Spring has arrived in the northern hemisphere, and along with it signs of rebirth and renewal. For Christians, the weeks leading up to the celebration of Easter act as a lens to focus on the death and resurrection of Christ. Death and rebirth. For the next four weeks we’ll look at how this time of rebirth can help us renew our commitment to self-care—to stay on course with MAPS.
Who Needs Spiritual Rebirth?
Sometimes, we don’t realize our need for spiritual rebirth because we settle into the status quo like a deep and comfortable armchair. But Jesus never called us to the comfortable life. In fact, he promised we’d have trouble in this world.
For the past seven years, I’ve experienced a journey of discovery—one that shakes my notions about things like race, prejudice, position, and poverty. Books and conversations have acted as guides on the journey from my armchair of seclusion to the prying open of my squinty eyes.
While I don’t think we grew up poor, I know we often hung on the edges of middle-classdom. We drove old cars. The bank repossessed at least one of them. My mom made most of our clothes (and once I learned to sew, I made most of my clothes). But we never experienced bone-crushing poverty. We always had a roof over our head, food on the table, and medical visits if we needed them.
My best friend in fifth grade lived down a holler behind a Heck’s in West Virginia. On my first visit to her house, she flummoxed me when she asked me if I’d like to go with her to get water. I had no idea that people in the United States lived without running water in the 70s. Which meant we had to use a chamber pot at night and an outhouse during the day.
In the past seven years, I’ve discovered that people still live without running water in the second decade of the 21st Century. In the United States.
Since finishing college over 30 years ago, I’ve settled smugly into my comfort zone. Still hanging on to the edges of middle-classdom (so I thought). Steady employment (teachers can always find a job). Benefits such as medical, vision, and dental care feather my nest. Working ten months a year gives me time to scratch my travel itch.
My life felt like a pair of comfy old jeans (ones with enough Lycra to accommodate the seasonal weight changes). And then I read Glorious Weakness and realized my need for spiritual rebirth.
I first met Alia Joy on a Twitter party with the Five-Minute Friday crowd. As I would scan through the list of linkers the next day, I always stopped by to see what beauty Alia Joy had woven with her words. She never disappointed.
Later on, we belonged to the same writing group, and I’d listen to her voice on Voxer. I felt a special affinity towards her, because she struggles with the same mental illness that my daughter had just discovered that she had.
I inwardly cheered when Alia Joy found an agent and a publisher. One day, I would settle down in a comfy chair and read a book’s worth of her beautiful words.
When I turned the first page of Glorious Weakness, I felt such a sense of vicarious accomplishment. I expected a beautiful word journey, and maybe a sense of how a Christian woman handles a mental illness.
The book turned out to be everything I never expected. Yes, the words flow and eddy like a beautiful river. But no one can call Glorious Weakness a comfy read. No one calls the act of rebirth ‘comfy’ either.
Alia Joy divides the book into four parts: Weakness, Hope, Strength, and Glory. Part memoir, part Christian living, and all beauty, the author takes us on a journey that starts in a place most of us avoid—weakness.
As Christians, perhaps more than other religions, we pride ourselves on our strength. We say the strength comes from God our Father. But all too often, it comes from our poker face, our stiff upper lip, and a lingering belief that God’s elect should succeed. We avoid the appearance of weakness at all costs.As Christians we pride ourselves on our strength. We should instead learn to embrace our weakness. #GloriousWeaknessBook #selfcare Click To Tweet
Alia Joy gently points out that when we refuse to embrace our weakness, we miss out on really knowing the absolute goodness of God. Weakness and poverty only prove that we need a Savior. Although I grew up on the poorer side of middle-class, I have never experience poverty.
Reading Alia Joy’s words about weakness awoke me to the fact that I spend most of my life avoiding the poor (in heart and in wallet). Above all, I deny my own weakness. But as Alia Joy says, “Our need might be the thing that most blesses the body of Christ.”
Furthermore, she convicts me with these words:
“We’ve valued one side of the equation and not the other because we don’t imagine the poor have anything to teach us about God. We go with our gospel but don’t always understand grace. We are not students of the poor, the weak, the broken, the outside, or the other. We don’t learn from the margins, we still esteem power and success and skill.”Alia Joy
And without knowing our heart poverty, we may never understand the true language of hope.
“But as Christians, our native language is hope.” Alia Joy’s words smacked me. I know the truth of this, but I only acknowledge it during those times when I find myself out of my comfort zone. All too often I live as if my native language is comfort.
I avoid community out of sloth (and perhaps a little fear). I enjoy my close circle of family and a few friends, but for the most part, I like to avoid the messy, hurtful, confusing, irrational swirl of community. But Alia Joy reminds me that we need to embrace community—even if it scars us. After all, “We’re going to have scars too if we want to look like Jesus.”
When we engage in community, we have opportunities to use our native language. And when we fail to practice hope, we can soon lose the ability to speak it.
“What the world desperately needs is a church that looks more like Christ and less like a parody of how to be respectable, comfortable, and safe.”
We need to practice our native tongue in community in order to find true strength.
The strength of the gospel lies in the fact that we can speak the language of hope even if the situation looks dire, the diagnosis defeating, and the mission impossible.
“What does the gospel offer us I the pain if we cannot be people who grieve even as we believe?” Alia Joy asks. Good question. We can find strength in lament (and God can handle our anger and angst).
Perhaps we also need to rethink the list of spiritual gifts. “What if weakness was a spiritual gift?” Alia Joy asks. And I can’t help but mull over her question. Birth and rebirth involve a marriage of weakness and strength. It’s not an easy process and always involves pain. But that pain and weakness build our strength.
When we focus on our strength and accomplishments, we fool ourselves into thinking that we can live self-sufficiently. We leave out wonder and awe. “A wonder-filled life is grateful attentiveness to the awe in our ordinary.” Alia Joy reminds us.
This section of the book acts as a call to remember my origins. And when we keep our thumb on the pulse of our poverty, hope, and source of strength, we can experience glory.
Glory, but not the kind that comes from winning accolades from our peers or notoriety on the Internet. No, the kind of glory that that comes from realizing our source and giving Him the credit.
“But God is not about upward mobility so much as inward expansion.” God doesn’t exist to make us prosper. God exists to help us expand from the inside out and firmly place the glory where it belongs.
I receive free electronic advanced reader copies of these books through an arrangement between the publishers and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion on NetGalley’s website. I only review books on my blog that I really love.