When I was a kid we looked forward to seeing cheesy old black and white movies about saints and Bible characters or missionaries and martyrs. They were the only non-TV movies we were allowed to go to because they were shown at a church and not in a theater. Sometimes the sound of the film projector was louder than the incredibly wordy dialogue, but still I was impressed. I wanted to be a martyr for God like that.
I remember the otherworldly holy gaze upward nearly all the actors displayed when faced with a call to lay down their lives to the glory of God. I practised it in front of a mirror.
Clutching my little red Gideon New Testament plus the Psalms to my chest I tilted my head slightly to the left and looked up at the desk lamp now shining down spotlight fashion from the top of a pile of books on Dad’s dresser. Moving only my eyeballs I checked my image in the long mirror on the back of the door to see if I had it right.
Maybe, someday, if I worked hard enough and pleased God enough He would use me in some dramatic spotlit way. I needed to get the holy look down.
The truth is half a century later I’ve never managed to look like the holy guys in the movies. Neither do any of the humbly honest people I know dedicated to keeping it real while placing high priority on getting to know God’s reality. They are just folks who know they are loved. All of them are still works in progress (although some seem to need less work than others.)
Even though I don’t always say it out loud, when the phone rings lately my reaction is more likely to be a full eye roll and a “Now what?” than the sacred upward half eye roll. (which is an improvement over total panic, but not where I would like to be as far as joyful response goes.)
So much news of major disruptions in the lives of family and friends has arrived by text message or phone in the last few months that I’m tempted not to pick it up when it rings. Marriage problems, health crises, business fiascos, loss of property, the sudden death of loved ones, unjust treatment, the revelation of corruption in unexpected places, misunderstandings bound in red tape, and dreams deflated like a flat tire… It seems I’ve mourned with a lot of people lately.
I know that in every situation there is a provision for more grace and that God is never stymied by human foibles or unseasonable weather or budget restraints or talking head prognosticators. I know Jesus is victor and the enemy is defeated. I know he has brought us through thus far and he promises to never leave. I know the outcome of walking through the storm is finding the gold on the other side.
But sometimes there’s a lot of upheaval in the process.
While I was praying about this (and confessing my lousy attitude) I remembered a dream I had a while ago. In the dream I was walking outside a schoolyard beside a chain link fence. Suddenly the ground began to shake. On either side of the path a wall of moving earth and rocks and boulders rose up. It looked like an animated scene from an old church basement movie depicting the crossing of the Red Sea – only the water was not parted. The ground was.
Boulders flew around pulverizing each other to dust and dirt flowed in massive waves. But all of it regarded the boundaries on either side of the path and never crossed the line, like the wall of water in the movies.
“What the…?” I asked, in my less than church movie-worthy holy stance.
“Don’t look to the right or to the left. Keep your eyes on the path,” I heard.
“What’s happening?” I asked, trying hard to ignore hurtling objects in my peripheral vision that made me want to duck – fast.
“I’m moving heaven and earth for you.” (I wish English had a plural for you. It felt plural.)
There are some things you can’t learn in school. There are some lessons about the character of God and Christ’s unrelenting love for us that can only be demonstrated in the midst of boulders shattering on either side of our heads and the ground trembling beneath our feet, when the things we relied upon to be stable are suddenly anything but.
Sometimes change involves the kind of upheaval that exposes things you would rather not know. Sometimes change creates such a dust-up you have to concentrate on where to place your next step because that’s as far as you can see.
Sometimes, when God is answering our prayers, he does it in ways we don’t expect. We think, “This can’t be from God. My Jesus is sweet and gentle and meek and mild, like a rose trampled on the ground. He wouldn’t be behind a messy upheaval of all the things we’ve worked so hard to build.”
I’ve learned that expecting the Creator of the Universe to squeeze himself into the limitations of what makes me feel good is a kind of idolatry. When the shaking starts he’s about to show himself a whole lot bigger than we ever imagined. Our concept is not majestic enough. We’re about to get an upgrade.
For some of us the scenery on this part of the journey is not exactly tidy or decent or in order right now. All I know is that Himself is right here walking it with us. Just like He did last time, and the time before that, and the time before that…
He’s just that good.