Observing the Day of Atonement

Here are some ways you can observe Yom Kippur this year, or the Day of Atonement.

You can choose to do one or all of these ideas; perhaps taking time as a family to read the Scriptures together. It’s meaningful to observe the day as a group, such as with your family or church community.

Fast
You can fast from food completely, or you can choose to eat simple foods with no embellishment or complex flavors. Plain chicken soup, vegetables and crackers or bread are common “partial fast” foods.

The reason food is so commonly fasted is that it is so closely tied to trust. At the core of our humanity is a desire to sustain ourselves; fasting is trusting God to sustain the body and nourish the spirit. Fasting shouldn’t be entered into without proper understanding, so if you are not ready to fast from food, you can choose to fast from something else.

Rest
Take a break from the usual harried schedule and entertainments for the day; limit use of tech and spend the extra time in prayer, worship and doing kind acts for others.

Alms
Collect money to give away to someone in need. Take this day to perform tasks for widows, the elderly and the disabled.

Discuss
As a family or group, talk about what you would like to do better going forward. Discuss how the Torah was not enough to make us holy; only the person of Christ can redeem us. Talk about the importance of being prepared for Christ’s return, not taking advantage of God’s grace in order to live a life of sin. Discuss: what is sin? What is trust? Talk about what trusting God looks like in daily life.

Read the following scriptures, or others that follow the same theme:

Isaiah 53

Psalm 24

Romans 3:21-26

Day of Atonement

For many adherents, the Day of Atonement is a significant observance, the holiest of all holy days. It’s a day of penance for the year’s mistakes and sins, traditionally a day of sacrifices, fasting and prayer. It’s also traditional to give alms, do good deeds for others, and spend time making amends and apologizing to those one has harmed.

My family has never observed this holy day, but I decided to study it this year in order to gain a more complete picture of the fall holy days and contemplate their significance. Christians don’t traditionally observe Yom Kippur because we are no longer required to make sacrifices once a year to atone for our sins. Jesus was the final sacrifice — his blood made us pure. We no longer need a high priest to pray for us or mediate between us and God. We now have access to the Father through the Holy Spirit, and when we are new in Christ we are permanently washed clean.

Still, Christians observe a practice of fasting and other spiritual disciplines, such as in the spring before Easter, a season we call Lent. Fasting is a way to quiet the heart, to set aside the carnal nature in order to seek God. For many, it’s a “spiritual reset,” and can be a powerful way to put faith in action, trusting God to sustain the body and nourish the soul.

There is also value in fasting as a group. We are more than individuals; we exist in community. Thinking of ourselves as primarily individuals is a relatively modern concept, and while knowing our identity is important, it must be understood in the context of our community. Ancient traditions are based on the shared story of the family. For Christians, we have a “completed” identity through Christ — and anyone may become a part of the family!

Now, though we are no longer in bondage to sin, we are on a journey to become more like Christ and to deepen our trust in God every day. We encounter so many opportunities for growth in the day to day. Fasting says to God, “I trust you to do this work in me.” It’s a powerful act of trust; opening ourselves up to God in childlike vulnerability.

At its core, isn’t sin always a lack of trust? From the very first sin, when a seed of doubt was planted in Eve’s mind, trust in God was eroded and faith in self grew stronger. This is truly the sin we wrestle with in the da-to-day. Do I trust myself, or do I trust God? I am finding in my own life that I lack trust so much more than I thought.

Some teach that Yom Kippur represents the second coming of Christ when he will return to judge the world. As believers, we thank God for the security we have in Christ and solemnly remember that we must remain awake and work out our salvation — this is not an opportunity to keep on sinning! Yom Kippur for us, then, can be a day of remembering to live our lives intentionally, keeping in mind the final day of judgment and being “wise bridesmaids” with plenty of oil in our lamps.

Tell us in the comments if you plan to observe this holy day with your family and community! Next week we’ll share ways you can acknowledge the day.

