When the Formula Fails {The Grove: Receive}

The pressure is off.

I was on vacation last week with my family. Before we left, a couple that I don’t know yet from our church brought us a gift. They had heard that we were going to the beach, so the box was stuffed with treasures like new sand toys, a Frisbee, a nautically-themed tote, a bottle of sparking cherry lemonade, and the pièce de résistance: Battleship, the classic naval combat game. That gift launched us into vacation mode, and we played.

My immediate response on receiving this oh-so-thoughtful gift was to break out the thank you notes and my best pen and scribble my gratitude. Not because my social graces are all that. I have way more social anxieties than graces. It’s because I have a debt, I know what I should do, and when I don’t, then I have guilt too. It’s easier to get the note out of the way.

Nick (hubby) stopped me. They said they absolutely do not want to receive a thank you note for this.

Huh.

We know that gratitude sincerely expressed leads to connection and affection (and funding), so we feel pressure to write a single thank-you note for a one-time gift, not to mention what we feel about thanking regular supporters. It’s the pattern, the formula, and we labor under it. What happens when it’s broken by the one to whom we owe the debt? What happens when the stakes are higher?

Peter gave us a mantra: Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives. (1 Peter 2:11-12 MSG)

Live exemplary lives. Live exemplary lives. The stakes are high. “I am the only Jesus some people will ever see.” It’s the pattern, the formula. And we labor under it.

It’s all over the wisdom books, too. Job’s friends eloquently told him that if he would just get his act together, his troubles would cease. If we’ll raise our kids right, they’ll be set for life. The righteous are the ones who get to climb God’s hill.

When the formula works, we get judgmental and contemptuous. Maybe that’s why eventually for every one of us it will fall apart. Then, we get the gospel.

We read “a troubled spirit” and think, “I have one of those.” And then we read Jesus, who is the fulfillment, who turned it upside down, and said, “I am with you always.”

In our line of work, we make a point of receiving Jesus, of welcoming him into heart. That first turning towards Jesus is oh-so-important. A heart strangely warmed.[i] The disciples at Emmaus said the same thing: Didn’t we feel our hearts heat up while He was with us? As ones who have been following awhile we know it’s not a one-time turning, is it? It’s a turning again and again.

It is true that the people of God have work to do. We’re where we are (or on our way) because we’ve heard the call to action. We know we’re supposed to live worthy of the calling.

We need to attend to another call, a gentle one. Keep company with Christ.

I watched a video once about a people group in rural Japan for whom taking bread as communion didn’t make sense. Bread wasn’t anywhere in their diet, so it didn’t signify sustenance to them. Communion is about sustenance. So they prepared and partook of small balls of rice instead. They ate and remembered Jesus together.

I wonder if we can adapt this sustenance to our context, too, and attempt something maybe never done before over the Internet. Can you assemble a simple communion right now with whatever staple food and drink you have nearby? Still your body, quiet your mind, open your heart and hear Jesus say to you,

“Take, eat. This is my body, given for you. Take the cup, drink. This is my blood, poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”

Receive Jesus. The pressure is off.

Did you feel your heart warmed this week as we focused on receiving?

[i] John Wesley

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6 Comments

  1. Miranda September 4, 2015

    I love this. Thankyou for sharing!

    1. Kimberly Todd September 4, 2015

      I’m so glad. Thanks for commenting, Miranda!

  2. Frances Green September 4, 2015

    I liked your example of the thankyou notes. I’ve often felt like our thank you notes are our culture’s response at an attempt to make things even more than out of a heart of gratitude. Good thoughts to think about!

    1. Kimberly Todd September 5, 2015

      Thank you for your note, Frances. 😉 It is something worth examining, isn’t it?

  3. Cecily September 5, 2015

    “A troubled spirit–I have one of those!”

    Prayed in faith, believing in peace, that the Lord would heal one in a coma due to brain cancer.  Well, she died.  And I have a troubled spirit.  What happened?!  The “formula”  didn’t work.  Boy, am I in need of the gospel!  When you stand with a family, praying and believing and encouraging them in the face of cancer, and then death comes….  It’s a tough place to be.  I fought back tears as I explained to the grieving mother that I didn’t understand why her daughter wasn’t healed.  And now we grieve together as I try to lead us in seeking Jesus in our grief.

    I know the theme is receiving, and in this case we didn’t receive what we were seeking.  Sorry if my post is out of place here.

    1. Kimberly Todd September 5, 2015

      Oh, Cecily. I am so sorry for your loss and the loss of this family. Your comment couldn’t be more appropriate here. This is exactly it.

      Jesus, please keep company with these in their grief.

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