Lean on Me
A blog post by Tom Schwolert
Image Credit: Trust in the Lord by listentothemountains on Flickr
There’s an old camp song that goes, “Whose side are you leanin’ on? Leanin’ on the Lord’s side. I lean, I lean, I lean, I lean, leanin’ on the Lord’s side.” I really hated it because it was so cheesy, as many camp songs are. Maybe that’s why we don’t forget them. If there has ever been a “song plant,” I’ve had this one planted in my head this past week. It’s driving me nuts!
But it’s been a silly way of reminding me of the theological concept of leaning. Yes I’m going to go out on a limb and call this a theological concept that we need to examine. No I didn’t do a Greek word search, but I did look for the word in the Bible and really couldn’t find much evidence of it aside from a few references in the Old Testament that didn’t reveal anything new about the word. But go with me on this.
One of the best words of advice I’ve heard as I have been grieving the loss of my son Max over the past year was what I read in a book called Grieving Forward by Susan Duke. She says, “You just have to lean into the grief.” I’m sure others have said this as well, but the line has stuck with me. It has helped me immensely as I indeed have a huge fear of getting “lost in the holidays.”
I’m afraid that as I approach Christmas I am going to spiral down into some sort of dark hole from which I can’t return. Max died on December 29, so he had just spent his last Christmas with all his cousins and family when he got sick. I’ll admit, I’m very afraid. It is very real and I find myself at times having to catch my breath when I overthink the impending holidays. But Susan Duke’s words keep coming back to me. Just lean into it. Don’t try to overcome it, “pull up your bootstraps,” or make a huge leap of trust into the abyss. Just lean. Take it slow and know that God is with you every step of the way.
I don’t believe there are “four easy steps” to entering into the holidays if you are worried about getting lost in them. No matter what that “lost” might mean for you, I think the idea of leaning into it, and leaning into God’s loving arms of grace, is a good place to start.
For me, it is worry about experiencing our first Christmas without our son. For you it may be loss, or it may be something else. For you, the holidays might bring an anxiety that only comes this time of year because things start to ramp up around Thanksgiving and stay at an unattainable pace until Christmas. We worry that we won’t be able to meet everyone’s expectations, even our own and the holidays become a constant time of “catch up.”
Whatever it is for you, I encourage you right now to “lean” into God’s promises. Take a moment to read this short Proverb. You may have heard Proverbs 3 before (and yes, there is a camp song about it). Take a look at verse 5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” Some translations use the word “lean” for “rely.”
One of the greatest gifts we have as followers of Jesus is that we can say, “I can’t do this by myself, God.” We can replace our “lostness” with “leaning.” And God who promises all good things will shower us with grace and mercy as we “lean” into God’s promises and anticipate the coming of the greatest gift of all, God’s very own son. We might even find ourselves singing “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers; it’s not near as cheesy as those camps songs.
Lean in my friends.
After 26 years in congregational youth and family ministry, Tom is taking a break and focusing on discovering what God has in store for this next chapter in ministry.