Through The Wilderness: Following Jesus in the 21st Century ~ Marlena Graves
Sharpening perceptions of reality and providing spiritual guidance for those in the crux of wilderness experiences. Substantial spiritual nourishment for those who know or sense that Christ is anything but shallow. Encouraging readers to radically (which to Christ is normal) serve God and others.
The author is teaching herself and others to read the world through the lens of the gospel and to become active participants in the local and worldwide body of Christ.
We must remember that praying is much more than we
are often taught.
too that your soul groans and that you can pray through silence. Your
wonder at God's earth, your thankfulness for friends, your service to
them, your listening ear, your heart that leaps for joy at goodness and
weeps over evil--it is a life of prayer. If prayer is a conversation
then there are times when you will be listening. Maybe it's your turn to
listen. I know I've been in that situation. The soul that loves God
communes with him...it's sort of like being in a room with someone you
love. You don't always have to speak...but there is a closeness.
I’m excited to introduce you to my friend Marlena Graves. Marlena is a writer and mom of two who works at Cedarville University. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog and is involved in Renovare. Listen in on our candid conversation about what it takes to “flourish” — and how to make it through wilderness times.
Marlena, welcome! Tell my readers a bit about yourself.
I contemplate, write, and speak about the eternal implications of our life in God. I am a lover of beauty (especially the beauty of my family and creation) and a justice seeker — trying to overcome evil with good. In addition, I seek answers to these types of questions: What does abundant life look like (John 10:10)? If God is good and we are his deeply beloved children and safe in his kingdom, how then should we live?
"From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us." Acts 17:26,27
(Homeless man in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo by Andrew Brown - Wikimedia Commons)
His grandma didn't want him. At fourteen, he ate her out of house and home. He took food from the cupboards without asking. So, she abandoned him. Turned him out. He ended up in a homeless shelter. All alone. Without God and without hope in the world. Because of strict regulations about who qualifies for housing, the shelter could only keep him for two weeks.
As the two week mark approached, the shelter called Children's Services repeatedly. "You need to take him," the counselors implored. "He's a sweet boy." Children's Services wouldn't come. And they wouldn't come. They just wouldn't come.
Not even Children's Services wanted him.
Finally, word got up to the top of the ladder of Children's Services; they came to pick him up. He was placed in a foster home. That night, the father of the home had a cardiac arrest. They couldn't keep him. Children's Services came again. This time they acted swiftly in order to put him in another home.
I hope it's a good one.
I hope it's a home where there is some semblance of love and goodness and safety and routine. A home where he won't know the utter despair of being unwanted. Of being despicably worthless in the eyes of those closest to him.
I don't know this boy. I only heard his story, a true story, and sobbed and sobbed. Sobbed my guts out for the millionth time this summer. What can I do? I so desperately want to do something. My insides constrict. They choke up as I write these sentences. Tears spill onto my face. The travesty of it all. The hell of it all. I hold my daughters. They know my love. This is what I want for this boy and all the children and people like him.
I don't know his name; that's confidential. But he has lodged himself in my heart. I pray for him. I beg God to make himself known to him, since God is not too far away from anyone of us (Acts 17: 26, 27). I beg God to take care of him and show him that he is a deeply loved child of God, that he is the apple of God's eye.
I pray he won't believe the lie his circumstances are telling him. Oh Lord, allow someone to speak and show the love of God to him! Please, God.
I will pray for him throughout my life as I think of him. This one thing I can do.
There are children and people all around us going through hell. People being abused in every conceivable way. People craving the love of God. People craving hope. Why don't we start praying for these invisible ones? Asking God that the invisible ones would be made visible to those seeking to overcome evil with good? Why don't we start asking God to open our eyes so they'll be found by God through us. So that they'll find God through us?
Think of how we can usher fourth Kingdom goodness and light all around us. We can unleash the love and power of God through prayerful action.
This is something I believe to be true: we don't know the eternal implications of our obedience and prayers. I know we don't serve God or pray for others in vain. It's not in vain. It's not in vain, even if right now we see no fruit from our toils.
God is making all things new in and through us. I have hope. Hope for goodness in the lives of those abused and oppressed and forgotten. Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).
God be with him. God be with you if you feel all alone, without God and without hope in the world. We'll hope and pray for you, when you cannot do so yourself.
As I've mentioned previously, I had a baby, Valentina. She was born on June 3. So my posts are not as frequent as they have been in the past. Thank you for your grace. However, I do encourage you to check out some of my other posts. You can click on the categories on the right-hand side of the blog.
The other night, after I fed Valentina around 1 am, I desperately wanted to go to bed. I was tired.
