By the Waters of Comfort

Relieve and comfort all the persecuted and afflicted;

speak peace to troubled consciences;

strengthen the weak;

confirm the strong;

instruct the ignorant;

deliver the oppressed from him that spoileth him;

and relieve the needy that hath no helper;

and being by us all, by the waters of comfort,

and in the ways of righteousness,

to the Kingdom of rest and glory,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

-Jeremy Taylor

I sat in a waiting room this week. I knew before I got there the wait would be long. The day after Christmas and New Years holidays were over had a fun-is-done back-to-business feeling at the medical lab. It may have been business-like, but there were so many feelings swirling about in that room.

Legal measures taken to protect patient privacy are trumped by thin curtains between beds or loud conversations between patients and a masked receptionist behind a plexiglass wall. It reminds me of a scene from the old comedy show “Get Smart” when secret agents are covered by a “cone of silence” which required them to yell because they couldn’t hear each other. When the plexiglass wall of silence is in the middle of a crowded waiting room, all pretense of privacy is gone.

Some people are mortified at having to explain what is in the sample bottle they are dropping off and they avoid eye contact with other humans for the rest of the day. Others don’t seem to care. In fact, some people give their information freely (and repeatedly due to the impediments to communication). Then they take a number, sit down, and look for someone to tell their troubles to. There are a lot of troubles expressed in a crowded waiting room at the hospital lab in the week after the holidays.

I’m not good at blocking the sights and sounds out. I’ve been given advice on how to ignore sad stories whether they are told in winces and groans or given in long detailed descriptions, but I know what it is like to cry and not be heard. So I listen. It’s something I actually like about myself, so I’m not likely to take the advice to block people out. I can’t imagine a caring Jesus blocking out people out. Prioritizing getting away to a quiet place where he could hear his Father’s voice? Yes, but not by pretending he didn’t notice or treating people as if their stories were not important. He always brought encouragement.

It’s the getting away to be heard by our heavenly Father, and to listen to His peace and kindness that heals our own souls and allows us to walk in hope in the middle of hopelessness. The comfort he has given us is shareable. It’s called compassion.

Earlier, while waiting for my husband at his own appointment, I was able to stop by the lake on a cool cloudy January day. There, by the waters of comfort, I found peace in the presence of the Lover of my soul. I could continue a day of tests of various types knowing, no matter what, I am loved and therefore able to extend love. And when I’m running low, I’m learning there’s plenty more where that came from.

Note to Self

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Someone sent a note. I love notes. She noticed I haven’t written much lately and was concerned for my health.

Thank you for asking. I have some health challenges, but not enough to keep me away from the keyboard. I haven’t posted as regularly as usual because, well, I needed to stop talking, hit delete, and go listen to people I care about – to good friends, to not-so-good friends, to strangers, and even to my own heart. I especially needed to take time to listen to the Holy Spirit. I still do.

It’s been a noisy time. I hear fear. So much fear. I hear anger. This kind of anger is not aimed just at the people in authority in government. This kind of anger has roots tangled with other roots of offense that go deep. These roots, extending for miles, connect with many disappointments in people and institutions we trusted. They extend so far back into the faded past, many are not sure where it all started.

I found myself swept along by the mob, demanding justice and payback for the sins of people who were themselves demanding retribution for the dishonour dumped on them – for years. I was also not-so-secretly cheering at the public revelation of moral failures on their side.

I was about to enjoy tossing off a good rant, when one of my own older blog posts popped up and arrested my attention. It was about the importance of waiting on God for wisdom and discernment and asking better questions. (You can find it here.)

In a dream, an exasperated voice asked me if I even read the stuff I write. Oh dear. It seemed like a good time to go back and read some sermons to self. I realized that wisdom and discernment are getting lost under a stack of my personal opinions and offended reactions. Note to self: Pay attention. Prioritize.

I also listened to a friend who suggested looking at a well-known story about Jesus differently. A group of men dragged a woman, caught in the act of adultery, before Jesus. It wasn’t about the woman. They didn’t care about her. They wanted to trap Jesus into doing or saying something politically inexpedient. It was a set-up to catch him making a self-contradicting statement. Not an unfamiliar scenario these days.

The mob raged. Jesus said nothing. Instead, he stooped and wrote something in the dirt.

Many people have speculated about what he wrote. If it was important, I’m sure it would have been included in the narrative, but that hasn’t stopped me from speculating too.

“What if,” my friend asked, pausing in a way that gave weight to what he was about to say next, “What if Jesus was just doodling?”

“Doodling?”

