yet. and family still dies and some friends take their own life and the hard just keeps coming up and there's always something new that's broken that you need to pray for. You're still weary because the life you've been given is beautiful but the thorns are real and cut deep. You're running along, but you've got a bit of a limp.

And so, weary one, let me remind you a few things, just incase you forget tomorrow. We both know the weary will still be there for you, but so will these truths: 

1.) Weary people still laugh. And they still dance and they still run. and they still rest. and they even hope for tomorrow. I know it because I've seen you do it and the Bible gives us permission to.. And the weary still show up to the work they get to do and if they can't get it all done, it'll be there tomorrow. There will be joy tomorrow, too.

Even in the garden there was work. Be mindful to not resent the work that came with the gifts your God has given you.

2) Weary and melancholy and ambivalent and all the other words that might fit your heart on certain days do not change the ever present reality that our weariness will soon lead to the fruit of a life poured out. These are momentary struggles. It's all fleeting, love. And the fruit of that labor will be sweet not for its results, but for the Jesus you're offering it to. Don't you see? You've already been declared good and faithful. Now you get to live the future reality in this present one.

3) The Lord knew that we'd have trouble-he guaranteed it. And yet he chose to still drench the world and our lives with beauty. Pay attention, please. The world is bursting with it. And if that weren't enough, he told us He'd keep us company through all this. Can you believe it? He doesn't ask us to perform for him, but walk with him. We don't have to worry for tomorrow, he plans on being there too. 

4) It isn't our job to steady our gaze on all the broken bits. There are plenty out there who spend their whole lives doing it. Many of your christian friends have sadly forgotten they bring good news, and have chosen to focus on the other...That's not your job. Pay attention to the true, good, admirable, profitable, lovely and the trustworthy. You're a 'go and tell' gal. Tell the good news, leave the rest to the rest. Find the Justice. Pursue the Mercy. Point out the Beauty and Count the fruit. We get to co-labor by speaking life and showing up. Your words count and your gaze becomes you.

5) You actually do have what you need to do the work that God has called you to. 
You are absolutely right that you don't have what you need to do the work of your neighbor. And as you gaze at what he/she has accomplished, it makes sense that you'd be found wanting. Question your focus if you start to find yourself in scarcity mindset. "Not enough time/resources/energy/money/beauty/charisma/education/material wealth" It's all wrapped up in the same misalignment. 

Be careful with that. The work that's yours to do is still there even as you gaze elsewhere and you're still called to be faithful to the gifts you've been given. If it feels like too much, measure what He's actually called you to. Does your Lord Require you to fret for the approval of others? Is the work that causes you to yell at the children and grumble at the husband the good work he's called you to? Are you so busy 'blessing the neighbor' that you're harming the ones living inside your home with your expectations? This isn't good, love. If you keep it up, you'll be joyless and weary, and missing out on quite a bit of magic in front of you. 

6) Get good at being okay with being unseen. I think it'll decrease the weary by much. I know it's not really true to your millennial-ness, but I think you'll benefit from it. The Lord is often in the unseen, don't you think? and I think you'd agree that you walk away from your time in those places much less hopeless than when you're producing proof of your work.  Don't fret. He already sees. 

7) Fruit can't be produced if the plant isn't rooted in good soil. It's a reality we all know well yet still need the reminding. Pay attention to where you're rooted, especially in these weary seasons. You have more needs spiritually when life is hard. Pay attention. Celebrate when you can see holy spirit work in yourself and in your people. Measure your life by it. 
Soon enough, we'll hang up the phrase 'weary' and we'll enter into forever rest. Soon enough we'll wake up and find as the Gray Haven's sing that 'the water we were drinking brought us back to life.' 

Until then, may we laugh at the days to come and remind ourselves of what we know is true. We know how the story ends.

From a Christian Cynic to another : A letter on Holy Week


A number of years ago I stared down at a green carpet in a dimly lit room. Listening to music that was a bit too loud, if I'm honest. The songs were about a Christ-a God with us-who conquered the grave. Everyone was standing, but I wasn't. I had my head down and I kept thinking. "what am I doing here? I don't know if I even believe this."

