From rule to rest

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He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Psalm 18:19 NIV

Friends often describe me as intense or focused. What I feel on the inside is driven and rarely spontaneous. I plan out each day’s activities. I set a Schedule and follow it. What do you think my # one idol is? Having ‘enough’ time to get done what I want to do.

As I turn 64 in this national-liberty-from British-rule month of July, I’ve been yearning to be set free from the mindset of living by a ‘rule of life’.   Thanks be to God who has been meeting me in that yearning and drawing me slowly toward green pastures and quiet waters.

How have I sensed a new direction? During the past few years, as I have grown to trust God’s sovereign control over every detail of my life, I have practiced releasing the day’s agenda to God.  Bumps and detours don’t tend to bother me as much, any more. I can chuckle at the Holy Spirit’s redirection.

But what still drains me is this ‘delightful’ problem:

‘How do I stay connected with so many Christian sisters I have known and loved over the years across our multiple moves? These are gals with whom I have enjoyed deep and rich sharing.  I LIKE them, I MISS them.  And I’ve been searching for a formula, a way to organize my weeks to keep up with these gals.  Just thinking about this has drained me, especially in light of Oswald Chambers’ idea of the Christian life being one marked by ‘spontaneous creativity’.  I have felt anything BUT spontaneously creative.  More like, a prisoner of a system that I have devised.

So, when God created a space for an overnight meet-up with Regina, one of those sweet sisters, I hoped that through sharing with her, the Holy Spirit would bring some healing perspective to my feeling stuck. I wrote down in my journal, “I don’t like my first instinct to want another rule, a practice to trust.  I’m tired of being responsible for maintaining connections. If it’s possible, I would dearly prefer relying on Jesus to direct me each day in whom ‘to love’. 

Regina and I met up in the small town of Carrollton, Georgia – equidistant from both of us. Although we know each other from teaching languages in Yorktown, Virginia, she now lives in North Augusta, South Carolina and I live in Huntsville, Alabama.  Our last ‘spiritual retreat’ happened twenty-one months ago, pre-pandemic. Our pattern in the past has been to spend a night in a hotel, enjoy a leisurely dinner out and get down to serious Bible reflection in the morning before returning home.

Regina is as much a thinker as I am, and has a wicked sense of humor. As an artist, she thinks in pictures.  As a Latin scholar, schooled in the classics, and lover of military history, she brings a different perspective to our spiritual walk with Jesus. I took my notebook with me to dinner, knowing I wanted to jot down where our conversation led us.

‘What I want, Regina, is to rest,” I shared, diving right in.  Continuing, I explained, “But I don’t know how to get out of my way of seeing and doing life. I’m exhausted AND I know that I am the one who is setting the pace.  After all, I left classroom teaching 27 months ago!  However, this habit of getting things done, this drivenness dates back to high school days.”

We ping-ponged back and forth between my issue as well as what Jesus was showing her in the midst of some heart-aches. The Holy Spirit gently worked in my heart during dinner in the cute historic square of this delightful town, and especially as we sat on a bench enjoying some ice cream.

The next morning, He would bring it together for me with a simple but radical way forward.

We spent two full hours down in the lobby with coffee, our Bibles and notebooks. Thoughts and scripture tumbled out, firmly directing me toward freedom. Regina’s reflections, supported by the Word brought me liberated me. As we parted ways until our next meet-up, Jesus willing, I felt released.

The freedom commenced with two words: Rest and Receive. Both concepts felt like living water to this very parched girl. Through Regina, He showed me the following:

  • The Good Shepherd doesn’t push or drive his sheep, he gently leads.
  • He invites us to rest, to receive, to reset which he calls restoration.
  • He has already released his children from Satan’s kingdom of DO, DO, DO.
  • I don’t have to plan my life, for I have a shepherd.

Those two freedom-bringing concepts started a torrent of other ‘re’ words like reject Satan’s way, his modus operandi of DO. (Did I forget again that we are human BE-ings, not human DO-ings?)

So, full of new paradigms on the way home, I thought about my dad, an Infantry officer whose motto is: ‘Drive on all the way’.  That’s a great motto for soldiers who have an objective to conquer, but as far as a rule of life for you or me, it’s a ball and chain.

Suddenly, I recalled the number of times Pop would say proudly to me, “Maria, you and I are DO-ers!”   The unspoken message blared loudly, “….unlike your mother.”

For sure, Mom was a gal who loved life, who found joy in smelling the flowers, in beautiful things, in pursuing lengthy conversations with ANYone she met. No one was a stranger. 

As a teen and then in my adult life, I disparaged her ways, feeling superior, reveling in my dad’s pride that I was a DO-er!  I rue and regret with shame how I judged her. 

My prayer, my desire now on the cusp of starting a new chronological year is simply to let the Shepherd lead me, leaving it to him to sort out who I stay in contact with.  I can rely on him as I give up making and following ‘rules of life’, that left-brain approach to DO-ing life.  Instead, I will let God-implanted desires lead me.