The day the world was born

For months I could feel him kicking inside me, ever determined from the womb. His due date, Rosh Hashanah, was drawing closer. The waiting was challenging, marked by periods of false labor that kept me awake, uncomfortable and ever alert for the real thing; rumblings of what was to come. I waited as patiently as I could: I cleaned my house, taking down light fixtures and blinds, vacuuming baseboards, rearranging the cupboards. We took long walks, and I balanced one foot on the curb and the other on the pavement, trying to help him come down. The crux of the waiting was the newness of every sensation; not knowing exactly what to expect, not knowing what the true pangs of labor would be like with my first child.

At our baby blessing, the prophecies people shared about him were compelling; he was to be a strong warrior of God, a truth-speaker, unafraid of challenges in order to rise to his calling to bring truth to his generation. In amazement I listened as they shared separately, words they didn’t prepare in advance together, but words that were woven together, forming a seamless tapestry of truth. Surely it was the work of the Holy Spirit.

We took the responsibility of choosing a name for this child very seriously. It had to have meaning, weightiness to shoulder the calling of his life. One kept returning to our minds that summer, a name we had seen on the cover of a book. It was an old Hebrew name that meant “to sing or shout.” To us, it represented the calling on his life to be a proclaimer of truth in a dark world.

And so when he was born, after rumblings for days, on the night before Rosh Hashanah, we named him Jaron. This boy, we knew, would proclaim Christ to his generation. He would bring hope to a dark world. He would be a strong voice in the midst of chaos.

My husband’s parents came to share a meal with us for his first “birthday” celebration; a special Shabbat with a sweet apple pie to look forward to a sweet year. I asked Nathan to read the prescribed Scriptures for the first night of Rosh Hashanah from our Complete Jewish Bible, a translation of the Bible that honors its Hebrew roots and gives us a broader understanding of the context in which it was written. In the back of this fairly old book there are torah portions to be read on appointed days, which we had never followed before. But tonight, it seemed like the right thing to do.

To our amazement, the scriptures chosen were all the familiar passages that relate to the birth of a chosen child. First, the birth of Isaac recounted in Genesis 21. Next, the story of Hannah’s prayer for a child and God’s fulfillment to her in 1 Samuel 1 and 2.

With tears in our eyes we celebrated the hope God gave us in the form of a strong, determined little boy. As the world seems to crumble around us, we know that in the next generation he is raising up warriors — we have seen the same strong spirit in the babies being born to our friends and family, as though God is building his army.

The story of Jaron’s birth will always make Rosh Hashanah a special time in our lives. As we prepare to celebrate our son’s first birthday, we are reflecting on the power of God and how his ways are accomplished in justice and truth. Our trust has been bolstered in the past year by what we have seen God do, and now we join with the believers to proclaim him Lord over all the Earth.

Apple Honey Challah

As with so many holidays, there are traditional foods that accompany The Feast of Trumpets. One of our favorites is this braided sweet loaf — a soft, buttery knot of soft bread, dotted with sweet apples that almost melt away. A slice of this bread, a little crispy on the crust but cloud-soft inside, spread generously with golden honey butter is a sure sign of a sweet year to come.

Apple Honey Challah

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen • Makes 1 challah

Challah
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon honey (divided)
1/3 cup neutral oil
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Apple filling
2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped into 1/2″ chunks
Squeeze of lemon juice, to keep them from turning brown

Egg wash
1 large egg


Make the dough: Whisk yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into 2/3 cup warm water and let stand a few minutes, until foamy.

In the bowl of a stand mixture, whisk together yeast mixture, oil, 1/3 cup of honey, eggs and yolk. Using a dough hook, add 4 1/4 cups flour and salt. With the mixer on a moderate speed, the dough Use dough hook on a moderate speed until it pulls all of the flour and wet ingredients together into a shaggy dough. Lower the speed and let the dough hook knead the dough for 5 minutes, until smooth, elastic and a little sticky.

Transfer dough to large bowl prepared with oil. Cover and let rest 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.


Turn dough out onto a floured counter and gently press it down into a flat, oblong shape. Spread 2/3 of apple chunks over 1/2 of the dough. Fold the other half over the apple chunks and press the dough down around them, flattening the now lumpy dough. Spread the remaining 1/3 apple chunks over half the folded dough. Fold the other half over the apples, pressing the dough down again. Your dough will now be a square. Fold the corners under with the sides of your hands and form the dough into a round. Cover and set aside for another 30 minutes.