“Doodling. You know, drawing sheep with silly grins or maybe writing a Latin lesson. “Amo, amas, I loved a lass…”

“I doubt that. Your point?”

“What if the point of writing in the dirt was to break the momentum of the mob? Have you noticed that mob mentality provokes you to throw decorum aside and say or do things that, given the opportunity to think about it, you realize would probably embarrass you later?”

“Are you saying that when people stopped shouting and leaned in to see what he was doing, he gave them time to think independently?”

“Well, when he gave the ones who had never sinned the opportunity to cast the first stone, he hinted that maybe they should examine their own hearts for impulsive, rebellious, evil, or just plain stupid decisions they have also made.”

“I think I see,” I said. “And when the momentum was broken, when they stopped running with the mob, they could think about their actions.”

“He told the woman not to sin again,” my friend said, “so he wasn’t affirming her choice. But she wasn’t the one who asked the question. She wasn’t making demands on him with a disingenuous motive.”

Note to self: Don’t let the mob think for you.

It’s election season in my country. ‘Tis the season for striving for positions of power and, by virtue signalling or opponent bashing, divide the population into cheerleading teams for a winner-takes-all verbal battle.

Integrity seems to have vanished in the dust-up.

The questions behind the question of whose team to root for are probably more important than we realize. Why are we afraid? Where did the anger come from? What happened to hope, to trust, to goodness, to love? Why do we put our trust in mere mortal, obviously fallible “kings” to save us?

No. I’m sorry. Not we… I.

I have to stop the ranting and examine my own heart. Why am I afraid? Why am I angry? When did I lose trust? Who am I expecting to be my saviour?

My country needs good, faithful competent administrators who will put the needs of its people ahead of their own. Integrity matters. Character matters. Trust matters. I have a responsibility to pray for discernment and vote wisely. But I don’t need a father or mother figure, or a pope or a guru, or an indulgent Santa Claus or any other idol. I already have a God. My hope is in him.

I’m going to stop talking now and go for a walk. It’s time to seek the Lord.

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Every Detail

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Have you ever searched online for a recipe using the ingredients you actually have in the house? Have you clicked on the suggested site and then had to plow through the details of the cook’s day before finding the instructions way down at the bottom under photos of her aunt’s birthday party? Have you ever said to yourself in exasperation, “All I want to know is how many eggs?

Have you ever been trapped by the expectation of polite silence placed on the captured pew audience and listened to a rambling sermon that seemed to include a dozen unrelated illustrations plucked at random from the Good Book. Have you wondered where this was going, if anywhere?

Have you ever said to someone, “How are you?” and they took your question as a literal invitation to recite their medical records? Have you wondered if you should send flowers now or wait for the funeral should they actually succumb to toenail fungus?

Have you ever wanted to say, “I don’t have time for this. Please just get to the point?”

I’m sure people have with me. One of the advantages of writing is the ability to edit out superfluous detail. People don’t have time to travel rabbit trails with me, and frankly, even the most caring among us does not have the capacity to listen to every detail, let alone delight in it.

Have you ever asked your child or grandchild about the classic movie a friend took them to and been delighted to hear every detail, from the story of the kid who spilled his popcorn in the lobby to a description of the hero’s father’s home planet? Our delight is not in the movie. We’ve seen it. Our delight is in the relationship. We rejoice in the child’s joy.

People who have lost spouses or friends, or have been separated from them for long periods of time, tell me the hardest part is not having anyone to share good news with. Someone who cares about the details of your day, someone who doesn’t communicate with watch checking or key jangling that they just want you to get to the point, someone who actually enjoys being in your presence is one of the greatest gifts to our souls’ well-being.

Here’s the most beautiful thing about our relationship with God. He has all the time in the world. He has an infinite capacity to care. He delights in you and every detail of your life.

When I first started on a journey to get to know God better I decided to go on a long walk with Jesus. I didn’t know what to say, so I told him about a movie I had seen. I pretended I was holding his hand like I was a child. I didn’t listen much. I didn’t know I could. After a few days of telling him about the details of my life no one else seemed interested in, he began to tell me about the things he cared about. It began with a flower in the woods, and a bird in the tree.

I began to listen. I wept with him. I rejoiced with him. Because he listens.

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The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.

Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand.

(Psalm 37:23, 24 NLT)

Save

Presence

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In the past few years I have heard many worship songs about longing to be in God’s presence. Some of them have become favourites. Early this morning, as I was in that half-in half-out state of sleep, it dawned on me that so much of what God has gone to great effort to communicate is that he longs to be in our presence, with us fully alive and focused on who he is.