That day was Good Friday, the day Judeo-Christians contemplate the heaviest parts of what they claim. It's the most unjust day of the year, if you think about it. It's a day to commemorate when the God-man who did no wrong by any proper court is made guilty by those whom he made. For those crimes, he's sentenced to death. In Roman Culture, he was granted the most humiliating death they had available.  But what's more, we claim, he didn't just pay the price of a crime he did not commit, surrounded by fellow criminals. No, much more.  His own father, the God of the universe, had him pay the price for all crimes forever forward and past. God Almighty poured out the wrath to fulfill his character of justice on every assault, every unkind word, every lie and every sin. We can never fully process what this transaction would cost.... and in the progression of such wrath, the narrative tells us he gets pierced in his side and left to suffocate after having his flesh ripped apart. Through it all, he's jeered at and scoffed at. It's shameful. It's abhorrent. His agony is evident. And we call it a part of holy week.

It's a heavy day for anyone who claims Christ because what we claim is that we put him there. We lay claim to the fact that we've done things worth causing a man to be beaten and murdered and shown disgrace and wrath. Part of the pain he felt was our own doing. If we feel ourselves not quite so guilty, we haven't laid hold of the fullness of it. Our texts tell us that it is for our transgressions he was put there.

I once had a friend ask me "what is the punishment if you hit your sister? Just once?" I said something along the lines of 'a time out or some reprimand?'

 "and if you hit your teacher?" ..."suspension I suppose."

He continued "and how about the president of the U.S.? If you punch him?" Not sure where he was going, I offered up the obvious "jail, federal prison?"

"And what if you punch the God of the Universe? Just once?" his point then being made obvious.

Have I ever done wrong? I have. The penalty would be too great for me to ever pay. My transgressions put my Christ there.

It's a heavy day for me for added reasons. I'm not sure why, but almost every single year I struggle deeply with my faith leading up to Easter. The cynic in me really shows up in best form and the struggle of it all makes me wonder if  I'll be raising a palm branch or jeering come Sunday. I cry a lot this week.

One year, Easter came shortly after we celebrated a birthday of a baby we didn't get to hear cry.  We bought donuts and blew out a tiny candle. Any praise felt bitter tasting for months after. Death felt too unconquered on that Good friday.

One year, one of my parents had debilitating back pain that did not heal for ages and countless prayers and desperate pleas. Pain felt too real on that Good friday.

One year, our marriage was showing very little signs of any hope and the Christ they told us would 'hold us together' didn't seem to be doing much at all. "A God with us" felt like a mocking statement that Good friday.

One year, I saw ugly things in the church that made me cynical (as if I needed any help.) The heartbreak and bitterness were strong in me. Thinking on the phrase 'he makes us all new' felt like a lie that Good friday.

One year a pandemic swept through keeping everyone indoors and away from their people and thousands dying.

Oh death where is thy sting?

Some days, I feel like I know exactly where it is.

But, Easter Sunday comes.

 I don't have much advice for the christian cynic to convince you of much. There are better theologians than I. A quick google of "desiring god, seasons of unbelief" will help a little. I know because I've searched.  But I will offer what I've found helpful.

Show up anyway.

My cynical self shows up on Sunday.  The words of praise feel weighty and at first they feel too costly. It feels raw to praise...and perhaps that's the point. I often ask the same thing I asked a long time ago? "Do I really believe this?"

Despite it all, Easter is and will always be my favorite holiday. This day is a day where we Christians go so bold as to claim death is finally dead. We claim it while death is facing us and reaching us and we can almost smell its coming.  I've claimed it while I had a baby dead in my womb. It's as if we call out victory while still running into battle. It feels naive, and yet we are told it's not. It's a confidence that seems unfounded until we realize it is not our act of faith that makes it true. Our confidence is found in the one who lives above time and space and tells us what will be.