Weave your bread: Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll and stretch each one as carefully as you can into a rope about 12″ long. Follow this video (much better than us trying to type these out):


Transfer the dough to a baking sheet prepared with parchment. Beat egg until smooth and brush over challah. Let rise for another hour. When it’s almost time to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake in middle of oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown. If it starts to get dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time. To determine if it’s done, check the inside with an instant read thermometer. The center of the loaf should be 195 degrees.

Cool on a rack before serving.


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Celebrating the Feast of Trumpets

Kingship, revelation, proclaiming of trust — Yom Teruah might just become my favorite autumn holiday. Post-Biblically, the holiday also began to represent the New Year festival, a celebration of the creation of the world. What a rich landscape on which to meditate!

The Feast of Trumpets is a day of proclaiming that God is king. It was established along with the other fall festivals in Numbers 29, to be observed as a time of blasting on the shofar. On this day of shouting, we shout along with the people of Israel to proclaim God’s power over every stronghold of the enemy. Jesus will return to judge the earth! This is our steadfast hope, and it’s our joy to announce him to the world and wake the sleepers. Make ready, he is returning!

Celebrating the birthday of the world also offers a rich opportunity for discussing the nature of God with our families. All that he created tells us something about himself.

Here are some ways you can celebrate the day:

• Make your own shofars! We pinned some ideas on Pinterest for you to try. You can also buy a $5 vuvuzela that makes a lot of noise (if you are brave)!

• Make a banner that says “He is Lord” or similar, a visible proclamation.

• Share apples dipped in honey, or apple Challah (recipe to follow!)
“His rulings are … sweeter than honey or drippings from the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19)

• Spend time in nature, especially if there is somewhere beautiful you can go, or visit a zoo or an aquarium. The wonders of nature are endless!

Tashlich is a practice of “casting away” our sins, bad decisions, and sorrows. It’s a way to make a fresh start for the new year, and to visualize how trusting God means letting go of our fears, sins and shame. Use breadcrumbs, pebbles or dried leaves to cast into water or into the wind.

• Have a special meal together, light candles, say a blessing over each other (below) and proclaim his lordship by repeating Scriptures or singing. There are many scriptures that are appropriate; try Psalm 19, Psalm 150, Joel 2, Jeremiah 31:1-19. Make a loud noise!

Blessing
May Adonai bless you and keep you.
May Adonai make his face shine on you and show you his favor.
May Adonai lift up his face toward you and give you peace.
(Numbers 6 CJB)


Books for children

Books give children a way to understand the essence of holy days through story and illustrations. Books about Rosh Hashanah and about the creation of the world are great choices for Yom Teruah!

The Creation • Brian Wildsmith
Brian Wildsmith’s illustrations are beautiful. Any of his other books about nature or animals would be wonderful to read as well.


Happy New Year, Beni • Jane Breskin Zalben

A Jewish family celebrates Rosh Hashanah and learns about forgiveness.


The Story of the Creation • Jane Ray

Text from the King James Version of the Bible alongside beautiful illustrations of creation.


Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise • Tomie dePaola

A song of thanks and praise for everything in the earth.

The Creation Story • Norman Messenger

A beautiful book about creation.


Happy Birthday, World • Latifa Berry Kropf

For the very littlest, a board book introduction to Rosh Hashanah.


Shout to the Lord!

In just a few days we celebrate the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah). In Rabbinic literature and tradition, this holiday has become Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year. It’s not clear when the Day of Shouting, as it’s also called, became the New Year celebration, as these are not connected in the original institution of the holy day in Leviticus and Numbers. As we study the two traditions, there are many beautiful overlapping traditions we may draw upon to celebrate the holiday meaningfully.

Yom Teruah is a day of proclaiming that God is king of the world. It was established along with the other fall festivals in Numbers 29, to be observed as a time of blasting on the shofar; a day of rest and public prayer.

Rosh Hashanah (“The Head of the Year”), observing the Day of Trumpets as a celebration of the New Year, has been a traditional practice for centuries and is considered the “birthday of the world,” a commemoration of the earth’s creation. Others believe it is also the time when Christ will return to establish the new heavens and the new earth.

