Preparing for Pacem
March 30, 2021 | My Jottings
In a few weeks I’ll be going to Pacem in Terris. It’s a silent Christian retreat center in the Minnesota woods about two hours south of where I live. I’ve been there four times now, but it’s been a long time since I’ve visited. Nine years, to be exact. Michael was still alive then and was beginning to struggle with Lewy Body Dementia, although we didn’t know then that’s what it was, and that it often came as the dread companion of Parkinson’s Disease. I knew it would be the last time I would go to Pacem for a long time.
The first time I went to Pacem, I asked to stay in the hermitage called St. Clare. My oldest grandchild is named Clara, and it seemed right to pick something close to her name. Walking in the woods of oak, pine and birch, keeping silence, pouring my heart out to God in pen and ink, watching chipmunks and foxes and downy woodpeckers, reading His Word and slowly taking in what I thought He was saying to me, existing with the rising and setting of the sun, was something my soul was craving.
There are sixteen one-roomed hermitages nestled in the woods, all named for saints. Pacem is a Catholic retreat center, but the majority of the hermits who visit are Protestant, I learned. Some people come to de-stress. To sleep. To discern a direction from the Lord. Many need to be re-oriented in their spiritual journey.
Each place has a screened porch on the side, as you can see above.
I remember when I first heard about Pacem, old friends Chuck and Sally told me they sometimes heard God say to them, “Just give me 24 hours.” As in, see what I can do if you will set apart time to be with Me.” And they would drive down to St. Francis, MN, spend that time with Jesus and come back so refreshed. Each time I’ve gone I’ve spent two nights and almost three days; I would like to be able to stay three nights someday.
The second time I visited, I asked to be placed in the hermitage named for St. Francis, because it’s the one farthest out in the woods, away from The Big House, the Chapel, and the other hermitages. I wanted to feel that solitude and remoteness, like I was way out in the desert/woods with Jesus, with no distractions and no agenda except being with Him. I’ve always known that being with Him would accomplish whatever needed accomplishing in my life. And there’s still soooo much work that needs doing.
The third time I visited Pacem (and they say the Latin pronunciation is potch-em) I reserved the little wooden hermitage called St. Mary Magdalene. I love her. I’m not Catholic, but if I were, and had to choose a patron saint as my advocate and companion, it would be Mary Magdalene. She would know how I feel, and understand how my life has been, and how it has paralleled hers in ways. She and I have been sinful women, needing so much that no one else but Jesus could give us.
Jesus delivered Mary from every evil that controlled her, and He was the only one who could. She followed Him closely for the rest of her life (we presume), out of gratitude and devotion and love. He showed her what real love is. She stayed close to Him as He walked the road to the cross. And beautiful wonder of wonders, she was the first to see Him risen, and ecstasy of ecstasies, He spoke her name and her eyes were opened. I wanted to stay in the cabin named for Mary Magdelene to experience His love, deliverance, and to hear Him speak my name.
Can you imagine Jesus speaking your first name? Calling you, calming you, thrilling you, correcting you, humbling you, saving you?
The thought of hearing His actual voice someday, not just the still small voice I sometimes struggle to interpret in my innermost person, but the matchless voice of the One who spoke light and life into existence, is what I live for.
The last time I went to Pacem I stayed in St. Teresa of Avila, and I chose that hermitage because it was on a part of the property I hadn’t been before. I wanted to sit in the rocking chair and look out the window into the woods, and see the wildlife and sense the quiet, to feel the darkness descend and envelop me at the end of the day. I didn’t know much about St. Teresa of Avila and still have only read a bit about her. I went to Pacem that time with my beloved sister-in-law Christy, who was visiting from Tennessee. She was in her own hermitage deeper into the woods, and it was winter. The trails were covered with icy snow. The theme of that particular stay was clear to me: humility. I read and wrote and prayed, and with God’s help, “poured contempt on all my pride.” It’s the work of a lifetime, really, and is still ongoing. Some families come to know that their generational entanglements have and will involve alcohol and/or addiction. Others see that anger threads its way through the familial lines. Maybe some can see the quest for wealth or power always surfacing. My family’s main thread (or rope is more like it) was pride, it seemed to me. Yes, there has been addiction and anger and all the rest, but I always saw pride as the root. I spent much of the time reading and journaling about the astounding humility of Jesus, from the gospel of Matthew.
In April I will be staying in the hermitage named St. John, the Beloved. He was most likely the youngest apostle, the one who was so close to Jesus. He wrote the gospel of John, the three epistles that bear his name, and the book of Revelation. He was the only one of the apostles who stayed near to Jesus as He died on the cross, and it was to John that Jesus entrusted the care of His mother Mary before He died. I want to leave open what God might have in mind for me when I stay in this hermitage, but I’m hoping that love, and learning to love, will be part of it. It’s not that I don’t love. I just don’t always love like He did, and isn’t that what our Christian life is about? That we would learn to love God with all our hearts, souls, strength and minds, and that we would learn to love others as He does?
I’ve never been to Pacem in Terris in the spring before. I’ve always gone in the fall or winter. There is no electricity in the hermitages, no running water. A delicious basket of homemade bread, some fruit and cheese, along with gallons of fresh water are provided for each hermit. I don’t take much with me. Clothes to walk in, a warm flannel nightgown to sleep in, my journal and smallest Bible. I am ashamed to say I know it will be unnatural for me to leave my cell phone in my car, but I will. I haven’t been completely unplugged for years and that fact in itself tells me how out of order my life is.
Have you ever been to Pacem? Or a retreat center like it? What was it like for you?
