Originally published 10/2017
Originally published 10/2017
My son thinks dirt makes the best souvenir.
He grabs handfuls of it whenever he sees a pile of sand: At the school As we leave the beach. Near the playground.
Sometimes I’m so busy hauling all of our supplies that I don’t notice right away. He starts to climb up into the minivan and that’s when I see it, his small clamped fist holding his treasured dirt.
He has scooped up a clump of sand in a final effort to keep some of the fun going. So, it’s time to leave the beach or the park or the school or the zoo or wherever? No problem. He’ll just take some soil with him as a memento.
Dust really. Just dust.
I don’t get it. I’ve had kids carry home rocks and flowers and leaves. I’ve even had daughters ask to transport tadpoles home in a pail of water.
But a handful of dirt is no treasure, so I nudge his fingers open and we brush the dirt to the pavement and then I let him enter the minivan.
Of course, some dust clings to his skin. And his sneakers. And anywhere else dirt can settle. But, we’re as brushed off as he can get.
Why hold onto this, I wonder? Why does he want fistfuls of dirt?
I read in Psalm 119 and let this question dig deeper. David writes:
My soul clings to the dust;
give me life according to your word! (Psalm 119:25 ESV).
That’s what I wrote and underlined in my prayer journal a few months ago and I keep circling back to what that must be like.
What would clinging to the dust look like?
My commentary gives one meaning: it’s being “laid low” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary), like as soon as you try to reach up or look up, you’re knocked down again, face to the earth.
It’s like the mourning David may have experienced, how you put on the sackcloth and you covered yourself in ashes and sat in the dust. It’s sorrow you can’t shake, you’re imprisoned by the grief or the woe.
Unshakeable sadness: That’s clinging to the dust.
But also I consider how dust clogs up our soul and suffocates us. Have I felt so pressed down into the dirt that it was hard to breathe? Like what I really needed was the Spirit of Christ to breathe His life-giving breath into me, clearing out cobwebs and grime and piles of sorrow or sin that have kept me breathless for too long.
And have I been clinging to this? Clinging to earthly concerns. Earthly worries. All the trappings of the circumstances around me. Have they clogged up my spirit in piles of dust and I don’t know how to let go?
Or have I clung to what’s earthly and missed out on reaching for what is heavenly and eternal? Maybe by refusing to let go, I’ve been clinging to dust and not holding on to what has real value.
Do I want a fistful of dust?
Or do I cling to something greater?
The Psalmist continued in this passage:
I cling to your decrees (Psalm 119:31 CSB).
Joshua had similarly instructed Israel:
to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Cling to the Lord. Cling to the Word.
I love how the Psalmist turns his revelation, this recognition that he’s been holding on, laid low by the dust, into a prayer and a plea.
Give me life according to your word!
Another commentary I read says:
More life is the cure for all our ailments. Only the Lord can give it. He can bestow it, bestow it at once, and do it according to his word…
I want to cling to you with everything in me, cling to your decrees, cling to your Word. Help me to rise up out of the dust, to open my closed fists and let the grime fall away. The worries. The earthly pursuits. The grief. The unshakable sorrow.
And help me grasp hold of life in you and in your presence.
“What did you do today?”
“We did a math activity and stuff. Then we went outside and played on the swings and stuff. I had my reading group so we read this book together and stuff. And then…..and stuff…..and stuff….and stuff.”
We have discovered this pervasive verbal tic in our home and it is called, “And Stuff.”
At first, I thought it was just one particular child who loves talking. “And stuff” became her go-to descriptive phrase about everything.
Book summaries. TV show summaries. Her daily activity summaries.
No matter the topic, if she is talking, “and stuff” will slip out of her mouth every 30 seconds or so.
But it wasn’t just her. It’s me. It’s other children. Listen to any of us talk for a few minutes and it’s there, this two-word crutch we’re all relying on.
Me: “Did you practice soccer and stuff?”
My Child: “I played on the playground and stuff.”
How the invasion began I cannot say, but I’m onto this pest now. I’m trying to catch that annoying “and stuff” beast in action and toss it out of here for good.
“Maybe shake things up a bit,” my husband suggests, so my daughter tries some other phrases on for size and she feels self-conscious and a bit awkward.
“How was your day?” we ask her.
“I read my book and wrote a story…..et cetera.” She cringes at her purposeful replacement for “and stuff.” Why oh why can’t she just stick with her good old, tried-and-true and oh-so-comfortable descriptor? “And stuff” seemed to work just fine!
