I Must Decrease

There is a synchronicity of events occurring this week that has had me pondering the following scripture lately.

“Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Jn 3:29-30

June 23rd kicks off the celebration in the Church, of the Nativity of John the Baptist, with the feast of his vigil in the evening, and his feast day on the 24th. In the early church, the Solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist was greatly celebrated with feasts and traditions according to customs in different cultures around the world. He was highly revered as the pre-cursor to Christ, one who was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb’ (Lk.1:45). His birth, his life, and his death are significant in our salvation story and illustrative in any transition from the old to the new.

June 23rd also marks the day my mother went home to the Lord. One year ago, my sisters and I were keeping vigil with her as she journeyed to the end of her earthly road. Just before sunset on June 23rd, 2015, she breathed her last. For me, the timing of her passing on the eve of St. John’s Day, has been a treasured consolation through this past year of missing her. I take comfort in the ancient words of the Baptist himself, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He spoke those words as an acknowledgment that his earthly purpose was fulfilled.

I think of my mom’s passing with the firm hope and belief that as she made her own transition, she understood that she fulfilled her God-given purpose and that her ‘Joy was complete’! In our humanness and grief, it is sometimes hard to accept as it seems she was taken from us too soon. There is so much life we are still living without her and it seems she should be here. Once again, we can look to John the Baptist and say the same, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” When he was beheaded, it was a great and terrible tragedy to those who followed him and loved him. His young life seemed dispensed with well before his time and yet what more could he have accomplished than what the Lord set before Him to do from the moment of his conception? His life and his work was fulfilled.

Thirdly, this week, we are expecting the arrival of our 10th child! I’m pondering this verse quite literally as it seems time for me to decrease! Time for newly created life to emerge and begin her own journey to fulfillment, however long, and in whatever form that might take. The time of fulfillment of this pregnancy is here. I look forward with fear and trembling, to bringing her into this world, knowing it won’t be easy or pain-free, but trusting instinctively that something of the old me will be purged and a new me will emerge. He must increase.

Seasons, fulfillment, and transitions make up the very fabric of our life of faith. To everything, there is a time and a purpose and then the old transitions to the new. Though often difficult, what a great and beautiful hope we live as a people of faith! Death leads to resurrection in Heaven. Our decreasing means that God increases. The pain of labor culminates in precious, tiny new life.

And sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan. Sometimes we battle disease or tragedies. Sometimes we lose loved ones too young or even in the womb. Sometimes suffering and death and loss comes all out of order and it is precisely then that we are called to be like the Baptist and proclaim the Savior as he did, again and again. “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” In our suffering, we have the opportunity to become smaller and let God be big, pointing the way. In spite of sin and death and this fallen world, this valley of tears, He increases! To me, that is the most beautiful reassurance. When Mikey died, He increased in my heart and my life. When Anna died, He increased. When my mom died, He increased. Likewise, with the birth of each of our babies, He has increased. New life, though tiny and innocent, sure has a way or re-ordering priorities and teaching humility!

As my mom left us at sunset on that special date, I felt like she was leaving behind a final piece of motherly wisdom. None of us are meant to stay here forever. All of us, like the Baptist, are called to point the way to Christ in word and deed. When we continuously allow ourselves to be humble is when Christ can get to work in us. He makes all things new. He leads us from the old self into the new, so that when death comes to steal, there is nothing for it take, for our Joy is already complete!

All is fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Savior!

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Praise

Whenever I meet someone new and the conversation comes around to the fact that I have eight children, with one already in heaven, there’s an extremely good chance my new acquaintance will say, “I just don’t know how you do it”.  I get that an awful lot.  Usually in the moment I just say something generic like, “By the Grace of God” or “I really don’t know how I do it either, I just do”.

And for sure, taking care of a big family and household requires a large degree of just putting my nose to the grindstone and pounding it out.  Sometimes it’s more of a ‘divide and conquer’ approach.  Sometimes it’s a ‘hire a sitter and run away’ approach.

