Both of my graduations were anticlimactic. College graduation, I got the cap and gown, but the diploma was just a cover. I wasn’t getting the real diploma, yet. As the end of my 4th year in undergrad was coming to a close, when everyone else was interviewing, landing a job, planning to move, I was graduating late because I didn’t have enough credits. In high school, it was easy to keep up and I wasn’t the smartest but still got A’s and B’s without trying too hard. SAT scores were decent enough to get into UCLA. Transition to college was a bit more difficult for me, not just the academic part but socially, emotionally I wasn’t able to balance out everything too well. Each semester I was overloaded and ended up dropping a class here and there. Which is how I ended up at my graduation with about 20 units short and was only “walking”. Everyone was asking each other, “what are you doing after graduation?” Oh, an internship at Deloitte. Grad school at USC. An oversees program with Peacecorp or some other exciting cool gig. It seemed like everyone else was on the Brink of everything, except me. After I “walked” my graduation, I had to take 3 classes in Session A of summer school and 3 classes in Session C, to finish all my classes by the end of summer.
My grad school graduation also had a damper. After you graduate from seminary, you received a masters in divinity, because apparently you’ve mastered the divine (lol), and then in my little circle of the world, in the denomination of Presbyterians, the order was that you are then “called” by a church and that’s how you get ordained. I, happened to be working at a church that’s of another denomination and didn’t qualify for ordination right then. Folks would ask each other, “where you getting ordained?”. While others were becoming solo pastors at a church or becoming chaplains at a hospital, I had to explain about working at a church that’s not Presbyterian and the whole thing.
Churches follow the season of the new school year, so it’s a new ministry year for us, and as we kick this time off, we’re doing a sermon series called, On the Brink of Everything, taken from a book by Parker Palmer. The series isn’t particularly inspired from the book, as our head pastor Steve kicked off the series last week talking about being overwhelmed in the midst of being on the brink of every kinds of things, whereas Palmer’s book is mainly about aging and reaching end of life. Palmer got the title actually from a reflection written by a mom as she watched her toddler on the brink of discovery and seeing the world with wonder. And yes, as I see my 10 month old daughter, omg she on the brink of swallowing cardboard, falling head first on a sharp toy, or knocking down any liquid nearby. So, whether we’re 10 months old, or very old, or anything in between really, this is a season for many of us, we’re on the brink of change, launching, possibility. And we just loved the title, kinda poetic, on the brink, of everything!
But for me, there’s this thing about it, that’s a bit anticlimactic. On the Brink of… not much… not yet…. Not me…. And it feels like everyone around me is on the brink of stuff. They are working on some new cool project. They are starting a company. Their company’s about to go public for ridiculous amounts of money. I’m like, dude, we were in same small group a few years ago! But me, yes, I have recently had many changes, I moved here almost 2 years ago, had a baby. That’s a lot of change. But then like, since then it’s been, diapers, emails, uh trying to eat better, gym, work, ya know. Same ol, same ol. Every weekend we’re like, so….. Uh library? Costo? Burlington mall? Yeah, I know my life might look fabulous on Instagram, but that’s just it. It looks like everyone’s on the brink of discovery and excitement, but there’s this mundane regularness of life that we don’t see. What do we do with this time, the not much of nothing not yet? That’s what I want to talk about today.
Even for Jesus, the Bible stories about him are his facebook feeds, the highlights, that’s captured and saved forever, but there’s all these early years of his life that we have no record of. Because he was probably doing not much, not yet. The only record we have is when he was 12 years old, when his parents lost him in the temple. Let me read it for us.
Luke 2:41-52 (NIV)
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
They traveled on for a day? What were you doing for a day without your son you called Emmanuel, Mary and Joseph? He was literally not with you. Rough childhood. And Jesus, sounds like he was a kind of a problem child, running away and not letting his parents know where he was?! His mom’s like, “why have you treated us like this?” Totally what my mom would say to me, “why would you do this to me?” and I’m like, I didn’t do it to you, you’re the mom! But I digress…. A twelve year old, after 3 days?! WHAT? Can you imagine? And he talks back too. “Why were you searching for me?” And the kid is weird, saying things they didn’t understand. I mean what if your middle schooler, when you’re like, “where you been?” says to you, “Don’t you know that I had to follow the voice of the one who calls me?” You’d be worried. I mean, you bring them to church but you don’t want them to be THAT religious. The writer wrapped it up well, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” But man, you don’t know that when all you see is him acting like this!