God’s peace to you,
Wednesday’s Word — Edition 146
March 24, 2021 | My Jottings
The Trailer on the Banks of the Yuba
March 19, 2021 | My Jottings
My first home as a married woman was an old three-room trailer on the banks of the Yuba River in Smartville, California.
I remember the day Glenn and I answered the ad, and drove down the rutted, dirt driveway from Highway 20 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The trailer measured 8 feet by 48 feet, and its dented metal sides were yellow on the top half and a dusty mustard on the bottom. Two wooden steps led to the door that opened into the tiny living room that smelled of years.
There was thin, stained avocado green carpet with no padding underneath. Plastic curtains with a swirly green print hung on pencil thin rods above the windows. Glenn and I could both touch the ceiling without fully extending our arms.
Six inches from the living room, a worn yellow Formica table with chrome and vinyl chairs from the 50s sat on one side of the narrow kitchen, under a large window that looked over a neglected, weedy garden, and up onto the highway. Across from the table was a big gas stove that had to be lit with a match, a few cabinets with just enough room for the dinnerware from my hope chest, and above the sink was a small window that looked out onto the winding Yuba, where miners had panned for gold a century before.
The closet-sized bathroom off the kitchen had a sky blue tub encrusted with rust, a leaning toilet and a mixing bowl-sized sink. Someone had pressed contact paper with a blue and white design on the walls above the sink, but left the air bubbles that were trapped underneath. The shallow tub would require one to sit straight with knees bent to have a bath.
The bedroom was at the end of the trailer, and would just barely fit our double bed and tiny nightstand. We could see that whoever slept farthest from the door would have to crawl over the other to get to the bathroom.
The place had seen better days but it was near the woods, had a view of water, we were in love, and the rent was $75.00 per month; we moved in right after Christmas of 1975. Glenn was 21 and I was 18.
While Glenn drove the twenty-five minutes each day to work for the United States Air Force, I housewifed. I set up the ironing board in the tiny living room while I listened to Fleetwood Mac and James Taylor albums on the turntable we had put on the shelf above the couch. I ironed Glenn’s uniforms; green fatigues and dress blues, depending on the day or military event. I had a basic Kenmore sewing machine and I placed it on the coffee table and sewed caftans for myself and a few Hawaiian shirts for Glenn. I swept the steps, Pledged the furniture, made throw pillows for our little plaid couch, and learned to cook.
I asked Glenn’s mother for his favorite recipe of pepper steak and rice, and one afternoon when I had the car, I thought if I left the gas burner under the skillet on low, all the savory liquid would be soaked up perfectly by the time I returned from picking Glenn up from work. When we walked in the door about forty-five minutes later, we were assaulted by the smoke from carbonized bits of beef and black, charred rice that had become one with the bottom of the pan.
We used to walk down to the river in the evenings, and I waded around the shallows while Glenn tried his hand at panning for gold.
To our left and down some was a two bedroom house rented by Sam and Janis, two fabulously creative hippies from Shepherdstown, West Virginia, who owned several Nubian goats and had a child’s antique coffin in their living room. I learned to milk a doe and castrate a baby buck with a rubber band, but the taste of goat stew was something I never fancied.
To our right and up the hill was a newer and roomier trailer, where Joe and Dilly Poindexter, the antithesis of Sam and Janis, had come from Southern California to retire. Dilly fried her hamburger patties in Crisco shortening and Joe smiled out of the side of his mouth, smoked cigars and drove a long, low gold colored Cadillac.
We only lived in our skinny little trailer for half a year before a three bedroom house became available on the base. Four years, two continents, and two daughters later, Glenn decided to look for gold elsewhere, and thought he could holler “Eureka!” with Karla. She turned out to be pyrite and I wasn’t too terribly heartbroken to hear of it.
I looked at that same trailer yesterday on Google Earth, and was able to zoom in from a street view to see it hasn’t changed much. Weeds skirted the base of it and the dwindling Yuba meandered 50 yards from the front door.
I remembered how tiny our home was, how flimsy and make-believe everything inside seemed, including our marriage, now that I have the perspective of 40 years. Plastic curtains and vows, veneer walls and words, mice and women coming into our midst through the cracks we didn’t know how to seal.
Psalm 18:19 says, “He brought me out into a spacious place, He rescued me because He delighted in me,” and the hope and truth of this verse came to pass in my life, with another man whose vows were made of rock, another home with curtains of real cloth, and another place entirely, yet one where I can still see water from my kitchen window.
March 17, 2021 | My Jottings
From the archives…
One of my earliest memories is when I first saw our new house on Eckerman Avenue in West Covina, California. I was almost three years old. I was holding onto the side slats in a rented, open tow-trailer being pulled by our 1960 copper-colored Buick LeSabre station wagon. We slowed to a stop in front of the three-bedroom ranch-style home numbered 1923. My dad was driving, my mom was in the passenger seat, my thirteen year-old brother Steve steadied me in the trailer, and our aging family dog Duchess sat with us among the boxes.
The house had the garage in front, so common in California, with a curved driveway, and had yellow stucco with brown shutters and trim. Later the house was grey with turquoise trim, then when I was a teen we had it painted mustard with avocado trim.
There were nine houses on our street and I would eventually come to know every family. The Pelchers, Bouchards, Langs, Sooters, O’Neals, Spiros, Prestons, Rathfons and Wepplos.
Across from our sleepy street was the back field and running track of Traweek Junior High School. Just inside the tall chain link fence surrounding the school block was a line of towering eucalyptus trees. For years I ran, skateboarded, biked, and later motor-scootered up and down the sidewalk and street under them; I can hardly recall a childhood memory without picturing the slender shadows of those trees, or how they filled my bedroom with the scent of Vicks Vap-o-rub when the Santa Ana winds blew.
