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Lean in for a hug, or even a kiss.  Lean in to smell something delicious.  Lean in to hear something more clearly.  Lean in to be part of the group and see what’s happening.  Lean in to the huddle to hear the next play.  Lean in and over your baby’s bed to watch them peacefully sleeping.  Lean in to just be near someone.

Sometimes instead we lean out…maybe because something or someone smells bad.  Lean out because you feel rejected or your opinion isn’t respected.  Lean out because something or someone has hurt you and you want to back away.  Lean out because leaning in is taking too much effort.  Lean out because you’re afraid to be too close.  Lean out because the uncertainty of what’s next is too nerve-wracking and leaning out seems easier.

My sister shared wise words with me a long time ago from a book she read about marriage: always lean into your spouse, no matter what was happening.  Lean into each other and into God.  That image has been tucked away in my heart and mind ever since and has helped me many times.

John and I have mostly been leaning in toward each other throughout our marriage.  There have been moments, of course, when we forget or our pride gets in the way and we back off out of feeling offended or stubborn or any other childish attitude overtakes us for a little while.  There is always this ache inside of me, however, to be on the same page with him again and to be close.    I picture us standing toe to toe, facing one another, holding both of eachother’s hands.  How much easier to stand when we’re both leaning in and holding each other.  I don’t like the feeling of either one of us leaning out and away from each other or letting go of one or both hands.  It throws us off kilter and takes a little more effort to lean back in and become close again.  It causes us to feel more alone.  This morning we leaned in again, closer to one another and closer to God…straining to hear His voice, to understand each other’s perspective, to vent and process.  It always makes our relationship better, even if leaning in hurts at first or is a little scary because you’re not sure how the other will react or respond.  When we lean in, we’re stronger and less susceptible to being taken down by an enemy.

As I think about Mary and Joseph and the first part of the Christmas story we’re all so familiar with, I think of how Joseph had to make a choice to lean out or lean in regarding his relationship with Mary and with God.  I’ve not been faced with as difficult a decision as he had, that’s for sure.  It was so difficult that God, in his mercy, sent an angel to encourage the confused, hurt, and likely bewildered young man who lay trying to fall asleep after hearing that his fiance was pregnant.  It had to be the absolutely LAST thing he ever expected her to tell him and it threw their relationship and his heart off-balance and unsteady.  He and Mary must have each felt so alone at first.  I’m so glad He was willing to trust God and lean in.  I can picture Him taking a deep breath, standing up tall, moving close to Mary, taking hold of her hands and then the two of them standing wrapped in the arms of their heavenly Father who they were obeying but really didn’t fully understand.  It had to be frightening, it had to hurt even after the angel told him it would be okay.  Yet, he leaned in.  Can you imagine how much it meant to Mary to hear Joseph tell her that he wasn’t pulling away, he was going to stay with her.  The relief alone probably carried her a good while.  She wasn’t alone.  He wasn’t alone.  And God was with them, holding them together.

In your relationship with spouse, family, friends and/or with God, lean in.  If you’re afraid or angry or indifferent, if you’re elated and thankful, if you’re tired or burned out, lean in.  God promised that whenever we do, He will lean in toward us, too.

Don’t draw back or pull away.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you  James 4:7  NAS

Oh Christ, be the center of our lives
Be the place we fix our eyes…
We lift our eyes to heaven,
We wrap our lives around Your life…
You hold everything together.    © Charlie Hall

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