Surrender your anxiety!
Be silent and stop your striving
And you will see that I am God.
I am the God above all the nations,
And I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.
(Psalm 46:10 The Passion Translation)
Surrender your anxiety!
Be silent and stop your striving
And you will see that I am God.
I am the God above all the nations,
And I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.
(Psalm 46:10 The Passion Translation)
The desire for beauty, the hunger for union, the passion to be part of something greater than self, all arise out of our bent to worship.
~Dan B. Allender
No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.
– John Donne
I don’t think I have ever spent as much time in the waiting room of life as I have this past year. I can’t do this until that is done and that can’t be done until this, that, and those show up, but are they dependent on the receipt of a report, which appears to be lost.
In the old days I used to wail loud and long about circumstances like this. Now I wail soft and short. I’m not good at waiting in total joyful trust yet, but at least it’s an improvement. The only reason transformation, such as it is, has been able to gradually take place in my life is because I am learning to quit appealing for rescue from people who have no better clue about how to fix things than I do, and because I’m finally figuring out there are better questions to ask than “why.”
I’m learning to ask “what?” and “how?”
What do you want me to see about who you are, Lord?
How will this circumstance allow me to practise a new skill or a character quality that needs strengthening?
What resources have you already provided that I haven’t picked up yet?
And (please) where are they?
I’m not sure that this season of camping out in waiting rooms is as much about developing patience or endurance as it about addressing my trust issues. Some of these waiting experiences have been preceded by phone calls like, “This is Dr. McUnknown’s office at the Cancer Center in Calgary. He needs to talk to you right away about your test results. We suggest you bring a family member or close friend with you.”
“Cancer Center? Why do I need to see a doctor at the Cancer Center?” I ask. “What was wrong with my test?”
“I can’t tell you, but we received a referral from Dr. Unreachable this morning. Dr. McUnknown needs to see you as soon as possible and his next available appointment is…oh dear… he doesn’t have anything open for four weeks.”
I hate not knowing. Hate it. But that is where the Lord has been sticking his diagnostic finger. He presses on the spot that shrieks when it’s not in control and asks, “Does that hurt?”
“Are you kidding me? You know it hurts!” I gasp.
“Just pointing out the area of your next healing,” he says.
Then the clean-up starts. “You’re hanging on to some ideas that aren’t working for you. Let’s just toss them, shall we?”
This has also been a year of living in temporary dwellings like hotels, relatives’ homes, and hospitals because I’ve had to travel for tests and treatment. A flood that rose up in our town in February resulting in movers, hired by the insurance company, packing and stashing our belongings in boxes. They hauled them away to a storage facility somewhere while we waited – and waited — for contractors and trades people to have time to repair our house. We have lived, temporarily, in half our house while we waited for restoration crews to arrive — along with over a thousand neighbours. Some still wait as we head into winter again.
The tradesmen finished their work last week. The movers returned our boxes and furniture on Monday. But I am still recovering from surgery and can’t lift anything. Friends volunteer to help, and they are wonderful, but it’s a massive confused muddle in my house right now. So many things are “just placed here for now.”
I look around and see many people in the same waiting room of life. They are in transition watching plans unravel. We need to be reminded that although it may not feel like it, the waiting room is always a temporary experience.
Some of our friends have given up their own places and independent ways of life to live with and care for a needy family member. They know the situation is temporary, and yet they have mixed feelings: fears about it ending soon and fears about it not ending soon. I hear from former students who have finished highly prized university degrees. They have career aspirations but in the meantime, they have needed to take temporary jobs in temporary cities to start paying back student loans. To them it feels as if life is on hold.
Some friends wait for court dates, for vindications to be published, for settlements to be paid, for zoning bylaws to be changed, for permits to be issued, for grants to be granted. Others face the giant upheaval of divorce or death of a spouse, unable to move on emotionally, or even physically, until a barrage of financial and other legal details have been settled.
Some long for their soulmate to hurry and show up. Some wait eagerly for babies to arrive and some, just as eagerly, wait for grown kids to leave. Many people are waiting for promises to be fulfilled, looking for hope in the midst of reversals, living in the frustrating now-what zone in the middle of the land of not-yet .