I made my first friend when we lived on Eckerman Avenue. Her name was Tauni Booth, and she lived directly behind me in a house just like ours, except the floor plan was reversed. Tauni’s family was one of four on our block who had a built in pool. After I learned to swim at the Covina Park Plunge when I was five years old, being in the water was all I wanted to do. I took an old, rusty step stool from our garage and dragged it to the far left corner of our back yard, where I placed it against the pink concrete block wall that divided Tauni’s house from mine. When my chores were done I’d climb that stool and sit conspicuously on the top of the wall, hoping one of the Booths would come out to swim and invite me over. Many times they did; I must have spent hundreds of hours in their refreshing turquoise heaven. I never knew it was impolite and presumptuous to perch up on that wall, watching them swim and putting my yearning on display like that.
Over the years my love for water deepened, as did the waters in which I swam. Swimmer’s earache, raisin fingers, and burning lungs from the mix of smog and chlorine never deterred me. I swam whenever it was possible, and by the age of ten I was swimming out past the big breakers at Huntington Beach, then pouting when the sun would begin to set and my parents would say it was time to make the hour-long drive home.
At the beach my parents always wore their regular clothes; I was a lone participant in my swimming passion. Mom usually sat in the car and people watched, and Dad walked to the water’s edge with me and eventually sat in the sand.
I used to tell him to raise his arm way up in the air when he thought I’d swum out a mile. I didn’t know then that he wasn’t about to go along with that, but he let me believe he would. I would run into the greenish gray, opaque surf, wade past the littlest waves, front crawl past the bigger waves and the waiting surfers astride their boards, and just keep swimming. I would swim ten or fifteen strokes, and then tread water and look back toward the beach. There was my father in his brown pants and white sport-shirt, legs wide and knees bent, with both arms resting on his knees, watching me. I’d turn and swim toward the horizon again, noticing the pockets of warmer water here and there in the cold. My feet would brush against the slimy bulbs from the Pacific kelp forest and I would always shudder and hurry to swim away from them. This was before the movie Jaws, so the kelp forest seemed like the greatest menace I faced. A shark never entered my mind, nor my father’s, apparently. Swim… turn around again… look for his signal, repeat. I was certain I was a mile out because his shirt looked like a white dot against his dark pants now. There was his long arm raised above his head, slowly waving in a left-to-right arc, telling me I had reached the mile point.
Before I swam back to shore I always took a deep breath, squinched my eyes tight against the salt, and dove down, down, down, to see how deep the water was. When I couldn’t touch the bottom I was satisfied I had gone far enough.
I liked coming home to the yellow house on Eckerman Avenue even though it didn’t have a pool. After a day of hard swimming in Tauni’s pool or in the mighty Pacific, I’d make a Skippy peanut butter and Welch’s grape jelly sandwich and settle down with a Nancy Drew book in my pink bedroom with the white poodle lamp on my nightstand.
Years later it felt like the ground beneath that house opened up to devour our family, and we all moved away in separate directions, never to be truly mended.
Today I’m still irresistibly drawn to water. I don’t swim as much as I used to, but every morning I sit in my dining room and look longingly out onto the largest freshwater lake in the world.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to swim a mile out, and not look back.
Verna Needs Some Verve — My Kidney Donation, Part 7
March 14, 2021 | My Jottings
In late January I went down to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN to have my six month post-nephrectomy checkup. We needed to see how Verna was handling things on her own.
I donated my left kidney Justine to an unknown person in Madison, WI on August 5, 2020, and now I will be checked at six months, one year, and two years at Mayo, then yearly after that with my own doctor.
If you would like to see my last kidney donation post, click here. I still cringe when I think of nice nurse Steve and what the day started with. I thought I had prepared myself mentally for each upcoming procedure in every way possible, but no one told me part of the prep was what Steve had to do.
I had a full day of appointments beginning at 6:00 a.m. and ending at 4:30 p.m. Blood tests, urine tests, appointments with social workers, transplant team coordinators, a nephrology nurse, and a three hour kidney function test where they injected dye into my vein, gave me so many ounces to drink at certain times, then checked my urine multiple times to see how well my remaining kidney Verna functions.
One appointment was to have a continuous blood pressure monitor put on my arm and a small attached machine put in my pocket. This was to take my BP every ten minutes for five hours, so at the end of the day they could tell whether or not Verna had stepped up in Justine’s absence. That “stepping up” is called Hypertrophic Compensation, and I just knew Verna would hypertrophically compensate just fine. Usually after a living donation, the remaining kidney begins to enlarge and do more work. Sometimes the kidney actually doubles in size. I figured once Verna got over the shock of her twin leaving, she’d do what I needed her to do, which is keep my blood pressure in a normal range, make some Vitamin D and some red blood cells, filter out toxins and make urine, plus about seventy three other miraculous things I never knew kidneys did.
I was told to stop walking when the blood pressure monitor went on. There are miles to walk at a Mayo visit (I put on five miles that day) from one building to another and back again, then again and again. It was probably not convenient to any one of the people walking directly behind me when I felt the cuff inflate and I stopped where I was to try to get a quieter reading. I did step away from the walking masses as best I could, but it’s still an odd thing to manage.
At the end of the day all my tests came back and most were normal, but some were not. Hmmm. I was not expecting that. I guess I falsely presumed that since my kidney health had been so unusually good for a woman my age (or for a woman any age, apparently), I would bounce back to where I needed to be. My kidney function before donation was >90. The day after my nephrectomy it was 54, which is normal in that situation. I was told that my kidney function would never be above 60-70 again, and that people live with those numbers to old ripe ages, so 54 didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was seeing that number fall from 54 to 51 after six months of recovery. I thought that Verna was going to enlarge and start stepping up her game, not go to sleep at the wheel.
