Greetings to the Holy People of God,
I once was blind but now I see. Are you familiar with that line from the hymn, “Amazing Grace”? Our Lead Team is asking you to take an adventure with us of writing your story of how the Holy Spirit has been working in your life. I wouldn’t ask you to take that risk without going there with you. So here’s a bit of my story, a practice run for me. I offer it, so that you may take the risk and write your story and then share your story at the Story Telling Retreat on October 6. Or if you are unable to make the retreat, please tell your story to someone you trust.
I was changed from being depressed to being joyful. I think I first began to recognize it with a simple devotional exercise, where the leader of the retreat asked me to imagine God looking at me with eyes of love. I know how to look at someone with eyes of love and it was a wonderful experience for me to imagine the loving gaze of God upon me and to just bask in God’s love. It was an exercise I did for many weeks and I continue to do. I tend to look to the negative side of things. My attention is drawn there. And with my attention drawn to the negative of what could go wrong or how to improve, or be strategic, I was missing the joy of moments that drifted before me. With my focus on the negative, I was also more prone to fear, frustration and resentment which does not leave much room for joy.
The Holy Spirit was persistent with this process of transformation. It was at Epiphany, the second Sunday in January, where I put a bunch of Epiphany words in a basket. These words would act as a star to guide us through the year. Words like love, support, hope, and friendship. The word that I drew out of the basket was the word “JOY”. This was to be the word that would guide me through the year.
I had a Christmas ornament, made out metal, rough in texture but yet sparkling that I kept before me and then I came across a devotion that talked about gritty joy. Yes that fit as I struggled to look for joy in the midst of the grittiness of life. So where I would first focus on the negative of a situation, the light of joy helped me to see more. The light of joy gave me more depth perception and helped me to be kinder and more patience. My capacity to love grew as I trusted God’s love for me and so did my joy.
I experienced this gritty joy, this transformation most clearly in my relationship with Gary. Do you remember Gary? About 4 years ago, I met Gary because he had taken up residence in King Park. So often I was exasperated, wanting to help, wanting to fix rather than just walking with him and living with the gritty joy of our relationship. The church became his address and my cell phone the number he would put down as contact information because Gary is homeless. So I was pulled into many conversations and realized that I was one of the stable people in Gary’s life. He trusted me.
What does this have to do with joy? I thought of Paul’s rejoicing in his letter to the Philippians from jail. There is a joy there that is beyond Paul’s ability that comes from God. Gary lives in a prison of sorts, with mental illness that keeps him out of a home for himself and yet he so wants to help others. We have an ongoing conversation about loving your neighbor as yourself. Gary loves his neighbor more than he loves himself. He would rather help fix a neighbor than do the hard work of caring for and loving himself. I can be like that too. It’s a hard journey. But God is faithful and joy helps to guide me. A joy that is not of my own making but a joy that is complex and complicated. It is a gritty joy that lives in the roughness of this world, where we are broken, where we each live in a sort of prison. Our confession says it well, “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” And the joy, the gritty joy is found in Jesus coming to us in our brokenness.
I can’t fix Gary. And I don’t know where he is most of the time. But I can walk with him for a time on this journey of brokenness and gritty joy because Jesus walks with us, meeting us in the depression, in the negative and in the places where all seems hopeless. The Holy Spirit has given me a joy that is not my own and a joy that I can share with you. You gave me the environment in which to cultivate this relationship. Because CTK has an Emergency Fund.
Pray with me this prayer that has become a favorite of the Lead Team and blessings to you as you put together your story.
O God you have called your servants to ventures on which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Believing It Boldly Loving Everyday,
Pastor Connie Spitzack