Friends who are also in the process of getting a diagnoses and treatment plan or praying in all faith for healing tell me they also know the waiting room and that feeling of staring out the window muttering, “You’ve got to be kidding,” when hours stretch into months or years. I meet many people who, like myself, are in a season of waiting for recovery – from surgery, from trauma, from accidents, from illness, from burnout, from bankruptcy, from bereavement.
Waiting, waiting, waiting. Who knew we would spend so many hours in the waiting room of life?
I’m beginning to understand that life doesn’t stop in this place. “Temporary” may actually be where most of life is lived. It’s not a nothing time. This is a refining time. We need more training to cope with good times than we do for difficult times.
In hard times, when it finally dawns on us that we can’t control everything, we turn to a higher power and learn that when we are weak He is strong. In good times the temptation is to think that our own efforts achieved the goal and we tend to forget to rely on God. The waiting room can purge us from a sense of immature entitlement and replace it with a sense of gratitude that connects us to the heart of our heavenly Father, if we let it. This is where deep relationship is formed.
He’s in the waiting.
For many years I followed a disciplined scheduled daily reading of the Bible, but sometimes “discipline” can get in the way of learning. Sometimes you need to pause and stay with a passage or phrase or even just a word in scripture for a while, giving it time to show more facets than those that shine with first light. Sometimes you need more than an intellectual grasp of a concept. Sometimes you need to feel it in your bones, hear it in your ears, taste it on your tongue and stomp it out in frustrated walks in the woods before it moves from your heart up to your decision-maker. Then you can move on. This passage in Psalm 139 in The Passion Translation has been like that for me.
With your hand of love upon my life,
You impart a Father’s blessing to me.
This is just too wonderful,
Deep, and incomprehensible!
Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength.
Where to start? It looks straight forward enough, but this sword tip has penetrated my soul and spirit more deeply than earlier races to the reading quota finish line permitted.
Christians tend to throw around the word blessing at lot imbuing it with their own definition. I’ve been trying to find a way to describe the word blessing as it is used here. Perhaps one way is to mirror its opposite. Benediction (blessing in Latin) means good speaking. It’s opposite is malediction – bad speaking. Mal at the beginning of a word with Latin roots means bad, sick, dysfunctional, evil: malady, malaise, malnourished, malice, malpractice, malcontent. Malediction means curse.
Bene, on the other hand means good, helpful, enriching, empowering, visionary. Compare words beginning with bene: benefit, benevolent, benefactor, beneficiary. When the fathers of ancient times gave their children blessings they officially gifted them with the recognition of who they were as individuals and imparted a vision for their future.
One day I witnessed the opposite. An event I would call a soul assault took place in the produce aisle. An adult publicly dishonoured a child by shouting (in much harsher words than these): “You are a huge disappointment. You have no positive qualities and will amount to nothing in life – ever.”
Every parent blows it sometimes. To this day I could cry when I remember one particular incident when I said something in fear and anger, which was entirely untrue, to a child I loved dearly. I have apologized, but my disappointment in myself helped me forgive my own parents for words spoken in frustration, or under stress I was too young to comprehend. But, you know, when it comes to pain, whether someone drives over your foot intentionally or accidentally, it still leaves a mark. Words have power and when you are young they can leave marks — often in the form of signs stuck to our foreheads where everyone can see them.
Have you heard this expression? A sweater is something you wear when your mother feels cold. I laughed when I heard this, but I know a lot of us can relate to this statement. Experience has taught us what it is like to be bound by another person’s priorities and tastes or swaddled in another person’s perceptions, well-meaning though they may be. My own daughter has been known to say wisely, “That’s your fear, Ma, not mine.”
How we long to be understood. How we long for someone who can help us understand ourselves. We yearn to hear good words about our true identities and true destinies. This is particularly true for people who had absent or emotionally distant fathers.
Someone who was an important and intimidating influence in my youth came to visit after I was married and had children. I was excited to see her and wanted her to be impressed with my choices in life. I longed for her approval.
“Well, I see you stopped developing your talent,” she said. “Tell me, what are your aspirations for your son?”
I answered, “That he will be free to replace my aspirations with his own.”
She was not impressed. She thought my answer was rude and flippant. That’s when I realized that seeking the blessing of someone who had an agenda and a plan for how I could continue to fulfill her aspirations would only lead to disappointment for one or both of us.
