Holding Space

Scripture: Job 5:27
We have studied life and found all this to be true.
Listen to my counsel, and apply it to yourself.

Reflection: Holding Space
By Jada Swanson

Eliphaz continues to share his thoughts, encouraging Job to simply turn to God and everything would be alright. When the fact remains, Job never turned away from God to begin with. To his credit, this is what Eliphaz’s tradition has led him to believe. Sadly, he is a misinformed theologian. Which, no doubt, many of us have encountered or, perhaps, we have been at one time or another.

As Christ-followers, we are called to carry one another’s burdens. However, when someone is navigating grief, a traumatic situation, or a horrific loss (relationship, job, etc.), we must resist the need to try and fix the problem, heal the hurt, or repair the damage, and, instead, embrace the tension that exists. Although it can be awkward, during these sacred times, silence is our ally. Instead of expressing empty platitudes or well-meaning, but unhelpful Christianeze expressions, choosing to simply be present with another is the most loving alternative, even if the silence is deafening.

What is most needed in these times is a willingness to simply “hold space” for another. What does it mean to hold space for someone else? Author Heather Plett describes it in this way,

“It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control … To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.”

God, help us all to become comfortable with the necessary response of holding space for another. May we sincerely seek and follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance during those times.

The Request for Presence
Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. — Psalm 119.147

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Job 5 (Listen – 2:29)
Romans 9 (Listen – 5:15)

When Help Isn’t Help

Scripture: Job 4.7-9
Think! What innocent person has ever perished?
When have those who do the right thing been destroyed?
As I’ve observed, those who plow sin
and sow trouble will harvest it.
When God breathes deeply, they perish;
by a breath of his nostril they are annihilated.

I’ve been looking forward to this series on suffering in Job from Jada for a few weeks now. I’m thrilled it’s finally time for you to read it! — John

Reflection: When Help Isn’t Help
By Jada Swanson

After seven days of silence, Eliphaz speaks to Job. Eliphaz is somewhat gentle and appears to sincerely attempt to bring comfort to his friend, Job. Yet, it doesn’t take long for one to see that his belief about his friend’s plight is that it is due to sin in Job’s life. In verse seven, he states, “Think! What innocent person has ever perished? When have those who do the right thing been destroyed?”

For we all reap what we sow, don’t we?

Unfortunately, this is a common view of pain and suffering, even in the Church today. No doubt, statements have been made such as, “I wonder what she did to bring this upon herself?” or “If you’re living right, you will surely have a blessed life.”

Yet, if this is an accurate assessment, it begs the question, “What had Job done to bring such pain and suffering into his life?” and “Wasn’t he ‘living right’?”

The reality is that God never promises that his children will have a life free of trial, hardship, pain, or suffering. In fact, James 1 tells us to consider it pure joy whenever we face such situations and circumstances, because the hardships one endures brings about perseverance, which is needed to become mature and complete.

Most certainly, “Considering it all joy” does not mean one rejoices in the cruelty, suffering, shame, injustice, or destruction. It does not mean there will be no tears or sense of loss. Rather, amidst these constraining circumstances, one can embrace a sense of confidence and peace.

Although Eliphaz meant well, his response was insensitive to his friend’s plight. It bears considering if Job’s circumstance brought to the surface some of his own concerns and vulnerabilities. Perhaps, he thought he had matters of faith and God figured out. Yet, God does not fit into a neatly packed box of predictability. In fact, we are told his ways are mysterious (Isaiah 55:9).

Everything is not always what it appears on the surface. Most often, there is more to the story, necessary details and nuances that hover just below the surface to which the public is not privy. As such, one needs to be careful in expressing personal opinions about the circumstances another is facing, regardless if this person is a family member, friend, or acquaintance.

May we understand that times of trial and hardship will come into our lives. May we embrace peace amidst suffering. May we listen to understand, not merely to respond. And when we do respond, may it be with sincerity and sensitivity.

The Morning Psalm
O Lord, I am not proud; I have no haughty looks.
I do not occupy myself with great matters, or with things that are too hard for me.
But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast; my soul is quieted within me. — Psalm 131.1-3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Job 4 (Listen – 2:06)
Romans 8 (Listen – 6:22)

A Cry to God for the Poor from Zimbabwe :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Reflection: A Cry to God for the Poor from Zimbabwe :: Worldwide Prayer

You spoke to the children of Israel saying there should not be poor among them. You instituted the Years of Jubilee and Sabbath. You taught your people to give tithes and offerings in order to maintain some economic equilibrium.

In the life of the early Christian Church we read that “neither was there any among them that lacked.”

And yet, dear Lord, today one of every four persons in the world lives in abject poverty*. It grieves us and must grieve you that so many defenseless people live without shelter, clean water, primary healthcare, education, food.

We are overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of the wasteful exploitation of your creation. Help us, Lord Jesus, to care and share with the less privileged the material resources you have graciously blessed us with. Like the apostles John and Peter, strengthen us to stretch out our hands to help the less privileged to stand on their feet.