You may associate apples and honey, pomegranates and challah with Rosh Hashanah, as they are traditionally eaten on the holiday to bring in a sweet new year. On Rosh Hashanah it is also traditional to perform a blessing of the children; participate in tashlich, or casting away of sins; and to have a special family meal. Children enjoy making and blowing their own shofars. It’s truly a special celebration!


As I learn more about these holidays this year, I am seeking to integrate the central meaning of the holy day into my spiritual growth, to better understand the nature of God.

Researching the holiday of Yom Teruah, I was reminded of an unrelated story; the unforgettable telling of Joshua and the people of Israel encountering the impervious city of Jericho. In Joshua chapter 6 we read:

“Yericho had completely barricaded its gates against the people of Isra’el — no one left, and no one entered. Adonai said to Y’hoshua, “I have handed Yericho over to you, including its king and his warriors. You are to encircle the city with all your soldiers and march around it once. Do this for six days. Seven cohanim are to carry seven shofars in front of the ark. On the seventh day you are to march around the city seven times, and the cohanim will blow the shofars. Then they are to blow a long blast on the shofar. On hearing the sound of the shofar, all the people are to shout as loudly as they can; and the wall of the city will fall down flat. Then the people are to go up into the city, each one straight from where he stands.” (Joshua 6:1-5 CJB, click to read the rest of the story!)

The people of Israel obeyed God and the result was astounding. The walls were flattened, the city taken — an amazing display of God’s power. This story shows us spiritual parallels, as many of the Old Testament stories do. When I read it, especially with the upcoming holiday in mind, I think of the many strongholds God casts down to proclaim himself lord in our lives. He is infinitely powerful to break down every wall enclosing us and lay waste to the false security we build for ourselves in worldly strength. He is powerful over seemingly hopeless circumstances. At his word, the earth shakes.

On this day of shouting, we shout along with the people of Israel to proclaim God’s power over every stronghold of the enemy; his kingship and glory over all the earth. There’s something about proclaiming truth as a group. Speaking forth the authority of God into the earth is revelatory — remember this scripture: “Trust comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through a word proclaimed about the Messiah.” (Romans 10:17 CJB). This is a day of proclaiming: waking the sleepers, encouraging the hopeless, calling God to our defense and declaring him Lord of the universe.

Read also Psalm 20 — I don’t have room to re-share it here, but what a beautiful, victorious Psalm that captures the heart of Yom Teruah.

Fall festivals

As summer quickly turns into fall, we begin the yearly festival cycle anew. I like to think of the year as a “wheel” with summer at the bottom and winter at the top. The festivals we celebrate in the fall begin the annual cycle and turn the wheel as we journey through life. Repetition of these celebrations keeps the story of our heritage ever alive in our minds, and causes us to return to the scriptures and traditions that teach us trust. Celebrations like these also create wonderful opportunities to teach our family’s story to our children, giving them the gift of a rich sense of identity and shared meaning. This year we’ll be sharing books, recipes and activities to help you celebrate the holidays with your little ones.

Beginning in September, we celebrate three feasts from the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament. Jews also observe these feasts, because their sacred texts include some of our Old Testament books. Jewish tradition is accented with rabbinic commentary and interpretation of the scriptures, and their holidays are observed in accordance with those traditions. We observe these holy days in a different manner; to us they represent Jesus the Messiah. We are not authorities on Jewish tradition, though there may be some overlap in the style of our observances. While we hold Jews in the highest respect, we don’t wish to imitate their holy days. The holy days we share in common are only those we each find in our shared scriptures. For that reason, I’ll refer to the shared holidays as “Hebrew feasts” since they come from the original Hebrew Scriptures. Others, like Hanukkah, we don’t observe because they are post-biblical Jewish holidays with no Christian precedent.

Many of the Hebrew feasts bear significance to believers in Jesus the messiah because they point to his coming or other aspects of prophecy. Hebrew feasts are grouped in the spring (including Pesach and Shavuot, what we know as Pentecost) and fall, with a period of time in between (which, interestingly, the Christian church observes as “ordinary time” or Kingdomtide). As summer comes to a close, we prepare to observe the fall feasts:

• The Day of Trumpets (Evening September 6 – Evening September 7)
• The Day of Atonement (Evening September 15 – Evening September 16)
• The Feast of Shelters (Evening September 20 – Evening September 27)

The dates of these festivals vary based on the moon; these are the dates for 2021.

