Settle in to your quiet space with several deep, slow breaths. Light a candle (or two) if you wish.
Breathe in: In your tender mercy
Breathe out: break upon us
- Malachi 3:1-4 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? for he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier… until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. (Mal. 3:2-3a, c)
- Luke 1:68-79 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them… as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old. (Luke 1:68, 70)
- Philippians 1:3-11 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6)
- Luke 3:1-6 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Luke 3:6)
“Being refined”—especially spiritually!—is not a particularly encouraging or happy image. The outcome (hopefully) is a good one, as in Malachi chapter 3, where the Lord “refines” away the impurities from precious metals, leaving only what is pure, good, and valuable. But that refining is a hard process, even a painful one, a burning-up. At times, we all have refinement happen to us, whether we like it or not. Things happen that force us to shed, or burn up, the stuff that’s not serving us. We are refined into a more clear expression of what we truly care about, what we truly believe, who we truly are.
Makers and artists also practice refinement, as a way of clarifying their art. The story goes that Michaelangelo, carving his statue of David, described his artistic process as cutting away the parts of the stone that are not David. That’s refining: removing everything that isn’t the real thing. I imagine that process felt very different to Michaelangelo when he first started chipping away hunks of the original stone block, than when he got down to the delicate work of defining each lifelike muscle. But the premise remained the same: only that which was David would remain.
At the coming of Jesus (and the coming of all babies, and the coming of the Christmas season too) we may find ourselves reflecting on what really matters—to us, in our families, for the world. What is left when we carve away everything that is not us, who we are made to be? How can we continue to be refined?
This week, consider how you work toward being refined for the Advent—the coming—of Jesus.
How do makers and crafters practice refining their work (and in their work)?
- By limiting their options: working within a restrained color palette, or with only select materials.
- By removing distractions, clearing their space of what is no longer inspiring.
- By letting go of what’s not working, what doesn’t serve the work. A famous maxim for writers is “murder your darlings,” meaning you may love that character, but you have to be honest enough to know whether they are truly serving the story… and if they’re not, they’ve gotta go.
Many (most? all?) of us are surrounded by more stuff than we actually care about—and that goes for material stuff as well as spiritual and emotional stuff. We keep things that we consider “our darlings” without really remembering why they seem so important. Refining, and being refined, allows us to see our work clearly… and allows us to be truly seen, as well.
Take a few minutes to explore your space and select an item or two that represent “being refined” for (or in, or through) the work of making your life. Bring these items into your sacred space. Some ideas:
- A project you started but need to let go.
- A handwritten note or list that may include: names of social media accounts you’re choosing to unfollow; “dreams” you once had; plans you now know you can’t fulfill; distracting apps you can delete…
- An art or craft supply you’re choosing to work with (or choosing not to).
- A chip of rock to remind you of Michaelangelo and what is not David.
In the week ahead, reflect on these items and how they represent being refined: How are you being refined for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom?
What can you let go of that helps you clarify who you are and what your work is? How does it feel to chip away what is not truly useful, truly inspiring, or truly beloved? Can you say “thank you and goodbye” to something that once helped you move forward but now is merely cluttering your view? What are you hanging on to that is clearly not you?
Maker of the Universe,
in this season of refinement
—this overwhelming season, this overstuffed season—
show me again
how You are refining me
to be the truest version
of who You are calling
me to be.
Let me look with clarity at the tools I have at hand
and at the unformed work in front of me,
so I can know what needs to be carved away.
Show me what I can cut away to reveal what is real,
what is true.
Let me be curious.
Let me grow courageous.
Let me face fire, stone, and the delete button
knowing that on the other side of letting go (and burning up)
is inspiration, wonder, creation
In this season of overconsumption, O God,
teach me how
—by the discipline of being refined—
even I can join You
in making things new.