I wanted to go to sleep but couldn't. I was awash in a tide of evil and pain not entirely or even mostly my own. There is deep pain all around me. Lately, lots of it has manifested--even though it's the summer. You see, I am in a pastoral-like position where I encounter lots of people everyday. I live on a college campus. During the academic year, thousands of people cross my visual path. And every now and then, the suffering of others, combined with my suffering for them, and my own sufferings, washes me away. I am left bobbing up and down the river, gasping for breath. Grasping for a tree branch, a rock--anything to hold onto in order to pull myself out. Bobbing up and down the river, screaming and crying out to Jesus to rescue others and rescue me. I grow weary. I grow tired. Yet, I pray as I am whirled and tossed about. I pray fiercely and fervently for those afflicted and oppressed. I pray for myself and my family.
I have yet to permanently go under.
One of my friends stopped by to visit last night, to see how me and the family and the baby were doing. Her unexpected presence was pastoral care. Her presence--a gift. I confessed my exhaustion and my experience of the night before in the midst of preparing arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans)--my staple food growing up, in the midst of Iliana chatting and performing, in the midst of Shawn trying to catch up on some necessary reading--he had watched the girls all day.
In the midst of dinner preparations and dinner eating and daughter performing and husband trying to snatch a moment for himself--she told me her favorite story. It's about the little boy who was walking along the beach where a bunch of starfish had washed up along the shore. Maybe you know it. I know I've heard it at least once.
There were thousands of starfish scattered along the beach. The little boy's heart broke for them, so he began tossing them back into the ocean. A little while after he began his rescue effort, a man who was walking along the shore stopped, and commented, "Why are you doing this? It's not going to make a difference." The little boy picked up a starfish and remarked, "It makes a difference to this one." He threw the starfish back in. "And this one." He tossed another back in. And so he continued, doing what he could, for the starfish he encountered.
My friend reminded me of what I knew, but couldn't feel--that I do what I can, that I throw the starfish back in.
I can't save all of them, but it makes a difference to the ones that I do return into the ocean (all in the name and power of Jesus).
I do this, all the while knowing and thanking God, that there are many a time when someone had mercy on me--and threw me back in.
In his book, The Good and Beautiful Community, James Bryan Smith tells of how he was asked to speak at a conference on spiritual formation. Many key denominational leaders would be present. He says:
"As I flew to the meeting my excitment increased. I met a dear man at the baggage claim area who drove me to the hotel where our daylong workshop was held. I went into the ballroom with my briefcase in hand, eager to begin teaching. The room was filled with over sixty key leaders from around the United States. If these men can get a passion for this, their whole church could catch a new fire, I thought to myself. One of the leaders of the denomination introduced me, and I stepped to the podium with energy. I shared a funny story, and the room seemed to relax. Then I launched into my main discussion and made the following statement: 'God has offered us many different means of grace--prayer, solitude, silence, the Bible, fasting and many others--in order to deepen our relationship with God, and to develop the character of Christ so that we can live vibrant lives with God and make a difference in our world.'
This was my well-crafted opening. It was also the end of my rapport with this audience. I later learned that they ardently and fervently believe that God has given the church only two means of grace--baptism and Communion. All of the activities I mentioned (prayer, Bible reading, solitude) are not considered means of grace. My tradition (Methodism), and all of the others I had ever spoken to, freely uses that term to describe those activities. But I had never been informed about their position on the issue. All I knew was that the audience was quickly going from concerned to hostile.
I had almost no eye contact within a minute of that opening sentence. Within fifteen minutes I saw heads shaking in disagreement. Thirty minutes into the talk a man actually stood up, turned his chair around, and sat with his back turned to me. He could have actually left the room (three men did that at about the forty-five minute mark), but he wanted to make a public proclamation of his disgust. I had violated a sacred principle; I had unknowningly taken a theological position that was contrary to theirs. I was wrong, in their eyes, about the use of a phrase, and they needed to shame me publicly."
Smith goes on to say that he took a break and then was asked not continue the conference. He flew home immediately.
Sadly, I know of churches and denominations and people who would do the same.
These are Henri Nouwen's words from his book, In The Name of Jesus. It is a book for Christian leaders.
"Jesus' first tempation was to be relevant, to turn stones into bread . . . . Aren't we priests and ministers called to help people, feed the hungry, and to save those who are starving? Are we not called to do something that makes people realize that we do make a difference in their lives? Aren't we called to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and alleviate the suffering of the poor? Jesus was faced with these same questions, but when he was asked to prove his power as the Son of God by the relevant behavior of turning stones into bread, he clung to his mission to proclaim the word and said, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Matthew 4:4) . . . .
Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time there is a deep current of despair. While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in a success-oriented world . . . . And the cry that arises from behind all of this . . . is clearly: "Is there anybody who loves me? Is there anybody who cares? Is there anybody who wants to stay home for me? Is there anybody who wants to be with me when I am not in control, when I feel like crying? Is there anyone who can give me a sense of belonging?
It is here that the need for a new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there.