In my studies I was fascinated to learn that some teach that the groupings of feasts represent the first and second comings of Jesus. As we have seen, Passover clearly shows symbolism of Messiah, and next year we are planning to go more in depth on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came, which is celebrated at the time of the Hebrew festival of Shavuot. This means that we can expect to see second-coming symbolism in the feasts we’ll celebrate this fall.

First on the calendar will be the Day of Shouting, also known as the Feast of Trumpets, in Hebrew known as Yom Teruah. Post-biblically, the festival began to be celebrated as the Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah. Many traditions have sprung up around Rosh Hashanah. For us, the Day of Shouting symbolizes the announcement of Jesus’s second coming. It’s a time to declare his Kingship over the whole earth, and to proclaim him to the world. It’s a time of fearless proclaiming of his lordship.

Next, we celebrate The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. This day symbolizes the judgement that will occur when Christ returns, and it is a solemn observance. In much the same way as we observe Lent in the spring, we take an opportunity at Yom Kippur to reflect on our need for Christ and the price paid for our sin.

Finally, we celebrate once again with the week-long Feast of Shelters (Sukkot). This represents the wedding feast with Jesus, the celebration of his return to finally claim his bride, the church. We celebrate in temporary shelters, remembering the temporal nature of this world, and imagining the someday-soon when we will celebrate in New Jerusalem’s palatial banquet halls.

As we journey through this part of the calendar, I hope you’ll find meaning and joy in these special days. Each year I discover a treasure of new meaning in the ancient holidays, meaning that brings me and my family closer to God and teach us about his love.


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Start now

I add another box of books to the pile in my bedroom and look around at the mess. There’s no where else for these to go, and our bedroom is slowly being buried with things that have to be kept out of the baby’s reach. We recently moved him into his own little bedroom, where our office was before. That meant a total rearranging of the apartment, and our beloved tiny home is starting to feel a little cramped now.

I’m the sort of person who likes everything just so. I had a little workspace with my sewing machine set up, in the small bedroom where we kept our office. I could work there while baby played near me, an arrangement we both quite liked. The desk doubled as a place to write, where I could leave projects out to return to again and again. Now I use the large kitchen table, and stop work many times a day to move everything around. It’s not ideal. As everything is changing in my life, I find I keep saying that — It’s not ideal!

But real life is so seldom ideal, is it? Real life is seldom just so. Picture-perfect, we find, is staged and cropped and filtered; image 12 of 23 bad snaps. In real life, we don’t have just the right tool or just the right setting, but we have so many dreams and plans.

I am running several businesses from home while I stay home with my little boy. At the same time, my husband is working for a crazy number of construction clients while he remodels a house and builds two apartment buildings on his own. We’re both stretched to our capacity, and beyond. We are not in the ideal place for any of it, really. Ideally, we would have more education, more resources, more sleep, and a lot more free time. But if we waited for those circumstances, we would miss out on a lot of growth. In the stretching, we’re being sharpened, and we’re learning how to grow and adapt to meet the demand. We don’t do it all perfectly; we drop a lot of balls. But we learn best by doing. We learn what works, and what doesn’t. We learn systems that help us get the most done and above all, we keep our purpose and values in mind to help us make decisions.

Please, don’t hear me saying you should be crazy busy like us. At this time in our lives, it’s a necessary evil but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. The point I’m making is that you can’t wait for life to be perfect in order to do the important work of your life. Remember Joseph? He was in a less-than-ideal place for many years: prison. Even there, however, he lived his purpose. The scripture says that Adonai prospered everything Joseph did. There was a purpose for his life — we often say “a calling.” And just because circumstances worked out poorly, God didn’t stop using Joseph’s gifts for good.

The work of our lives to build the house of our emotional wellbeing, our families and our community is work that can’t wait until everything is ideal. It’s the work that happens in the day to day, underpinning everything else. Often, especially in times of waiting and uncertainty, it’s difficult to know that our lives have impact. But in these times, important things are being built.