Really though, there is one constant, through the difficulties, the joys, the grief of loss, the stress, the momentous occasions, the pregnancies and the labors, proud moments and not-so-proud moments.  Through it all I praise the Lord.  I thank Him for anything and everything.  And no matter how awful the situation or the circumstance there is always a reason to Praise.  In the lowest of lows, it’s simple, elemental. I praise Him for creating me and loving me.   And believe me when I tell you there are times that I just don’t feel like praising anyone or anything!  In those moments I pray for the grace to give God praise and then just do it.  It’s sort of like putting a smile on your face when you are angry or upset and don’t feel like smiling.

A really beautiful thing happens when you do that.  The outward expression transforms the inner being.

And then there are times when I’m simply overflowing with thankfulness and I can’t help but let the Praise flow from my lips.  Sometimes I’m so full of that inner joy and happiness that can only come from God that I think there can’t possibly be more.  It is then that the Lord proves me wrong and gives me more.  Those moments leave me in awe and wonder of His immeasurable goodness.  To be full of Joy is a gift in itself, but to have that gift multiplied really transcends the human understanding.

When we praise God it transforms something within our being and not of our own power but by God’s power.  He doesn’t need to hear our thanks – He knows how great He is – but we need to give Him thanks and He knows the incredible gift this is for us and gives it without limit.

St. Paul commands in his first letter to Thessalonians (5:18) “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus

Birth of St. John the Baptist, depicting Zecha...

Birth of St. John the Baptist, depicting Zechariah writing, “His name is John”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Both the old and the new testament are chock full of instances of praising God.  I love the account in Luke of the birth of John the Baptist.  His father, Zechariah, was visited by the angel Gabriel and is told that his wife will bear a son in her old age, but Zechariah doubts and is made mute until it comes to pass. When the time finally arrived and he declared in writing the name of his son, “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed and he began to speak, praising God” (1:64).  I can imagine he must have had a LOT to say after being struck silent for so long but the only thing on his mind and heart was praising God.

And then there’s King David.  I have this vision of the great and mighty and highly favored warrior leading his men home from victorious battle and singing and dancing and praising God the whole way.  Here was a man of power, revered by men, who’s entire being was focused on praising and worshiping his God. I’m struck by the humility he demonstrates by this act of praise.

Call to mind the scripture in Matthew (18:3) “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.   Jesus is speaking here of humility; Unless you become humble like children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  God places a pretty high value on our humility because in the absence of pride our will becomes secondary to His perfect and Holy will for our lives. We are able to see the truth and simplicity of our purpose beyond the everyday details that necessarily cloud our minds and hearts as adults.  We become less burdened by the world and more filled by the supernatural.

When we praise God like David did we step outside of our selfishness and pride and ambition and thereby submit to humility.  We momentarily shed our pain and sorrows and troubles to give Honor and glory and accolade to the Creator of every living thing.  Just as it’s impossible to smile and frown at the same time, it is impossible to remain unaffected internally when you put on this external armor of praise.

When our son died and the grief was overwhelming and consuming my best defense was to call on the holy name of Jesus and put on this armor of Praise.  It gave God an avenue to lift me out of the blackness of pain and sorrow and into the light of His grace.  And it worked and continues to work every single time.

Join me.  Close you eyes, raise your hands, and open your heart and your mouth…

Thank you Lord Jesus, I praise you and thank you and give you all honor and glory and praise.  I love you and adore you and I thank you for being Lord of my life and Lord of my heart, I thank you for being intimately involved in every detail of my life.  Thank you for your providence and your goodness. Thank you for Loving me and creating me and KNOWING me.  You are Lord of Lords and King of Kings, you are my Lord and King. You are my savior and friend. Thank you Lord. I give you all praise and thanksgiving. I glorify your holy name. Thank you for all your creation. I Praise you Jesus for every good and holy thing. I praise you for all that is righteous and good.  Thank you for your sacrifice of Love for me, thank you for the example you gave me.  Thank you for your Holy Spirit living within me.  I Love you Lord, I thank you and I praise you. I praise you Lord, I thank you Lord, I thank you Lord, I thank you Lord…..