The team assured me this was nothing to worry about at this point, which helped a bit. Then I learned that my blood pressure was a bit high. I have had very low blood pressure my whole life — usually around 115/65 or so. Now my blood pressure was in the 135-140/80-90 range. Not exactly what I wanted to hear. So I had to buy a blood pressure cuff and I’m supposed to take my pressure a few times a week to see if it goes down. I have never taken any medication other than vitamin supplements, so the thought of having to take something to lower my BP is disappointing.
Would I donate to a stranger in Madison, WI all over again, knowing what I know today? Yes I would. What they suffered before finally getting my healthy kidney Justine is nothing compared to my slightly skewed test results now. And my son-in-law Chris’s kidney is doing so well too. I gave so he could receive, in the Mayo Clinic’s Paired Donation Program, and I’m awed at the science that allowed this to happen for us.
I would like to have a word with Verna now, however.
I was slightly vexed when I learned that you have put me in a bit of a vulnerable position now that Justine has vacated the premises.
I would like to politely ask you to cease vacillating immediately, and valiantly set to putting things right in my veins and at the various bodily vocations for which you were created. Vanquish the elevated blood pressure, Verna! Dispense with the vagary of a lowered GFR number! Renew yourself with vigor and vim, and be a renal visionary, I adjure you! Relieve me of this vague unease I have, kind Verna, and valuably assist me in voiding all unwelcome toxins in an efficient and timely manner.
Verna, you simply must grow, and generate some verve, my dear girl. I’m sure you will have news of Justine very soon.
In closing, may I remind you that your work will be verified in another six months. Take no vengeance, Verna. Do not vainly languish.
Yours very sincerely,
I’m excellent at losing things
March 8, 2021 | My Jottings
I heard from an old friend recently. He and I have exchanged a few texts and emails over the years. He went to the same high school as I did but was a few years ahead of me, so when he was playing basketball for my dad, I was a gangly and buck-toothed nine year-old. He and I have both suffered loss, and even though we’re never supposed to rate and compare others’ losses, I believe his is the kind that carves a deep valley into a soul, never to fill up again. At least on this earth. He is a man of strong faith, so I know he knows where Comfort comes from, but even so. I think there are wounds and gashes that just won’t be made better until we are with Jesus beyond this earth someday. There is a kernel of peace in accepting that.
The people I’ve known who don’t accept that pain and loss must eventually arrive on our doorsteps, the ones who think God should come through for them, seem to always wonder why He isn’t and when He will and what have they done that no relief comes.
I point the finger at no soul. I too, have wondered why my prayers seem to be too faint or anemic to reach God’s ears, or worse, why He would hear my sobs and see my blotchy face, and not rush to help me when I was in such anguish. I understand a tiny bit about wondering.
I have also experienced beautiful and breathtaking answers to prayer. God has been extraordinarily merciful to me.
There are some losses that show up without even giving us the courtesy of being able to steel ourselves against them. A dread disease shuts down a young and vital body. A hurtling car severs nerves and mobility is lost. A long marriage, a secure job, the sense of smell, a beloved pet; who doesn’t know someone who has had to learn to navigate life when something or someone previously depended on is gone?
I am very skilled at losing relationships. My first marriage ended in a pretty quick and unexpected divorce. I was almost a baby when I naively decided that marrying someone who had not been faithful to me in courtship would somehow be faithful to me in marriage. My father, God bless his soul, actually held his tongue. While that season of heartache is something I see countless riches from now (including, hello, clarity!), I still know there was heaviness and uncertainty my two little girls should have never had to bear.
I lost the relationships that could have been with my older brothers. They both had jarring issues that prevented us all from loving each other and being close siblings, but I feel my own part in those losses, how effortless it was for me to say, “They’re not well, no one can deal with them, they’re impossible. So I won’t take their calls or answer their emails.” Which, by the way, alternated between gushing with love and admiration for what a wonderful sister I was, to being told I was comparable to an ape, a sneak who literally tried to poison their food, a thief who had stolen what was theirs. I realize how insane it seems to type those words, but alas, they are true.
I always look upon those people with loving families with a mixture of wistfulness and wonder. How in the world did they do that? How do they love each other so loyally, even though they argue and get annoyed? Did their parents plant the seeds and this is the natural harvest? Was our family just warped in some way, genetically predisposed to estrangement and vitriol?
I looooove nature shows. I have wept at the mathematical skill of the plain little Japanese pufferfish, laughed with joy at mother hippos bearing their babies to the surface for a first breath, felt paralyzed by astonishment at the color variations of nudibranchs and the ability of sperm whales to kill someone with their high-decibel clicks. I gaze at the TV screen like a wonderstruck and curious child at the zoo looking through the cages, fascinated by what she sees. What does the monkey comprehend? How can the giraffe kick so accurately? Where did the otter learn her devoted, tenderly maternal ways? Why did God make so many kinds of birds? Similarly, I stand outside the unified families I’ve observed and wondered, how did they get past that trouble? How have they stuck together for so long? What makes them want to do things together long into their adulthood? Look how they celebrate and cheer one another on, in spite of their differences! How did they achieve this? Some have had their Christian faith as the glue. Some have claimed their mother or father as the core. Others grew close because of family hardships as they were growing up.
All I know, is it has never happened with my family. I am the only one left now. My parents have both passed on, and my older brothers died in 2016 and 2020. I exaggerate not by saying they both left wreckage in their wakes. So in some ways, I’ve absolved myself of the loss of whatever relationship could have been built with my brothers, because there wasn’t a lot of stability there for a foundation.