There’s no list I can give you of ideal things that will help you build your house. I can’t write a formula that gives you measurable results. I can’t tell you to have someone over for dinner once a week, or to spend twenty minutes of quality time with each of your children a day, or to start a Bible study group. There’s no formula because our houses aren’t supposed to all look the same.

No matter where you find yourself in life, you can start building with what you have. You can take ownership of your life and start making it beautiful. You can construct walls and boundaries, furnish with beautiful thoughts, and lay out a welcome mat of vulnerability and trust. You can light a candle of hope, look into someone’s eyes as they speak, send a card with words of encouragement and wisdom.

No matter what your particular gift is — be encouraged. You’re in the right place to use it. It doesn’t have to look perfect. You don’t have to have a string of credentials behind your name to be who you’re supposed to be. If you’re an encourager, you’re going to find ways to encourage. If you’re a worshipper, you don’t need a stage to worship. If you’re a prophet, you’re going to see the need to speak out. If you’re a pastor, you’re going to take care of people.

Don’t second-guess the calling God has on your life. I’ve been in seasons where I confuse someone else’s calling for my own, trying to fit into a mold that doesn’t work. It’s only recently that I’ve realized the things I’ve done all my life that come naturally to me are what I’m made to do. (Writing is one!)

For a long time I was afraid of doing it imperfectly; saying it wrong, being awkward, getting rejected. For a perfectionist like me, it’s hard not to be polished and put together and to know all the answers. But the only way to learn is to do, even if that means we make mistakes.

So don’t wait until everything is just so. Get ready, then aim, then fire — on your mark, get set, go.

Start now.

The contented heart

It was a summer day, and we woke up to rain. Nothing to be done about that, we set aside our plans. I brought out my sewing machine, glad to have a chance to tackle a long-awaited project. Baby built block towers, looked at books, and emptied the kitchen cabinets of their contents. Together we ate strawberries and listened to music, and the day passed in what turned out to be the best way of all.

Contentment, I think, is a rainy summer day. Life has a way of stopping our ideals short, disappointing our hopes and making hash of the best laid plans. Worse, it can bring heartbreak, trauma and unspeakable grief. How and why should we be content in the face of the inevitable challenges of life?

The scriptures aren’t silent in this discussion. In fact, it seems that the theme of contentment is central to our life as believers. It’s essential to be content in our lives so that we’re available to be “kingdom” in the world. Contentment is finding yourself “full” in Christ, like the feeling after a delicious meal. It’s a call to be present in the moment, satisfied, lacking nothing. Only then are we able to be fully present, tuned in to Holy Spirit and listening for how we can serve in the moment.

Paul wrote this in the letter to the Philippians:

“In union with the Lord I greatly rejoice that now, after this long time, you have let your concern for me express itself again. Of course, you were concerned for me all along, but you had no opportunity to express it. Not that I am saying this to call attention to any need of mine; since, as far as I am concerned, I have learned to be content regardless of circumstances. I know what it is to be in want, and I know what it is to have more than enough — in everything and in every way I have learned the secret of being full and being hungry, of having abundance and being in need. I can do all things through him who gives me power.” Philippians 4:10-13 CJB

We can see that in the context, verse thirteen means that in any situation, whether ideal or adverse, it’s possible to be at peace. God gave Paul power to rest in any circumstance, though at the beginning of verse ten Paul is rejoicing greatly that someone has finally been able to meet his needs. We see, then, that contentment is a state of power, not an absence of need.

“Contentment is a state of power, not an absence of need.” @theholydaysblog

There are so many enemies to our contentment; barriers to our ability to take up our power of peace in the midst of our harried lives. I realize social media gets relentlessly bashed, but there’s certainly a negative effect from the constant barrage of ads that can’t be ignored. We’re being pummeled with content every day, telling us to buy more, do more, be more. If contentment were to nudge its way into our consciousness it’s instantly squashed again by the nagging fear of lagging behind.

I’ve had dear friends whose dreams seem to be on hold, desires from God that don’t seem to be getting anywhere in spite of their best efforts. It’s difficult and often heart-wrenching to be in that waiting space, between what is and what should be. It’s the hardest thing to feel powerless in bringing about the much-needed changes in your life.