It was a time of growth. A time of becoming. A time of not much…. Not yet.
They call it the gap years. Jesus took a gap year! Years, at that! Because there was nothing extra special about that time probably. The only other reference we have to his backstory is when Jesus was seen doing miracles later, someone was like, “wait isn’t this the carpenter guy from that one town?” When you make it big, someone always does this. And to that, Jesus responded, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home”. So, Jesus was probably a carpenter. Building furniture, maybe houses, a contractor. Not particularly related to a charismatic spiritual leader.
Even when Jesus finally performed his first miracle, it felt as though it was not time yet. In John 2, it says, 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” and Jesus replies“Woman, why do you involve me?” “My hour has not yet come.”
Do you feel like your hour has not yet come? Or not even sure if it’ll ever come. Maybe some of us feel like we’re just on hold. In this liminal space between doing something meaningful or great, or it doesn’t even have to be great, just right. And in the mean time, it feels as though you are stuck. Maybe you’ve been feeling like you’re stuck at a job, you’ve been interviewing and interviewing but nothing’s been happening. Or you’ve had this idea in your mind, and tried to have it become something, but it just keeps hitting a wall after another. Or maybe it’s a season marked by just trying to get by. Just sustaining. Just the day to day. And it feels, mundane. Like you’ve been waiting. Wondering how long this season is going to be.
Those times after both of my graduations were also times of insecurity and uncertainty. I wasn’t sure who I was, or who I was supposed to be. It felt like I was put on hold. I knew I was capable of things. Sometimes it felt like people didn’t see me. Or recognize my talents. Like I wasn’t even worth being given a chance. There were times at my job when I was moving chairs, coordinating events on emails, and setting up the projector that would not cooperate, I felt frustrated that this is all I amounted to after grad school. Not that I was above those things, those tasks are actually some of the meat work of ministry and I still do them, but I wasn’t given a chance to preach, or teach a class, or lead a group on a topic that I was passionate about.
I remember one night during those times, I had a sleepover with my 2 bestfriends. Yes, I was like mid twenties having sleepovers where you turn off the lights, lay down and talk to each other in the dark. It was one of those conversations with your bestfriends that just flowed, we were listening, and present, completely still, all in the dark, blankly staring into the ceiling. And we were talking about our lives, post college graduation. And I had this image in my head that just popped up. I wasn’t sure what it was but I just shared it with them. There was this small pink plastic stool with like cheezy flowers on it, like the ones you see at chinese markets. And on top of it was a bowl, an ordinary bowl. The bowl was full of water just about to overflow, and on it was a drip, drip, drip, with each drip, the bowl at the brink of overflowing but not yet. I shared that image and one of my friends said, I can’t remember exactly but something along the lines of, it’s been filling up, slowly, veeeeery slowly, but it’s filling up. And I just filled up with tears in my eyes and my heart swelled up with this recognition, of knowing and feeling exactly what she was talking about. My ordinary, some would even say pretty ghetto life, just makeshift stool and put a bowl on it, ya know nothing fancy, it’s not a chalice on a tiered stand or nothing, but God was filling me up, drip by drip. And I could picture the bowl overflowing, running down the pink plastic stool and spreading all over the floor. It was like a glimpse of the future. When each day felt like only a drip, insignificant, small drips.
I’ve had this other image, during the times after my seminary graduation. When I knew I wasn’t ready to be killing it. There was this sense of daily grind. Where I was building myself up, and just sharpening knife. At the risk of being just streotypical Asian, I’m about to drop a bunch of asian images here but, I imagined like a samuri, one who learns how to just sharpen his sword. Like a Rocky moment, getting up super early in the morning, in the darkness of dawn covered in morning mist fog, you just faintly see the figure of a samuri kneeling and the only sound you hear, sheek sheek sheek, sharpening his sowrd. Until one day it comes, I don’t know the enemy or whatever, and he just goes, shook shook shook, and kills.
I’ve kneeled and grinded, next to my dad growing up. More asian stuff coming at ya, while he would write caligraphy, I would sit next to him with a black block in my hand, and you pour a little bit of water on this heavy black stone brick, that literally had a big dragon engraved on it as the lid, and you would grind the block to make ink. And as you do it, you don’t just grind and make ink, you give your focus, your intention, your chi, maybe you’ve heard it I think the chinese call it, in korean it’s called gi, your energy. That is how you make ink. And before you can freely move your brush on about, you first grind the block with you gi. You know like, wax on, wax off, okay, I’m done with the asian imageries.