But now I’m thinking of the loss of friends. Have you ever lost a friend and been surprised by it? I have. One time I lost a treasured friend for a few years and then God restored the friendship. I tried to learn from it and asked God to help me humble myself through the suffering and shock. Our relationship today is a blessing to me.
I lost another friendship several years ago without a word of explanation. She moved away and never contacted me again. That one was perplexing for a time, but not painful, because there were non-nurturing things she would say that I knew I was better off without.
I lost a friendship a few years ago I thought would exist until one of us died. Decades of close friendship, cards from her saying I was her dearest friend, countless phone calls sharing our lives, walking each other through valleys of death, a warm, reliable and helping hand by my side in some of my darkest times. I looked back recently over our years and years of text messages, sharing laughter and tears and the minutiae of our ordinary lives.
And then, it was done.
Contact became sporadic. Eventually my texts went unanswered. Closure is always helpful, so I wrote to reverently and sorrowfully pile up some stones of remembrance into an altar for our thirty-plus years of friendship. She wrote back and graciously told me that yes, she was laying down our friendship for a number of reasons. Some of the things she told me I’d done, she had done to me years before, yet I’d honestly let them go and thought little of them, because we were friends and she was hurting. She didn’t know. And what I had done was careless and never ill-intentioned. If she had approached me about it, I’m pretty sure I could have received it and tried to remedy it. She didn’t think we were worth remedying.
If there was one thing I learned the hard way in my family growing up, you don’t cast people aside. You don’t jettison a relationship because it gets turbulent. I hadn’t even known we were in a rough patch. Maybe I was a little self-focused and self-pitying because Michael had died after being pounded by Parkinsons and Lewy Body Dementia for years. Maybe I was difficult. The sad thing is, I didn’t know I was. That’s what is unsettling to me. I didn’t know that me being me was so challenging, that a faithful friend just couldn’t take it anymore.
I am the common denominator in these losses. I say it out loud and as humbly as I know how. I have a lot to learn. I am trying to learn. I apologize frequently and sincerely. I ask God to change me, and to help me cooperate with what He would like to do in my life.
But I can feel that I am altered. I emote less. I speak my mind in a frank manner much more infrequently and have an internal knee-jerk reaction when I do, like “Oh, why did you say that?! You should have just kept quiet!”
I used to go deep, now I dog paddle closer to the surface. Talk to me about recipes, Netflix series, weather patterns and books.
It’s an odd and deadening thing to feel that the person I am deep inside, all lumps of dirty coal and a few little sparkly jewels that do occasionally reflect His light, in a very short period of time, could be forgotten. Pushed away. Never spoken to again. Contemptible, even.
And oh — the photo above is Lloyd and me, last summer, near Mille Lacs Lake, MN.
The Prayer of Prayers
March 3, 2021 | My Jottings
Hello friends. If any of you are in Community Bible Study, you know that every class worldwide is studying the Gospel of John right now. I don’t know that I’ve ever read it like I have this year. I have needed the words of Jesus these past months, as so many other voices have filled my ears and mind with everything that has happened in our world.
This week, our class is in the 17th chapter of John, which covers Jesus’s high priestly prayer in the presence of His disciples just before He is arrested. It brought back memories of 15 years ago, when I was the Associate Teaching Director of our CBS class, and one of my times to study and present the lecture was when we were in John 17. I remember being so moved by Jesus’s focus on His Father, His disciples and on all future believers.
Today I searched my computer for the lecture and read through it, and was a little discouraged that my life hasn’t seemed to change much in these last 15 years. Eye-opening and humbling.
I am reprinting it here in its entirety (it’s loooong), and I’ll just mention that when I wrote it, I was picturing the dear women of our large class, in particular a very beloved and diminutive Betty Olson, who is in heaven now. It was a hard passage to write a lecture on, but here it is:
The Prayer of Prayers
…glory on His mind (verses 1-5)
Good morning. You may or may not have noticed than on occasion I like to begin by taking informal surveys. Last year I asked anyone who had ever dreamed of being beautiful to raise their hand, and I think every hand went up. A couple weeks ago I asked if anyone was interested in having a personal trainer, and about three quarters of you responded affirmatively. Earlier in the year I asked for a show of hands from those who had college degrees and many hands went up. Well, I have another survey I’m conducting this morning. How many of you have climbed Mt. Everest? No one? Laurel, I thought you said that you had climbed Mt. Everest? No? I can’t remember who it was – Betty, is it you?
As I studied John chapter 17 this week, I felt like I was encountering the Mt. Everest of prayers. If you’ve ever seen anything on Everest expeditions, you know they always set up a Base Camp on a lower slope. Well, in this chapter I barely even made it to Base Camp, and as I stood at the bottom of this towering prayer, I couldn’t see the summit, just cloud cover. But I’m believing in faith that there’s a majestic peak 29,035 feet above us. We’ve heard expressions like King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and we know these are pinnacle titles – phrases that mean there are no other kings or lords who are higher or more powerful than Jesus Christ. We know that the Holy of Holies means there is no holier place. What would be the Book of Books? The Bible. And the mountain of mountains? Everest.
Our title this morning is The Prayer of Prayers. The last supper was finished, most of His final words to His disciples had been said, and in a very short time Jesus would be betrayed, arrested, tried and crucified. Just as His last instructions to His disciples would be very important, Jesus’ last prayers were concentrated and weighty. As we look at the outline we’re going to see that as Jesus talked to His Father in front of His disciples He had glory on His mind, He had His friends on His heart, and He had you and me in His sight. There are deep theological concepts in John 17, so let’s turn there and ask the Lord to help us grasp what He has in store for us this morning. Our Heavenly Father, we praise you and thank you for your love. We ask you to come and teach us – send your Holy Spirit to quicken this passage to each woman here. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
I think one of the most stunning things about this whole passage is that Jesus prayed these words when He knew He was hours from being beaten and scourged beyond recognition, spat upon, reviled and screamed at, and nailed to a cross like a criminal. Not only did He know this was imminent, but He knew that the worst torture was that He was going to be heaped with every sin that ever was or ever would be committed – that He who was the spotless Lamb would soon be sin. And yet while this was only hours away, Jesus Christ had glory on His mind, His friends on His heart, and you and me in His sight.
