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How Do We Grow?

“How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun.” Thomas Merton

“We are a group of people addicted to and obsessed with the work of the Kingdom, with little to no idea how to be with the King. Many church leaders unknowingly replace the transcendent vitality of a life with God for the ego satisfaction they derive from a life for God.” Mike Breen

“You must continually let my love nourish your hearts.” Jesus (John 15:9)

How do we grow from the 2020 shakeup which continues to question our identity? I’m finding a surprising amount of security and comfort as I consider Mary of Bethany’s encounter with Jesus.

Mary finds herself in the middle of a culture that did not esteem her dignity or worth. Women were openly despised by the Judaism of the time, were exempt from the study of the Torah, and actively discouraged by many rabbis from learning. ( Her family and her village were in severe bondage to excessive taxation. The religious practices of her day emphasized empty outward ritual. And she was expected by those closest to her to keep busy and serve in ways her truer self finally said “no” to.

What drew her to the corner of the room in a 1-1 conversation with Jesus, as Luke 10 portrays? Was there something in Jesus’ eyes that said “I’m happy you are here, Mary? I see you and your deepest desires. I acknowledge the hardships of your life and want to help you.”

Jesus motivated Mary, one of his most ardent followers, not by duty or obligation. Instead of being frustrated by other people’s lack of commitment to His message or barraging Mary with “shoulds” and “oughts”, his profound invitation to her was motivated by a sincere interest and welcome of her personhood. Her felt awareness of Jesus’ attention and love kept her from the temptation of believing in the voices that called her worthless, a nobody, unloveable, forgotten, of what Henri Nouwen calls “self-rejection”, one of the greatest enemies of the spiritual life.

Mary listened to another voice, the Sacred Voice which called her beloved and “absorbed every revelation He shared” (Luke 10:39) because this is what our right brains do! Absorb the feeling of belonging, “enough-ness” and connection when people look us in the eyes and really listen.

Jesus seems to know what brain scientists have only recently discovered, that the minute we wake up, our brains look for people who are happy to be with us. Relational connection and the joy of sensing that we are unconditionally loved by God and people is what fuels our life! And keeps us from falling into that self-rejection trap.

Jesus understood that taking time to listen to Mary’s story (and her listening to His!....let’s not miss the comfort that Jesus received from Mary’s undivided attention as well), mutually sharing feelings, and connecting heart to heart is relational “top-grade fuel”, a source of motivation that is superior in every way. This is how Jesus grows people and His Kingdom.

Mary models for us that emotional and spiritual maturity happens when we sit and let Jesus love us.

Out of the hundreds of Jesus’ interactions Luke could have chosen to write about, why this one? Maybe the Holy Spirit was warning against a primary reason God’s children would not mature. Immaturity and undesirable fruit are direct results of refusing to “choose what is better” (Luke 10:42), which are spaces to consistently feel God’s heart and spaces to simply sit, with no agenda or pressure to perform.

I have found that many times what begins as good-hearted Christian labor somehow morphs into a “gospel of duty” where emotions are suspect and even dangerous. Where exhaustion and burnout are mistaken as a sign of doing God’s will. I am so happy that Jesus gives you and I permission to lead and serve from a different, deeper place!

Read Luke 10: 38-42—and imagine you are Mary. What is Jesus telling you? What are you saying to Him that you can tell no one else? Feel the safety of being with Jesus “as is”. Feel His eyes look with joy into yours. Hear Jesus say He is happy to be with you!

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