Bad habits sneak in with expert stealth and they take over without us noticing most of the time. Then, one day, we realize we’ll have to battle our way on out of there, one intentional choice, one purposeful decision at a time.
Every time we replace “and stuff” with a better description or an alternative phrase over here at our house we’re winning a little victory.
And that’s what these victories look like, daily, moment by moment, intentional. We won’t kick the “and stuff” monster habit by accident.
I need the reminder about habits and their power, so I can be intentional, purposeful and on guard against sin, so I can quickly see and quickly hand bad habits over to the Lord and ask for His power and strength and to overcome them.
Being on guard against sin is good, but being purposeful about pursuing Christ is what makes my faith a living, breathing, growing, thriving part of who I am.
True Christian maturity is so much more than just standing against sin. It is abiding with Jesus. It is becoming more like Jesus.
So I need to know more than just what to stop. I need to know what to do.
I’ve been meditating on this for months, seeking Scripture with my trusty pen in hand to find out what God says we should do continually, always, day and night. What are the Spiritual habits that should define our faith-walk?
But I will hope continually and will praise you more and more.
1 Chronicles 16:11
Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.
Therefore, through him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
1 Thessalonians 5:17
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.
Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
There’s an abandoned house in my neighborhood and I pass it every time I drive out and I drive in, or when I walk my normal exercise route.
It took me a while to notice. Mostly the grass is the telltale sign. It’s not just uncut for a week or two. The grass reaches to my knees before someone runs through it with a lawnmower, mostly for mercy I think.
There are other hints. The lack of cars coming in and out. The missing mailbox. The tiles on the front porch that are stacked up and never, ever move.
It’s surrounded by the cutest bunch of houses all down the lane with well-tended gardens. They have gazebos and bird feeders, wind chimes, and color-coordinated flower beds, porch swings, garden flags and pinwheels. Every house around it looks loved and still this one sits, not just empty—abandoned. That’s how I think of it: Abandoned. I’m not sure if that’s a technical truth; it’s just got the aura of ‘left behind” around it.
A friend told me the house’s sad story, of the family who lived there and of their sorrow. Perhaps it is all just too much to return to this place of memory? Perhaps it is too hard to let it go?
I have entertained myself with big plans about this house: Of the person who might one day fall in love with it and move in. Or maybe one day I’ll even buy it and rent it out to my young adult children. Or what if….? Or maybe….?
There is potential here!
There is still hope!
Maybe that’s the reminder I need in this season as I pray over some requests in situations that seem too far gone. It’s all over now. A hopeless mess. Doomed. Broken beyond repair.
I realize as I look at this lost little house that it would take serious work to restore it. You’d have to wage a great battle against aggressive vines that are threatening to overtake the whole side. And you’d have to cut through the knee-high grass and paint over the cracking trim. You’d have to clear out the overgrown flower beds and plant new life.
That’s when it hits me: Hope takes effort and hope is worth fighting for.
We hope, but if hope is just this passive emotion, just this feeling that we may or we may not have and it can flit away in an instant, then what’s the point of hoping?
Instead, Scripture says:
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure….” (Hebrews 6:19a CSB).
This unshakeable, strong anchor that keeps us from being swept away and overcome is the hope we have in Christ, that He came, that He saved us, that He intercedes for us now and is preparing a place for us in heaven.
So, we hope because of who He is: Jesus redeems. He restores. He revives. He resurrects. He renews.
We might have to fight to hold on to hope, though. It might take effort to maintain hopefulness in circumstances that seem hopeless, but still “we put our hope in the Lord” because “He is our help and our shield.” (Psalm 33:20 CSB emphasis mine).
We put our hope in Him. We renew that hope and tend that hope and rebuild that hope when it’s close to crumbling.
It’s not that we hope for a specific answer or particular deliverance. We hope in the Lord–in His character, in His ability, in His mercy. We know He is able and that we can trust Him to do what is right, best, compassionate, loving and perfect.
I can place needs, worries, fears, conflict, disappointment, dreams all in His hands. Because He will do this:
Yes, I can hope in Him.
That means pulling out the plow and breaking up some hard, stony ground. It means yanking away that overgrown vine and mowing down that too-tall grass. It means tending the garden and replanting with new life. It means pulling out the paint brush and the hammer and the nails and all the tools I can grab to rebuild hope in the places I’ve let it crumble into hopelessness.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13 CSB).
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.