Verse one: After Jesus said this, He looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” He didn’t bow His head, fold His hands and close His eyes. The Jewish posture of prayer was to be open-eyed with head up. I think this was more than a posture, however. I think Jesus looked beyond the stars, outside of time and into another dimension, and locked eyes with the One who had sent Him out of love for us. I think He was able to look into the Heavenly realm and see the expression on His Father’s face. Would that expression have been tender, because He was so pleased with His Son? Would that expression have been sorrowful, since God knew that very soon He would have to turn His face away from His beloved Son when He bore the sins of the world? Was the Father’s expression joyful, since He knew that the cross would reconcile people to Himself?
So, speaking of the cross and the awesome work that was going to be accomplished there, Jesus continued, “For you granted Him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given Him. Now this is eternal life; that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
We’ve talked about the word glory before, but we need to concentrate on it here if we’re going to understand this passage at all. The word in the Greek is doxa, and it’s very difficult to adequately define in English. It means splendor, radiance, shining brightness, magnificence. To glorify is to praise, to magnify and honor, to recognize the importance of another. Yet all of these definitions only dance around the fringes of what true glory is. Doxa also means tremendously weighty, heavy with importance. Another helpful definition is that glory is what makes God recognizable to us. It is the god-ness of God, if you will. And yet even this definition falls short of the enormity of what glory means.
So when Jesus asks God to glorify Him, He’s asking that God make Himself known and recognizable through Jesus’ death on the cross. That’s a strange way for God to want to make Himself known, we might think. But God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. If we’re listening carefully, when we behold the cross we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit whispering our names and saying, “Do you see God? Do you recognize Him?” When we look at the cross we see all the attributes of God. We see the love of God and the holiness of God like nowhere else. At the cross we see God’s hatred of sin and His refusal to compromise with it. At the cross we see His love for us in the vast cost He paid for our redemption. When we look at the bloody cross of Christ, we see God’s glory because His attributes have been made visible and recognizable there. So the Holy Spirit stands at our side and says, “Do you see it now? Do you recognize how holy, how loving, how faithful, how generous, how magnificent your God is?”
So first in verse five Jesus prayed that God would display His character on the cross, that through Jesus’ obedience to the point of death, God would be glorified. Secondly, in the same verse we see another dimension to the word glory, when Jesus prayed, “and now Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Before He came to earth Jesus possessed an inner and an outer glory in Heaven. He laid aside the outer glory while on earth. He cloaked His resplendent outer glory with the extremely limited mortal body of a man. But He still possessed His inner glory, which made the character of God visible to anyone who had eyes to see. Many refused to see, and picked up stones instead. Is it any surprise that Jesus expressed a yearning to return to the outer glory that He was adorned with in heaven?
I don’t think we can fully understand how limiting it must have been for Jesus, the second person of the Divine Godhead, to dwell in human form. Picture yourself choosing to leave behind your magnificently designed and highly functional human body and dwelling in the body of an earthworm for 33 years. Imagine how anxious you would be to once again have legs that could run, arms that could hug a loved one, a voice that could sing out in joy, and an environment a little prettier and more varied than just plain dirt, day in and day out. This analogy is exaggerated, but not in the way we might think. The disparity between the Son of God coming to live in the body of a man is much larger than if a human could become an earthworm. The glory He gave up to save you and me is something we can’t comprehend, something we don’t even have good words for. It’s for a return to this outer, dazzling glory, which is His natural state, that He prayed.
With the disciples listening and watching, Jesus turned His eyes to His Father and prayed, with glory on His mind. He knew that His reason for coming to earth was to bring glory to God, and it’s the reason we’re here, the reason we woke up drawing breath this morning. We were born to glorify God, to make Him recognizable to others by the way we live our lives.
…His friends on His heart (verses 6-19)
Jesus then spoke to His Father about the disciples, and in verses 6 – 19 we see a continuation of the deep spiritual concepts that run throughout The Prayer of Prayers. How do you pray for your best friends? I thought about this – I realized that when I pray for my friends I often ask for positive medical reports, relief from pain, strengthening for marriages, safe travel, wisdom for child-rearing, financial blessing, and yes, I also pray for God’s will for their lives. But when we look at what Jesus considered the few most important things to ask for His friends, we see that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. It isn’t that Jesus wasn’t concerned about pain relief and finances and families. He proved that everywhere He went – He glorified His Father – or made His attributes recognizable – by healing the sick, teaching about money and encouraging and strengthening people. But in this prayer I think it’s safe to say that Jesus got down to the nitty-gritty and prayed for what He knew was most crucial. In verse 11 He prayed that the disciples would be protected by the power of God’s name, and He asked for this protection so that they would be as one as He and His Father are one. He knew that if He sent them out into the four corners of the earth still engaging in the shenanigans they had that very evening, the kingdom of God wouldn’t advance properly. Remember the shenanigans I’m talking about? Luke’s gospel includes the details about how that very evening in the Upper Room, a dispute broke out among the disciples about which of them was considered to be the greatest. They had just eaten the Passover meal with Jesus and He told them He was soon going to be betrayed, and what are the words that came to Jesus’ ears? “I’m greater!” “No, it’s me, don’t you remember He sat with me last week?” “No, no, you’re all wrong – I’m the greatest of the twelve of us!….”