Death will be dead.

During the service, we often have baptisms (a 'coming out' for believers where they declare their faith to their new family of fellow Christians.) and I bawl my eyes out at the hope we are proclaiming. We are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. It feels scandalous when we think on it long. Christ has begun his good work and will not stop until completed. We're his and it's not up to our striving, its all his glory. It's all his grace.

We have communion.  Breaking off bread and drinking wine and declaring that through Christ and what he's done we get to be here. We get to lay claim to the inheritance we don't deserve.

We all raise a riot of thanks as we realize that if all this is true, we're in the final chapters of the story and he's coming again and we can truly lay hold of what he promises. It's a foreshadowing to a day I long for more and more with each passing year. Can you imagine? When all his 'bride' (his church) comes together to worship him? When all is made right?

But when I wake up on Sunday morning, before I get to that service, I get dressed, often in something new, and I look in the mirror and I'm reminded.

I'm reminded of this creature that I am and I see what has yet to be made new. There are whispers in my mind "you're a fool." I'm reminded of the babies that didn't cry, the parent that still has the back pain, our marriage which still shows deep signs of the fall, the times I screamed at my kids, the people still unkind and the disease that still makes a claim. "and you think death is dead? "

This year, It whispers a bit louder as my phone buzzes to remind me daily that death is claiming my neighbors. As my husband and I have to work through the challenges of living so close so often. It whispers louder, "you sure Britt? You sure Christ has done anything to make you new? To make anything new?"

It feels foolish to claim some invisible anchor gives us hope. Doesn't it?  It feels foolish to claim that the Jews, some ancient people, were chosen by God, their creator and that from one of their own a Messiah-a man who was at the same time fully God- would come down and choose to heal a bunch of people who didn't care about him. That'd he'd feed those who would give nothing in return. That'd he'd laugh and bless and heal... then show up in a city where he knew he'd be betrayed, spit on and hoisted onto two wooden planks and nailed there naked to suffocate and bleed out. It's foolish to think that this man would do this and it would mean our everything.

As C.S. Lewis says Christ is either a liar, a lunatic or Lord. We know he lived, sources other than the bible prove that. The real question is if we believe how he lived.

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

And this is where I start to grow hope..I remember Peter.

"So Jesus asked the Twelve, "do you want to leave too?" Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom  would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God."

What other hope do we truly have? Have we not tried all the rest?

If you ever ask me what verse is 'mine.' I would tell you it would be be found in mark 9. Not because I find it particularly cool sounding, but because it explains my entire life.

In it, this boy is super sick with some sort of tremor or possession and his dad asks Jesus to do something about it.

Jesus asked the boys father, "How long has been like this?" "From Childhood," He answered. It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

"If you can?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for one who believes."

Immediately the boys father exclaimed," I do believe; help my unbelief!"

Come Sunday and today, and tomorrow, here's where you'll find me.

To the questions of doubt, I reply.  "Britt, where else can we go?"

I'll open my mouth and sing hymns and songs written by people who have faced much heavier circumstances. I'll show up and apologize when I fail and when I struggle with the cynicism of it all,

I'll say in my spirit "I do believe, help my unbelief."

I know I'll find myself sitting in a pew or folding chair looking down at the floor on a Good Friday years from now asking myself familiar questions. I know that this cynic in me hasn't gone away.

But there is a day coming when rather than looking down at that carpet, I will find myself somewhere far more radiant. And then.  I will look up and I will see him. I weep at the thought of it.

And he  knows. He knows how hard we've fought together with this. I can already picture his face. His laugh.  How tight he's held me.  And I'll lay at his feet and praise him and laugh because the cynic is gone and he was right all along. Death has lost its sting. It was swallowed up in victory. He helped me in my unbelief.

So, to those who may be doubting our Jesus, I'd ask you.

Where else can we go? and I'd encourage you to ask him "help my unbelief."

And while you're at it, every year I post the same youtube video because it means so much to me.

As always, thanks for reading.