We were just on a church-wide retreat together this weekend, friday to Saturday and the theme was mending, with a speaker who literally sewed things together. We were told to bring holey socks. And the thing about sewing things together for me is, man I just don’t got time for it. I remember our sheets started to get these little holes in them and we had literally like just bought them so not wanting it to rip more, my husband was like, can you sew these up? I was like, PSH, uh okay, sure, let me just bust out my sewing kit and put a tiny thread into a tiny hole and do some sewing in my spare time like a proper wife. Just kidding. I don’t talk like that to my husband lol…. I was like, uh yeah sure, I’ll try. But I was thinking, when am I going to have time to do that?
I did it one day and honestly, it felt so good. It felt like REALLY good. To slow down, just look down and focus on your hands, fixing something physically. I was present. And my husband was pretty happy too.
Looking back, the timing of things actually were perfect. During those times were times I had the space and time to process some important things in my life. It was during those times that I had the energy to put myself together, to grief, to be angry, to heal and process some of the traumas I’ve experienced in my life. And I’m grateful for it because, if I was preaching during that time, well I would’ve been horrible at it because I was too deep in my own stuff. They were times of slowing down, places I had to weave, thread, reinforce, protect, and mend for me.
When Jesus finally stepped into his true calling of preaching, healing, performing miracles and eventually dying for what he did, he continued this habit of withdrawing himself from the spotlight and connecting with the Father. It says, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” in Luke 5:16. And in Mark 1:35, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
In between greatness and living out his fullest life, he would, ground himself, go back to the source where he got his energy. When things would happen that was too much,
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Matt 14:13.
I actually think this is the brilliance and the magic of Jesus. He was busy. he was fighting the systemic powers of his time. He was able to bring heaven on earth through his very words and his hands, because he would whisper to his Maker and clasped his hands in prayer. Where did he get his power to do what he did? Through seasons of some negative space in his life, where he went on walks by himself. He was constantly stepping away, ducking out, and sneaking off to connect with the One. He claimed to be one with God. And that’s, I believe the secret to Jesus, showing us how to be one with the divine, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me. Says in John 17:22. I quote these verses, not because they are important because they are in the Bible, but for us to get glimpses of who Jesus was like and why he’s such a big deal. What made him tick. What made him, him. What makes Jesus so compelling is actually counterintuitive to today’s culture of being a big deal and showing the world who you are. He did the opposite. He went down. Lower than anyone expected him to. Unto the depths of shame, and blame, and death. There, from there he rose. That is the way Jesus shows us, that the way down is the way up. When you think not much is happening, that’s the place of incubation and rebirth.
You know, it seems as though everyone else is achieving greatness, putting themselves out there, making things happen. And like the overused cheesy imagery of a caterpillar, this gross crawling thingy cacoons itself in the darkness. And maybe that’s you, who’s been in a season of darkness. A season of what it feels like a dull chronic pain. A season that feels like God is doing not much…. Not yet… and you’ve been asking, “how long, oh Lord.” If you find yourself there, take heart. God meets you there in the dark, and is sharpening your sword, is grinding your rock, is dripping every blessing and goodness onto you, that you may be filled up and overflow. May that be true for us, our community and the world.
As we trust God to show up in those places, we can freely allow ourselves to slow down to really get in touch with who we are. And maybe this season that feels like a lull, like a moment of stagnation, is maybe a time of sustenance. We all need such season. Especially if we want to be ready for greatness. We have to be filled up in order to overflow and give and serve those around us. The freedom that comes at the moment of releasing your truest potential, it only comes from a time and place of daily discipline.
Let me wrap up. Here’s my invitation for life flourshing in a season that may be on the brink of not much, not yet. It’s in the program for you.
Don’t look around to what others are doing. Look up and dream big. Look down and do the daily small stuff. You do you. Every day. Plug away.
And a Spiritual Practice to sustain you through this season.
Find time in your life for refueling your energy, connecting with the divine. Connect with yourself, in solitude.
Just as Jesus did. Where he got his power, from the source that everflows to nourish you. To be grounded in the abundant love of God that tells you that it’s not what you do or achieve, but here in the stillness of, even in the midst not much, not yet, I love you. You’re beloved. There is your brink of everything.