Thanks for Noticing!

Melancholy, gloomy Eeyore (of the Winnie the Pooh stories) has a line I use quite often, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes with a bit of my own pessimism and cynicism: “Thanks for noticing!” Throughout my life, I have often felt unnoticed and unappreciated (perhaps largely due to my ISFJ personality, which is described as “the hard-working unsung hero who gets the background jobs done”), but now that I am the parent of a child with special needs, I feel that “invisibleness” and “aloneness” even more keenly.

My wife and I just returned from a week at Mt Hermon Family Camp, together with our younger two children (one of whom is our daughter with special needs). Though the staff of the conference center do a wonderful job of accommodating and caring for children with special needs, the reality is that our child’s limitations become our limitations that keep us from experiencing camp in the same way as families without special needs. And though we were surrounded by wonderful friends and families who love God and love us, we can still feel terribly alone because everyone is so busy doing all the things they can do that they don’t notice the few on the sidelines who would love to enter in but can’t.

Thus I was deeply touched and tremendously grateful for a little girl named Sophia, who throughout the week of camp, showed genuine interest in getting to know our Anah. Sophia’s kindness to my daughter was an even greater kindness to me, though I’m sure she had no idea how much it ministered to me. At mealtimes Sophia’s smiling face would appear, just to say hi to Anah, and she would linger long enough for Anah to get a slow, stilted reply out. One mealtime, as we sat at the table alone, Sophia even asked if she could join us, and we got to know her a bit over lunch. Another afternoon, after all the kids who competed in the 3-on-3 basketball tournament had cleared out and Anah was granny-shooting a beat-up volleyball on the hoop that the gracious staff person had lowered for her, guess who showed up? The few other people in the gym hadn’t bothered to say hi at all, but when Sophia arrived she came right over and cheered for Anah’s uncoordinated attempts to get the ball in the hoop.

On our last full day of camp, my son wanted to go on the canoes and then swim in the pool with his new friend, and at the last minute I decided to bring Anah along, knowing that she loves the water, but also knowing that she would hate the hike down to the pool and back. Well, it just so happened that my son’s new friend (and his dad) go to the same church as Sophia and her family, and they decided to come along too, so it ended up to be three dads and five kids. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that a girl like Sophia would have a dad who is also patient and kind, but no one complained or even commented about Anah’s painstaking slowness down the steep trail, and for one time during the week, I didn’t feel so alone.

So thank you, Sophia–thanks for noticing a little girl (and her dad) who would have otherwise been very alone in a place that is meant for relationships and fun. I know you weren’t trying to do anything heroic or special, but that is what made your genuine kindness so wonderful. May God bear much more fruit from your compassionate heart as you love others like Jesus does!

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Sabbatical Space

Speaking of spiritual disciplines in the Christian life, Henri Nouwen once said: “Discipline means the effort to create some space in which God can act.” Christian disciplines are not magic wands which force God to act in a certain way toward us, rather they are means by which we put ourselves in a posture of dependence and openness to God. As such, disciplines are acts of submission and humility, which recognize the limitations of our humanness and put us in a place of trusting receptivity to God’s good work of transformation.

Sabbath is a spiritual discipline, because it calls us to stop from our constant activity and to pay attention to the places where God is at work.

This fall, I am being blessed with a ministry sabbatical for three months. Like sabbath, a sabbatical is also a spiritual discipline, because it is an intentional stopping from my regular work of ministry, in order to create some space for God to carry out His work in me. Unlike sabbath, however, my sabbatical is not a time to cease all work, but only my regular pastoral duties. In that I must be careful, though, because I know my tendency is to replace one kind of work and stress with something equally busy and draining. Therefore one goal I am working on during this sabbatical is to re-establish better habits of productivity and sleep.

One of the books I am reading (for a class I’m taking at Talbot Seminary) is called Beloved Dust. In it, the authors speak of the freedom that comes from living within the limitations of our humanness. One of the primary limitations every human faces is that of time–we are creatures bound by time, and though we often try to live as if those bounds were not present, our lives function best when we embrace the reality that we cannot actually control time, nor can we do everything we desire.

Sleep is an excellent litmus test of our posture toward time. Often, we view sleep as superfluous–wasted space that can be used if we determine more time is needed to accomplish a certain task…. Embracing our call to be creatures entails embracing sleep as a fundamental aspect of our vocation…. In this sense, for many believers, sleep is a profound, spiritual practice reminding us on a daily basis of the truth of our identity as creatures. In sleep we are laying down our bodies as living sacrifices before the Lord (Rom. 12:1). This, too, can be an aspect of our worship of God.   [pg. 31]

That is a very convicting reminder to me–if this sabbatical is truly going to be a time of “creating space” for God to work in me, then sleep is not just a necessary part of my humanity, but it is a vital part of growing in relationship with God.