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)

Forward-Looking Remembering

Scripture: Esther 9:20-22
Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually… the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and… when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

Reflection: Forward-Looking Remembering
By Jon Polk

A visit to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is a testament to the significant power of memory. In the heart of the United States’ capital are numerous monuments dedicated to the memory of great historical figures – Lincoln, Washington, King and others – and significant human sorrows – World War II, the Vietnam War, the Holocaust. Standing in front of the impressive white marble statue of the great American president Abraham Lincoln, one cannot help but be overwhelmed with a sense of history that goes far beyond the memory of personal life experiences.

Many of us have our own memorials in a prominent place in our home: the refrigerator door. There on that sleek magnetic surface, the faces of family and friends stare back at us from treasured moments that have come and gone. There, kindergarten artwork is treated like a rare, priceless Van Gogh. There we find notes and cards that remind us of the ones we love.

At the conclusion of the story of Esther, her uncle Mordecai instructs the Jews to annually celebrate by remembering the attempted genocide and their escape from it. This inaugurates the Jewish Festival of Purim, a memorial of the time when sorrow turned to joy and mourning to celebration.

Remembering is not “living in the past” or “longing for the good ole days,” instead it informs our hope for a future that God has for us. At Purim, the Jews were to look back to the story of Esther and their deliverance in order to look forward to find a hope for their future. This remembering caused them to not only feast and celebrate, but also to give gifts to the poor. Memory of God’s favor on us should compel us to share that same grace with others.

It is often noted that Esther is the one book in the Bible where God is not specifically mentioned. Reading the story with the benefit of hindsight reveals that God was indeed present and working behind the scenes.

We would be wise to regularly recall God’s intervention and provision in our own lives, giving thanks and praise for how God has delivered us and cared for us, especially in those times when we may have not been able to immediately recognize his presence.

What spiritual memories are we hanging on the refrigerator doors of our hearts that we look to regularly for hope and to say, “Thanks be to God”?

The Greeting
Your testimonies are very sure, and holiness adorns your house, O Lord, forever and for evermore. — Psalm 62.6

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Esther 9 (Listen – 5:34)
Romans 4 (Listen – 4:08)

Cringing at Culture or at Christ?

Scripture: Esther 8.3
Esther again pleaded with the king, falling at his feet and weeping. She begged him to put an end to the evil plan of Haman the Agagite, which he had devised against the Jews.

Reflection: Cringing at Culture or at Christ?
By John Tillman

You’d be hard pressed to find a Christian or Jew who would express dislike for Esther. However, depending on your political/philosophical bent there are aspects of her story that make one cringe.

Some cringe when Esther is supplicative and submissive—submitting to being one of a harem of wives, throwing herself into servile hospitality and beauty as strategy, and finally, pleading and begging, apologetically before the king, her husband. We want her, instead, to be a modern, powerful, assertive woman.

Some cringe when Esther is powerful and assertive—she is unashamed of her sexuality and uses the power of beauty and seduction, she writes law for a nation, she orders the death of her enemies, she tells the king what to do. We want her, instead, to be a demure princess so we can dress up our daughters like her.

Esther’s culture specifically and biblical culture in general is so foreign to us that we often fail to understand it. Even with years of study and knowledge of cultural facts, we can’t fully understand what living in that culture was like. When we don’t understand biblical culture, we tend to assume the lesson God has for us is that our culture is better. This is always the wrong lesson. Always.

But it is more than just Esther’s brokenness, or that of her culture, that makes us uncomfortable. It is the image of God in her. Esther, like any of us, does not carry the image of God perfectly. But the image of God does make us uncomfortable—even in Christ, the one perfect image of God.

We, like Peter, are uncomfortable with the kneeling, submissive Christ who serves us. We also, like the Pharisees, are uncomfortable with the powerful Christ of Heaven, as described by Stephen before his martyrdom.

Yet Christ is both. And we must accept him completely. And Esther is both. And she deserves to be seen fully. And as we attempt to manifest Christ in our world and to our culture, we must allow the Holy Spirit to bring out in us the fullest picture of who God is.

It is healthy for us to remember that what we admire in biblical heroes and heroines came to them from God. We need not emulate the heroes so much as we need to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, drawing out of us the shining vestiges of God’s image that are needed.

The Request for Presence
Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding, according to your word. — Psalm 119.169

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Esther 8 (Listen – 3:41)
Romans 3 (Listen – 4:30)

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