Can we understand why Jesus prayed that His friends would have unity, that they would be one as He and His Father were one? One commentator said, “Jesus asked (that His disciples have a) unity of nature, not of conformity or of deeds.” He wasn’t asking that they all do the same thing, He was praying that their hearts would be unified toward one goal, that their lives would glorify God in every way possible. That’s our Central Idea today – Jesus was born, the disciples were born, and you and I were born to glorify God. We exist to make Him recognizable in April of 2006 to everyone God puts in our lives.
Sometimes we think it’s hard to know how to be in the center of God’s will – does He want me to take this job, does He want me to quit that activity, should I live in this house, and as we often do, we focus on rules and the external. But we can always know with certainty that His perfect will for us today, is that with whoever we come in contact with, with God’s empowerment, we are to glorify Him. We are to make His love and holiness, His generosity, kindness and patience, dazzlingly recognizable to those around us. Think about that the next time you enter a grocery store. God has a plan and a purpose for you when you get to that cashier, and it’s not just to pay for your food. You may be the only Bible she reads that day, or in her entire life so far. You exist that day, in that very place, to be a display of His splendor, as Isaiah 61:3 says. As I was writing these very words I sensed a question from the Holy Spirit, “Julie, do you make me recognizable to the telemarketers that call your home?” Arghh. I confess that I am usually abrupt with telemarketers and have been known to hang up on them when they try to keep me on the phone to listen to their spiels. Could God really want me to somehow make Him recognizable to a stranger I’ll never see and never talk to again? Hmmmm.
In verse 13 Jesus also made it clear that He wanted His disciples to have joy. Not just a little joy, but the full measure of His joy within them. The world hated them, and that hatred was about to intensify. They would need His joy to sustain them and keep them loving and focused on Heaven while they endured the hard years of their earthly futures.
Verse 15: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” He knew that if they listened to the Father of lies, they would be hamstrung and ineffective, and they had a mission of huge magnitude to accomplish. He didn’t ask that they be removed from a disagreeable or a dangerous environment. He asked that they be protected from the devil and his schemes instead.
And Jesus’s final main request for His closest friends was that they would be sanctified by the truth, in verse 17. Sanctification is one of those high-sounding theological terms that we might be tempted to think is not very relevant to us today. To be sanctified means to be set apart for God’s holy purposes, and Jesus said that this process happens “by the truth”. He then defines “the truth” as God’s Word.
Truth is not relative, contrary to what popular culture would have us believe. Even some churches are teaching that there is no such thing as absolute truth. We need to be sure our churches and our church leaders proclaim without apology that there is absolute truth, and that this, God’s Word, is that truth. If you have little ones in Sunday School, make certain that they’re being taught that Noah and the ark and the flood were real, that Daniel was in the lion’s den, that the Red Sea parted, and that this is God’s truth. If you realize that these accounts are being treated as mere stories or myths, may I be bold? It’s time to look for a new church. If you yourself struggle with the concept of absolute truth, you might want to read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. If God didn’t want us to believe that there is absolute truth, that sin is absolutely wrong and that a horrible price absolutely had to be paid, then Jesus’ death on the cross was an absolute nothing. But something in each of our hearts tells us this morning that that is absolutely not true.
Another definition I found for the word sanctify is this: To separate from profane things and dedicate to God. To purify. How appropriate for the time we live in.
James Boice wrote, “It is by means of the Bible, then, by the Word of God, that we are to become increasingly separated unto God and grow in practical holiness.” And here’s another worthy quote from D.L. Moody, about being sanctified by the truth of God’s Word. He wrote this in the front of his Bible: “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” We can make that choice every single day.
As Jesus prayed huge, mountainous things for His dear friends, He asked for the things that were most important. He had plans for them! He had impossible tasks and appointments on their Day Planners. They had a world to turn upside down in Jesus’ name! They had eight books of the Bible to write! They had demons to cast out, people to heal, rulers to defy, visions to see, and martyr’s deaths to face with courage and joy. Think about this: it’s because Jesus got what He asked for concerning His disciples – protection, unity, tons of joy in their hearts, protection from the evil one, and sanctification by the truth, that you and I sit in this room today. It’s because the disciples were eventually united in heart and purpose and passion for Jesus Christ that our churches even exist, that we have our own Bibles, that Community Bible Study exists. We are here because of The Prayer of Prayers that our Savior prayed over 2000 years ago.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, the light bulbs went on in the disciples’ minds. In Acts we read that tongues of fire rested on the heads of all who were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but I think these were first century light bulbs. In cartoons, light bulbs go on over a character’s head when enlightenment comes, when they “get” something. I think the disciples’ light bulbs went on when they all finally realized, “Ohhh! We were born to glorify God! He created us to make Him and His Son Jesus renowned and recognizable in this world! Let’s get to it!” And it’s the same for you and me. We were born to glorify Him in our time and culture.
…you and me in His sight (verses 20-26)
I love verse 20. Now, I want you to use your imaginations. With the help of the Holy Spirit, let’s try to picture the scene. They were somewhere on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Some commentators think they were still in the Upper Room despite the last verse in John chapter 14. Most commentators think Jesus and His men had paused en route to the Garden at a private place. The setting isn’t as important as what’s being said and the One who is praying The Prayer of Prayers. Our Savior was a man of sorrows, yes, but He was no Eeyore. He was not a depressed, timid, weak, melancholy man. He was dynamic, He was full of joy, He loved lavishly, cared deeply, listened attentively, and wept with the deepest expressions of grief we can imagine.