It did. One of the last things she expressed to me before she died a few years later was her disappointment that I had not lived up to her expectations. I felt like the child in the grocery store with a label slapped on my forehead. FAILURE. At the time it didn’t occur to me that I could seek God’s blessing, his hand of favour that ripped off the labels other people’s maledictions had placed there since I was a child.
But my heavenly Father’s blessing changes labels.
Our Saviour understands who we are. That’s how he can say his yoke is easy. When we take on a yoke to work beside him we can learn from him how to move with ease. This is like the difference between losing track of time as we work in the creative zone and checking the time as we labour in the pits (unless, of course, you find pit work fulfilling.) He said he has prepared tasks and destinies for us that fit our makeup. He gets us! He understands us and cares like no one else ever can.
It’s not easy for us to get this though. Letting Him replace labels we have worn for years and displayed for the powers around us to read and exploit requires the daring choice of acting on what we do not yet see. Acting on what we do not yet see is called faith. Without faith transformation doesn’t happen.
The way God sees us and His thoughts about us can feel too good to be true. After all the years of allowing ourselves to be defined by people who are often also disappointed in themselves, words of blessing seem “too wonderful” and “incomprehensible.” Dare we actually believe the many ways God communicates and the scripture that confirms his kind intentions? Sometimes we are tempted to question if we are dipping into self-centered, self-actualizing, self-aggrandizement. Yet, as we begin to test out new labels and divest ourselves of the old, we find his good words – the Father’s blessing – bring us strength.
I bought a new album this week. My daughter suggested it when she came to help me when I had surgery for cancer three weeks ago. It would have been easy to smile and say thanks, but musically it’s not my style. She said the lyrics are powerful, and I trust her, so I bought it, downloaded it on my phone, put my earphones on and went for a wobbly walk.
This song has ended up on repeat all week as I physically march to it. In my last blog I wrote about picking the fruit-provision that God cached in advance in places we would find it along the journey. This song is like a luscious plum ready to grab and eat.
I am no victim.
I live with a vision.
I am who He says I am.
I am defined by all His promises.
I’m covered by the force of love.
He is my Father, and with his hand of love upon my life He imparts a Father’s blessing.
I came home from my walk yesterday with apples in my pockets and a rant in my mouth.
“I can’t believe these people!” I told my husband. “There are half a dozen fruit trees in this neighbourhood that haven’t been picked! I tell you, if your apples are hanging over the fence and if you haven’t picked them by the day the first winter storm is predicted, I’m taking some.”
I tossed him a cold crisp MacIntosh. “Here. It’s delicious!”
He looked at me with the suspicion of a man who remembers what happened the last time a woman offered him stolen fruit.
“And plums!” I added. “There’s a tree down the alley that is still loaded with Damsons. They could at least let some homeless people or single moms or some folks from the food bank with ladders come onto their property and fill up their boxes. It drives me nuts when perfectly good food goes to waste!
And this happens every year. And then the bears follow the scent into town in the fall and the deer are gorging on mushy fallen fruit and pooping everywhere and then the cougars show up and get shot because they scare parents and dog owners. Aaargh!”
I grew up on the Canadian prairies where the weather was too harsh for most fruit trees. Heaven, in my child’s mind, was filled with luxurious fruit you could simply reach up and take. Maybe it still is. But having fruit trees is like having pets. You’ve got to look after them. “Steward them” in Christianese.
I went over to the window to arrange my over-the-fence apples and take photos of them, because that’s what I do when the light is good, and I heard my Lord’s voice.
“I know how you feel.”
“I have made provision for you that you have failed to grab.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Exactly. You need to extend your faith a little to get it, but it’s there.”
Well. That shut me up.
I’ve been feeling inadequate for a task I believe the Lord has been asking me to do for ages. I’ve let opportunity after opportunity pass by like the seasons as I wait to be endowed from on high with inspiration, creativity, and resources.
What does extending faith look like?
It looks like getting out a ladder and reaching for provision unnoticed in the everyday. It’s refusing to let another season pass ignoring what you already have access to. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t be distracted. Don’t be lazy. Go for it! Then share.
I hear You.
“The prayer that begins with trustfulness, and passes on into waiting, will always end in thankfulness, triumph, and praise.”
There was a time in my life when it seemed I had far more wedding and bridal and baby shower invitations than available babysitters. We all knew that such events included obligatory traditions as well as some pressure to meet expectations for originality. Do it this way, but differently. I began to wish my friends, and then my friends’ children, would just announce elopements and spawning events with photos on Facebook. I preferred emailing a gift card and skipping the whole toilet paper and clothes pin games and the dressing up for awkward speeches and plastic cup toasts thing.