It reminds me of the years Joseph spent in prison, between his visions of kingship and his eventual release. When he was in the cell, how could he know what was going to happen? But even there, God gave him grace. In prison, Joseph gained favor with the guard and was even put in a position of authority over the other inmates. The purpose God had for him wasn’t put on hold. Joseph had an opportunity, even in his waiting, to be fully alive. Prison is the ultimate symbol of waiting, literally at the mercy of others, but the power of contentment is that we can be used “in the meantime,” right where we are.

Content, as we can see, doesn’t mean complacent. Complacency is lax inaction, an inability to live with awareness in the present while disregarding its impact on the future. It’s letting that jail cell tell us it’s time to give up.

Let’s choose to seek contentment like a rainy summer day: a welcome break, a pause in the harried noise of life. A chance to be present in the moment, perhaps to practice the skills we’ll need to fulfill our greatest calling. Let’s live in the hope of the freedom of Christ, and be fully satisfied in him. Even when life is hard, let us find the power within us to be content.


Building walls

Like a city breached, without walls,
    is a person who lacks self-control. Proverbs 25:28 CJB

Another way to think of self control is self direction. As I wrote in my last post, self control isn’t about stopping yourself from doing things, it’s about setting yourself on the path you want to go. Which means saying “no” to other paths, other opportunities, and committing to a direction.

Lately I’ve been studying about boundaries, a topic I’ve touched on here before. Boundaries are like fences (like the one in the photo above keeping the cows safe, fed and out of the way of motorists). We can also think of boundaries as the walls of the house we are constructing. Without walls and boundaries, the city is breached, the house is ransacked. There’s no protection for those inside. Healthy boundaries with ourselves and others are the first step to effective self control.

Recently, I had to go on an elimination diet for medical reasons. For a month I went without gluten, dairy and eggs to see if I had any allergic reaction on reintroducing them. In the end, I didn’t discover any allergies but along the way I learned something interesting about myself. Turns out I am very uncomfortable having people make allowances for me. I hated feeling like a “nuisance” and having to speak up about my needs and refuse things people offered me. I hated offending my kind friends, and I realized that I’ve taken great pride in my ability to go with the flow and not cause drama. I’d always seen it as a virtue, the virtue of needing nothing and becoming invisible.

Humility, wrote C.S. Lewis, is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. It’s tempting to take pride in our lack of boundaries, thinking ourselves martyrs to a greater cause. But without a framework, the sacrifices we make mean nothing — and if they lead to secret pride, they’re harmful.

Building walls after years of letting them be torn down and trampled over can feel like “being mean” and pushing people away. But as I’m learning with my son, boundaries are necessary for communicating love, and they lead to confidence and security in our relationships. Toddlers are meant to look for the limits — that’s a normal part of their development. They’re supposed to say “no” and test our rules. They are learning who they are as a separate person from mom and dad. They are developing into an individual, and finding their place within the family and the community. As I raise my little one, I have to say “no” more firmly and more often than I enjoy. But if I only listen to my own comfort and his temporary emotions, he’ll never develop a strong confidence in his identity. He’ll never feel secure with me because I’ll be unpredictable. And he won’t learn how his actions impact those around him.

It’s also important for us to learn to say no to ourselves. This helps us take responsibility for our own needs. It isn’t someone else’s job to make me happy or take care of my daily obligations. As in the example with my son, my role in parenting him is to take care of the things he isn’t able to do himself, but my goal is to raise him to take care of himself. At this point I brush his teeth, bathe him, and give him snacks but as he grows he takes more and more responsibility for his own “house.” It can be difficult to see the line between our own responsibility and someone else’s, but effective walls keep things inside as much as they keep things out. My boundaries aren’t working if I place the burden of my needs and feelings on others.

I’m sure we all have a long way to go, I know I do. I have a hard time gathering the courage to speak up for what I need, just like when I was on a special diet. But if I can’t learn to control my “house”, or my self, I’ll be vulnerable to the enemy who is looking for a way inside. Without boundaries, the house is unprotected. Without direction, the ship will drift. Self control means bringing these together, under God’s lordship, and seeking his strength to stay on the right path.