Two thoughts from this morning resonate with me: ‘Love the one you’re with’, that is the person God brings across my path today.  And the idea of ‘rivers of delight’ described in Psalm 36:8.

Doesn’t being led by a gentle shepherd sound good to you?  Green pastures, still waters, soul restoration, all speak of a better way, a more ancient way.

PS:  One final thought: m name is Maria, which is Spanish for Mary.  My mom did NOT name me Martha, the resentful DOING sister in the kitchen.  I am Mary/Maria, the gal who wants to sit at Jesus’ feet to rest and receive.  When he moves out, I plan to follow.

Are you the ‘doing’ kind of Christian?

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Do you ever question whether you’re doing ‘enough’ good works as a Christian? I think there is a lot of self-inflicted guilt and shame among believers. We observe some who seem always to be serving in some way. Measuring ourselves against their standard leads us to conclude that we lack dedication, that we might not even be ‘real’ Christians.

Yes, God’s Word teaches that Jesus redeemed us for good works prepared even before God created the universe.  Just what should we be doing?  How do we know?

And speaking of knowing, if we are to have heart-motivation to do any good works, what kind of foundation of knowing do we need?  What will keep us grounded with pure motives (as pure as we can obtain)?


(Jesus) gave himself for us ….. to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:14 ESV

My volunteer colleague yearns to ‘do good works’.  Her soft, large heart embraces those unacquainted with real hope. She is drawn to share with many the truth about Jesus’ liberation of those captive to Satan, those estranged from the Father. But her husband doesn’t (yet) share her passionate zeal. He’s not even sure if he is a believer. She mourns this fact. Seeing other believing couples aligned to serve God together pains her.

Listening to her has made me think, “Is sharing the Gospel the only good work? Just what are these ‘good works’ God has prepared for us to do?”  John records the same question and Jesus’ answer.

What must we do, to be doing the works of God? ……… This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent. John 6:28-29

My friend, burdened by her husband’s lack of interest in things of God would say, “I DO believe in Him!”  True, but the Greek word believe means to trust, to ‘EN-trust all things to Jesus as Lord’.

It could be that until she actually believes that Jesus ‘has got this – her husband’s soul’, her husband’s heart situation might not change.  Jesus might just think it best FIRST to grow HER unequivocal confidence in Him.


May you have the power to grasp……his (Christ’s) love….

…..and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…Ephesians 3:18- 19, NIV

I have an elderly friend whose mind is losing power to grasp more than one thing at a time. Reading and taking in an entire psalm confuses her.

But she can take heart. At this stage of her final journey on ‘earth 1.0’, holding on to one central fact is enough.  What is the one thing she needs to know?

‘Jesus loves me, this I know.’

When I think of grasping one fact, Martha’s sister Mary comes to mind. Jesus praised her for feeding on what was of ‘summa’ importance.

When I struggle to trust God, it’s because I have forgotten what He has already done. Our ancestors, those Goshen Hebrews, neglected to recall God’s wonderous acts as well. God named their failure to remember ‘rebellion’ because seeing, they didn’t recall how good He had been to them.  They didn’t trust Him.

Our fathers in Egypt did not grasp Your wonders or remember Your abundant kindness. Psalm 106:7 Berean Study Bible

Father, give Pat and me as well power to clutch and hold on to your love. May we not forget. Keep us rehearsing daily your deeds.

I’m not in charge and it’s not about me!


Haven’t you found this to be true, that the Lord can teach us via a variety of His sources, such as Scripture, books, podcasts, nature or counsel from other mature believers?  If we seek Truth and Wisdom, Jesus provides. One caveat, for other than the Scriptures themselves, we must evaluate and compare, as did the Bereans, all advice and input about spiritual matters with what the Bible says. This week, I’ve chosen a vignette from a conversation and one from Scripture.

Now, I’m praying I retain AND apply both.

The Lord is my shepherd….he leads me. Psalm 23: 1-2 ESV

I caught up with Cousin Terry today. Bible-saturated with God’s wisdom, she’s the spiritual mother of our family.  She described how she knows when God wants her to take on a ministry.  He never pushes, He invites. “Maria, God never drives His sheep!” 

We mentioned the difference between cattle herders, those men who herd their stock toward grazing fields or to the stockyards. They use dogs and men on horseback to push toward the intended destination.

Jesus is not our herder, He’s our shepherd.  Shepherds position themselves ahead of their little flocks, calling to them personally, gently guiding, encouraging and sometimes pulling them out of danger spots with the hook of their staff.

“How does it feel to you, Terry, when God is leading and guiding you to a place of service?” She paused, then mentioned, “I sense a growing interest that energizes and excites me, plus a sense of immediacy. As in ‘get on with it!’.”

Aren’t you glad our Father doesn’t push us around?


“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;” Luke 10:41 NASB

Here’s a painful diagnostic question I read in some Sunday School material for our middle school girls: ‘What would those who know you well say is your focus?’