I believe Jesus was so magnetic that it would have been difficult for people to know Him and then have to leave His presence. You would have just known that if you had to be apart from Him you were going to miss something. To be with Him was to have all the treasure of the universe. To be apart from Him was to be impoverished. I’ll say that again and put it in context for us. For you and me to be with Jesus, in His presence and to abide in Him, is to have all the treasure of the universe. It makes our Waverly wallpapers and our new SUVs and our 401Ks look like rotting garbage. Which of course they are, compared to Him. For you and me to be apart from Him is to be completely impoverished. Open our eyes to this, Lord Jesus. Move in our hearts here this morning Lord. So, imagine this dynamic man who was God incarnate, turning His heart from His dearest friends, the disciples, to you. And to me.
Verse 20, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” Are you envisioning this? Do you see Him with His eyes still looking toward heaven, His arms gesturing and His hands pleading? He wasn’t speaking in a monotone. He was passionately praying for us. He was looking to His Father, but He was looking across the centuries, with His eyes on you. And me. We’ve all read that He knows how many hairs are on our heads, but as Beth Moore said recently, do we know that He knows our fingerprints by heart? He knows every double helix in your DNA. Are we aware that when He prayed for us the night before His death, He knew what our every struggle with sin would be? That we would have petty arguments and harbor bitterness in our hearts? That we would be obsessed with ourselves and would need powerful intervention? What are you and I struggling with at this point in our lives? Will you picture with me, our powerful and compassionate, all-knowing Savior, with the disciples looking on, praying for us, with each one of us in His sight?
What did He ask the Father to bless us with? In verse 21 He asked that we, too, would be one, just as He and His Father are one, because when the world sees that kind of love and humility, it will sit up and take notice, and may even believe that Jesus was sent by God. A seventeenth century Puritan preacher named Thomas Manton said, Divisions in the church breed atheists in the world. The converse would be, unity in the church breeds believers in the world.
Verse 23: Jesus prayed that we would be in Him and He in us, and then once again repeated His desire for our unity. It isn’t that God didn’t hear Him the first time He asked for it; it’s that we need to see how many times He mentioned it. At the end of the verse He said again that the world needs to know that Jesus was sent from God and that God loves you and me even as He has loved His Son Jesus. In the Greek, the phrase “even as” means to the same degree as. When I read that I sat on my bed and had a hard time taking it in. God loves you and me to the same degree as He loves His one and only Son? That’s what the Word of God says. It’s extraordinary. It should change the way we live. There are no limits to His love. If you’re feeling insignificant today, ponder that phrase in verse 23.
In verse 24 Jesus prayed that we would be with Him where He is – and He wanted us to see His glory, both here on earth and in heaven. Why would He want that? In our little brains we might think that that’s an egotistical thing to pray for. But there’s nothing ego-driven about Christ – we should see that by now as we follow God’s humble servant to the cross where He laid down His life with us in His sight.
The glory we see on earth through His people is a veiled sort of glory. True Christians do make Him recognizable here – we were born to glorify Him. But when we see Him someday in all His unveiled glory, we’ll understand why He prayed for this. Don’t you know that if our human bodies could bear to look upon His glory here and He revealed Himself to us in that way, we’d lose our self-obsession and stop cherishing our sin in about two seconds? All previous struggles we’ve ever had getting our priorities straight would disappear.
A few years ago my husband Michael and I were home together and the phone rang. I was in the living room and he was in the kitchen and he answered the phone there. I could hear him talking with someone, and when he hung up and came into the living room with tears in his eyes I said, “Who was that?” “Ruth Graham”, he answered emotionally. “Billy’s wife?” I asked incredulously. He nodded and his tears spilled over as he told me why she had called. Most of you probably know that Ruth Bell Graham has been an invalid for years, but apparently she hasn’t let that stop her from impacting the kingdom for Christ. I’ve read that she studies her Bible and spends hours in prayer each day, and that her passion for Jesus hasn’t been diminished by her suffering. So on this day, Mrs. Billy Graham was volunteering for her son Franklin’s organization, and she called to thank us for giving to Samaritan’s Purse. Michael and I had sent a small donation a few weeks before. After she thanked Michael she asked him if there was anything she could lift to the Lord for our family, and Michael asked for prayer for one of our daughters. For the next couple of minutes, Michael bowed his head and tried to keep from sobbing while Ruth Graham powerfully prayed for our girl by name. I will never forget that blessing, that gift from God to my husband and me – how that encouraged us. I remember thinking as I did my housework, “Ruth Graham has our phone number!” And you better believe that I’ve told our daughter that Billy Graham’s wife has prayed for her. How much more grateful and confident should we be when we know our Lord has prayed, and prays for us by name.
I’ll be honest with you, when I read this intercessory prayer of Jesus over and over this week, I realized how little my own prayers resemble it. I spend time praying little foothill prayers and hardly any Mt. Everest kind of prayers. But I want to learn. What Jesus thinks is important, I want to think is important! If glory, unity, joy, protection from the enemy, and sanctification are what He wants for me, then that’s what I want for me. Do you agree? And I just want to make sure we understand that we still need to take everything to the Lord in prayer – even the smallest details. Even molehill prayers are good. This passage wasn’t meant to discourage us from our “normal” praying. I think it was meant to expand and lift our scope.
It’s as if, with John chapter 17, Jesus is gently taking our chins and saying, “Look up, child! Look up above the clouds. Don’t stay at Base Camp. There’s a mountain to climb, there’s a summit to reach. I’ll help you every step of the way. And wait until I show you the view…”
Dear Heavenly Father, your Word is so rich. We thank you for this passage and we ask you to continue to teach us your ways. Help us to serve you in unity, protect us from the enemy of our souls, and be the Lifter of our heads. Lord, teach us to pray, help us to bring glory to you, and give us your joy. In the towering name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
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