Now I’m older. Funeral announcements have gradually outnumbered wedding and baby shower invitations. I realize I undervalued the opportunity to celebrate beginnings. I wish I had connected with joy more.
There can be joy in the midst of sorrow when we know someone is now in the presence of the Lord, but we can’t deny the existence of sorrow. Call it a “Celebration of Life Party” if you like, but funerals are sad events. Some funerals are sadder than others. Loss is loss, even if it’s the loss of someone who didn’t stir feelings of fondness. Sometimes the saddest loss of all is the loss of opportunity to build a better relationship.
The undeniable fact about death rituals is that they can permit and perpetuate really bad theology – what we think about God. And since what we think about God is the most important foundation in our lives, funerals and “comforting words” in the reception line have a way of forcing us to realize this is where the rubber meets the road, philosophically.
Group mourning rituals can be very similar to weddings. We still have the do-it-this-way-but-differently pressures when arranging a funeral, but with much less time to prepare, an undefined budget and no RSVP list of attendees. Maybe that’s why many people still feel the need to hire an ordained hatch, match and despatch specialist, even when church attendance occurred less frequently than visits to Santa in the life of the honoree. Some clerics are very good at nurturing and comforting in times of need. Some others? Well, not so much.
One of the saddest remarks I heard at a funeral was from a person officiating who said, “Our hope is that our friend made a good enough impression on God that someday he will be allowed to come back and help clean up the earth.”
My heart ached. But I could not judge. For many years I said I believed in God’s grace, but in practice my actions showed I believed in the necessity of making a good impression on God, so he would have mercy on me and not toss me into the trash heap of discardables on judgement day.
God has given me long time-outs on this journey. I’ve had chances to scrape off performance-based religious burrs collected along the way. I still do keep running into residual ideas still clinging to my own previously unexamined places, but I realize for many people thinking about talking to God is like preparing for a make or break interview. Prayer feels like having to make a good impression on God, so he will act in one’s favour. Sacrificial acts of piety and charity carry what we hope is a suitably subtle label: God, please note. (And a sigh: I hope I’m doing this right!)
I find myself again idling at a rest stop along the road as I recuperate from surgery this season. I find stuck to myself the remnants of an uncomfortable feeling that I’m not doing enough. I should be writing something deeply profound, or at least organizing my sock drawer. Is rest self-indulgent? What if I fail to impress? Will I will be forgotten?
My heavenly Father heard my questions (before I voiced them) and that’s when Holy Spirit showed up in a new translation of Psalm 139 that attempts to include emotional communication. It’s so rich, a gift of gold light showering down like the autumn leaves.
I plan to feel and rest my way through meditation on this psalm. How profound is the concept that our Creator knows us down to the cellular level and still loves us? How can we possibly think we can impress (or fool) someone who knows our thoughts before we do, someone who is not bound by our chronological sense of time, and who still persists in trying to communicate his love?
At first, immersing myself in Psalm 139 felt like giving into a tendency to be self-indulgent and self-centered. I was taught that being a Christian means putting Jesus first, others second and yourself last. (We even had an acronym for this approach – “J,O,Y”) The work ethic is strong in my culture; a sense of accomplishment is a highly polished trophy passed reluctantly from one hard worker to another.
Here, in this psalm, the Holy Spirit tells us that before we did anything, thought anything, or were aware of anything worthy of approval, we were the object of his unceasing kind thoughts and the source of his joy. We see ourselves as having value because he first loved us. We love him because he first loved us. We love others because he first loved us. First things first.
Since we can’t give what we have not filled up on, there are seasons when we need to take time to soak in his love like a baby floating in amniotic fluid. Times of rest are like celebrations of joyful new beginnings without the budget restrictions and societal expectations.
I’m learning to celebrate this time of re-alignment by soaking in these words.
Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.
You’ve examined my innermost being
With your loving gaze.
You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,
And understand my every thought
Before it even enters my mind.
You are so intimately aware of me, Lord,
You read my heart like an open book
And you know all the words I’m about to speak
Before I even start a sentence!
-from Psalm 139, The Passion Translation
There is more of God’s love, always more love, than we dare to think or imagine.