And just how would they know?  One way to discern would be from your conversation.  Everyone’s favorite topic is themselves, but what aspect would stand out?

Like Martha I often elevate tasks and having ‘enough’ time to that number one place in my life.  When I struggled with bulimia and body obsession, I would talk a lot about food and exercise.

Recently, I asked Mike to stop asking me about my sleep.  Good rest has eluded me for years. But Holy Spirit conviction is changing my focus.  I don’t want my daily goal to be about optimizing life for Maria.

That new desire has its roots in something I read in Vaneetha Risner’s latest book, Walking Through Fire. She described a Holy-Spirit thought that caused her to pivot.  She had been churning over the future when unbidden He communicated: ‘It’s not about you!’.  Those words have continued to settle me with His peace and recalibrate my day.  Life is meant to be about God. 

I sin against our Holy God when I place myself ‘front and center’.  I want to be like Martha’s sister Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him.  It would have been easy to spot what she valued most. I hope others will be able to know that about me as well.

One thing is necessary


40. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations to be made. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me!” 41  “Martha, Martha, the Lord replied, “you are worried and upset about many things. 42 But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”…  Luke 10: 40 – 42

A new school year started last week.  My anxieties came back to life after their sabbatical of 2 1/2 months.

What is at the root of these worries?  What I focus on during the school day.  Here’s my list of concerns – those situations where I lack confidence, occasions that intimidate me a bit:

  • Will I be able to capture and hold on to the attention of middle school kids?
  • Will I be able to create and carry out effective and engaging lessons, which actually result in them acquiring French?
  • Will I have sufficient time in my school day to complete teaching, planning, grading and handle all those extra duties teachers seem to have?
  • Will I feel free to spend time with my colleagues, listening and encouraging them, all the while accurately representing Christ?
  • Will I be able to grow the French program in the Middle School?

Those 5 matters I have turned into individual and multiple prayers that I send up to God frequently throughout the week.  Better to pray than to worry, right?

Yes and no.

Reading how Jesus corrected Martha and how He described her sister, Mary, caused me to think again.  Maybe I have miscalculated where I should invest the bulk of my energy. Rather than prioritizing and investing all my mental energy on ways to meet all these challenges, I should focus first on what actually might energize me and provide life.

Luke’s account of the two sisters who have just lost their dear brother Lazarus prompted me to imagine what Martha’s list might have looked like (had she written down what caused HER stress and anxiety:

  • Oh no!  Jesus just showed up and with his group of guys, too.  I’ve been feeding well-wishers and mourners for a week now.  What am I going to serve?
  • I’m exhausted!  Where am I going to find the strength and energy to fix more food. And who is going to butcher the lamb, now that our brother is gone?
  • I was going to send Mary around to the family that supplies our wine because we’re all out!  But look at her.  She just sat down with the men to listen to Jesus!  Where’s her head!  With all this work to do?  Doesn’t she care about me?  So this is the way it’s going to be now that Lazarus is gone. I should have figured!
  • Oh, my – Lazarus IS gone.  How are we ever going to make it, two women alone?

What is Jesus’ response, the God who knows all our thoughts and cares?   Read the 4 statements at the beginning of this post.   Freedom calls me with those enigmatic words of His: One thing is necessary.

What is Jesus NOT saying?  Does he tell Martha to skip all the food prep?  No!  Hospitality is a good thing.  But ultimately it doesn’t rank # 1.  We CAN live without food.

But we can’t live without Jesus.

So what did I see afresh in Luke’s account of a very familiar vignette?

It was how I evaluate a ‘good day’.  In past years, I’ve called it a ‘good day’ if I taught well. If I had a fruitful-for-the-kingdom conversation with someone.  If I completed my work.

But I can’t control any of those outcomes, hence my anxiety and uncertainty day to day.

So what IS necessary?  What is ‘the one thing’?

I can see more clearly how God has been moving me over the past 5 or 6 years to rely on Him throughout the day.  To look to and depend on His divine, supernatural Spirit for EVERY thought, word, action, and decision about the future.

Jesus and Paul challenged followers of Christ to stay ‘grafted in the Vine’, to ‘remain in union with Him’.  We actually are not meant to do anything apart from Jesus.  He even tells us we can’t.

  • John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.

So I have redefined what Maria calls a ‘good day’.  The one responsibility I have as Jesus’ lamb is to do all in His strength, aware of my position IN the Vine.

Teaching a ‘good’ lesson, completing my list, engaging in a fruitful conversation with a colleague – yes, these are important.  But I can’t control the outcomes.  Hence – perpetual anxiety.

But I CAN control my thoughts.  That ability is given to every Christian in whom lives God’s Spirit.

My goal and focus this school year is to rely on Jesus and seek to please Him that way. And when I forget my source for everything and start angsting about X, Y and Z, I can still please Jesus by repenting of sinful AND needless worry.  And call it a GOOD day!

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