When you live between beauty and mess, celebration and mourning, disappointment and contentment, how can you find redemption in what is rather than what could be? One woman did it by practicing the presence of God through rediscovering ancient contemplative teachings and practices (solitude, study, work, prayer, and service) and pairing them with domestic arts (baking, gardening, sewing).
Bible Gateway interviewed Jerusalem Jackson Greer (@JerusalemGreer) about her book, At Home in this Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises (Paraclete Press, 2017).
What do you mean, “balance is a myth when it comes to living a wholehearted life”?
Jerusalem Jackson Greer: For me, living a wholehearted life means intentionally choosing to be all-in with my life. It means agreeing with God’s desire that I be present to the moment at hand, the people, the struggles, and the triumphs—to the mess, and the beauty, of our lives—as it comes. And as we all know, life rarely happens at a steady pace. Love, heartache, losses, and gains—they all come in fits and bursts, it’s all feast or famine.
How many times over a lifetime do we say “when it rains, it pours!” Living a wholehearted life means we don’t try and contain the rain in neat little boxes to be dealt with later—this never works anyway. Instead it means we show up and we get wet. We allow those experiences—good, bad, messy, amazing—to soak us to our core, often changing us from the outside-in. Which is where the Holy Spirit work really begins.
But if we’re pursuing balance instead of wholehearted living, we’re going to live lives of frustration and resentment, because it’ll always seem to be just out of reach. Which is why I’m so keen on debunking the myth of a balanced life.
What are examples from the Bible of people living “at the crossroads of unraveled dreams and beautiful surprises”?
Jerusalem Jackson Greer: My favorite examples would have to be stories of women who were placed in impossible circumstances, who found joy and hope in the midst of their situations. Naomi and Ruth, Rachel and Leah, Miriam, Rahab, and Esther. All of these women had dreams that came unraveled—lives that disintegrated due to forces outside their control—and each of them made choices to still show up in their lives. To go all-in; to be present to the situation instead of running away. Each and every woman chose to face the hard things in her life with courage, and each found beautiful surprises because of this choice, including Mary, the mother of Jesus.
What undoing aspects of your own life prompted you to write At Home in this Life?
Jerusalem Jackson Greer: Not to sound like a country-western song, but my dog died, my chickens were killed, the roof fell in, I lost the farm, and then I broke my foot. It sounds ridiculous in retrospect, but yes, all those things happened, and they happened within an 18-month period. So needless to say, I was looking for a beacon of hope; a rope to pull myself out of the “pit of despair” as Anne of Green Gables would say. Which is how I stumbled onto Jeremiah 29 and the Benedictine practices.
How did Jeremiah 29 figure into your circumstances?
Jerusalem Jackson Greer: A lot of what went wrong during the Awful Year (as I refer to it) centered on the house and place that we were living. It was while researching the context of Jeremiah 29:11 (a verse that was quoted to me multiple times in that season), that I begrudgingly noticed how similar the attitude of the Israelites (who were in exile at the time) was to mine. In other words, they were extremely petulant and dissatisfied. Which made me wonder if perhaps the instructions God was giving to them in order for them to be present and joyful in their life—to build houses, plant gardens, raise their families, and be a part of the community they were living in—could also be applied to my life. And the answer turned out to be a very clear YES.
How have you combined ancient Benedictine spiritual practices with crafts, recipes, and your everyday living?
Jerusalem Jackson Greer: Benedictine monasticism is one that’s centered on life lived in community, so it was an easy skip-and-a-hop to apply a lot of the practices to modern domestic and family life.
Cooking together is a way to practice the discipline of mutual obedience (with is really respectful listening). Planting gardens is a way to practice steadfastness. DIY projects are a way to practice being good stewards of our home. Stitching prayer flags is a great way to practice stillness while creating a great tool for practicing everyday prayer.
By intentionally pairing things we would do anyway—cook, garden, care for our home—with faith practices, we’ve really found a deepening of our understanding of what it means to partner with God in our transformation. And it gives a greater purpose and motivation to do all these things as “unto Christ” instead of just for our own benefit.
Briefly explain how “usefulness and stillness can be partners or they can be enemies.”
Jerusalem Jackson Greer: While there’s nothing inherently wrong being efficient and prolific in our abilities to get things done, I think we’ve begun to mistakenly become accustomed to equating our productivity with our self-worth, and even our soul-worth.
We tend to look at the tangibles in our lives—our bank accounts, our homes, the numbers on our step-counters and bathroom scales, the ratings of the schools and neighborhoods we live in—for our sense of accomplishment and worth. We equate being useful with being busy.
But actually, sometimes the most useful thing we can do is to sit quietly with someone who’s grieving. Sometimes the most useful thing we can do for our families is to take an extra-long, non-calorie burning, totally inefficient start-and-stop walk around the block. Often we’re more useful to the things and people who matter most when we’re still, and slow, and not producing anything but presence.
What are 30-minute Sabbath practices?
Jerusalem Jackson Greer: 30-minute Sabbath practices are mini-reset buttons. Ways that anyone—or any group—can press pause and savor the goodness of God and creation.
In the creation account, when observing the first Sabbath, God looks around, calls it all good and then rests. God paused, delighted, and then savored in the goodness of creation, instead of feverishly running to the next item on the cosmic “to-do list”!
30-minute Sabbath practices are intentional ways that we can all experience a respite from our overscheduled harried lives by making the decision to stop. Delight. And savor. When we do all three with intention, we can reset for our minds, bodies, and souls, falling back into a rhythm where we live, and move, and have our being in Christ.
What lessons have you learned from your worm farm?
Jerusalem Jackson Greer: The number-one thing my worms taught me was that it’s often the least-sexy work that produces the richest gifts. Second to that would be that within us all is the ability to feel and hear and sense the presence of the Holy Spirit; but in order to do so, we have to show up to the job site. We have to be ready to receive.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Jerusalem Jackson Greer: Right now I’m obsessed with John 21:1-14, specifically where Jesus makes breakfast for the disciples on the beach and says to them “come and eat!” I just get giddy thinking about this scene. This to me is what life is all about: gathering together around tables—dining tables, coffee tables, picnic tables, altar tables—and opening our arms wide and saying to everyone we see, “Come on y’all! Let’s eat!”
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Jerusalem Jackson Greer: This is not a hyperbole, but I could not do what I do well, without Bible Gateway. I use Bible Gateway for every aspect of my work: writing, preaching, speaking, teaching, blogging. The Bible Gateway tab pretty much stays open on my laptop at all times.
Bio: In addition to writing At Home in this Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises and A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting, and Coming Together, Jerusalem Jackson Greer is also a blogger, speaker, and Family Minister. Jerusalem, her husband Nathan, and their two boys Wylie and Miles, live in rural Arkansas where they’re attempting to live a slower version of modern life. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. She writes about all of this and more at jerusalemgreer.com.
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