With Paul we say that Christ in us is the hope of glory.

Help us make a difference.

*It is hard to know what statistics the author of this African prayer was using at the time this was originally published, and hard, indeed, for many to agree on what constitutes “poverty” in today’s world. However, if we accept that living on less than $2.50 a day is poverty, then this number is closer to forty percent of the population today, than the twenty-five percent mentioned in the prayer. For a detailed look at poverty statistics, this site is a good resource. — John

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

The Call to Prayer
Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people. — Psalm 66.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Job 1 (Listen – 3:38)
Romans 5 (Listen – 3:53)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 2 (Listen – 2:11) Romans 6 (Listen – 3:28)
Job 3 (Listen – 2:32) Romans 7 (Listen – 4:09)

Prayer for Those Who Suffer :: A Lenten Reflection

“Evil is not inexhaustible. It is not infinite. It is not worthy of a lifetime of attention,” notes Eugene Peterson. And yet suffering has a way of consuming everything—disconnecting us from community, filling every moment of our attention, and shutting out hope.

Simple answers to suffering are not only insufficient, they are unbiblical. In Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains how the laments of Scripture seek to connect the one who suffers with the fullness of God:

The Psalter has rich instruction for us about how to come before God in a proper way in the various sufferings that the world brings upon us. The Psalms know it all: serious illness, deep isolation from God and humanity, threats, persecution, imprisonment, and whatever conceivable peril there is on earth.

They do not deny it, they do not deceive themselves with pious words about it, they allow it to stand as a severe ordeal of faith, indeed at times they no longer see beyond the suffering, but they complain about it all to God.

Bonhoeffer, who suffered for years in Nazi prisons, is both comforted and sobered by this reality: “Only God can help. But then, all our questions must also again and again storm directly against God.” This is the testimony of the Psalms of lament—if only God can help, then the complexity of our emotions, depth of our pain, and fulness of our cry must be brought before him. Bonhoeffer concludes:

There is in the Psalms no quick and easy surrender to suffering. It always comes through struggle, anxiety, and doubt. No single human being can pray the psalms of lamentation out of his or her own experience. Spread out before us here is the anguish of the entire Christian community throughout all time, as Jesus Christ alone has wholly experienced it.

These raw cries of pain are central to the Christian experience. In Lamentation and the Tears of the World Kathleen O’Connor celebrates the expression of suffering in prayer as an act of faith:

Laments are prayers that erupt from wounds, burst out of unbearable pain, and bring it to language. Laments complain, shout, and protest. They take anger and despair before God and the community. They grieve. They argue. They find fault. Without complaint there is no lament form. Although laments appear disruptive of God’s word, they are acts of fidelity. In vulnerability and honesty, they cling obstinately to God and demand for God to see, hear, act.

Today’s Reading
Job 41 (Listen – 3:03)
2 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 4:46)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 42 (Listen – 2:41)  2 Corinthians 12 (Listen – 3:54)
Proverbs 1 (Listen – 3:12)  2 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:19)

Prayer for the Self-Centered :: A Lenten Reflection

“We are losing the power for self-expression, because genuine self-expression is an answer to an ultimate question, but we do not hear the ultimate question any more,” remarks Abraham Joshua Heschel. The rabbi, in his book Man’s Quest for God, explores the ways perpetual self-concern displaces the divine:

It is hard to define religion; but surely one thing may be said negatively: religion is not expediency. If all our actions are guided by one consideration—how best to serve our personal interests—it is not God whom we serve but the self.

True, the self has its legitimate claims and interests; the persistent denial of the self, the defiance of one’s own desire for happiness is not what God demands. But to remember that the love of God is for all men, for all creatures; to remember His love and His claim to love in making a decision—this is the way He wants us to live.

In many ways the season of Lent is an invitation to retune our hearts to this reality—which Heschel summarizes: “God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance.” This binary doesn’t answer our need for self-fulfillment as much as it displaces the importance of the desire entirely.

True prayer expands our hopes, desires, and joys beyond the limits of our own lives. Feelings are, by nature, self-centered—true prayer is God-seeking and kingdom-focused. Rabbi Heschel explains:

Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest, and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy. For when we betake ourselves to the extreme opposite of the ego, we can behold a situation from the aspect of God.

The focus of prayer is not the self. A man may spend hours meditating about himself, or be stirred by the deepest sympathy for his fellow man, and no prayer will come to pass. Prayer comes to pass in a complete turning of the heart toward God, toward His goodness and power. It is the momentary disregard of our personal concerns, the absence of self-centered thoughts, which constitute the art of prayer.

Feeling becomes prayer in the moment in which we forget ourselves and become aware of God. Thus, in beseeching Him for bread, there is one instant, at least, in which our mind is directed neither to our hunger nor to food, but to His mercy. This instant is prayer.

Today’s Reading
Job 40 (Listen – 2:09)
2 Corinthians 10 (Listen – 2:45)

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