“Our spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, expecting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination or prediction. This, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.”
Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things. (Ephesian 4:9,10 NASB)
Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. (Psalm 32:9 NIV)
There have been times when I felt the Lord was telling me to wait but I took off like a skittish horse. Fear pushed me into do something, anything mode. I then found myself in circumstances where there was nothing I could do but wait.
On the other hand, there have been times when I could see (in hind sight) the Lord was telling me to move, but I didn’t pay attention. Instead I stood my ground like a stubborn mule. That can’t be right, I thought. Sometimes I confused loyalty to people with loyalty to God. And sometimes I was just comfortable where I was, thank you very much. I then found myself becoming object of a divine loving shove.
It may still take me a while, but I’m learning to listen and respond sooner, if not immediately. I still hate making apologies for backing out after over-committing or after showing up late though. Thank God for grace.
I had good news this week! More of that later. Other people also told me their good news today.
I had breakfast with friends at a restaurant this morning. It is the first time we met over coffee and variations on an egg theme since our worlds shrunk eight months ago. I sat near the middle of the table (with distance between settings of cutlery and cups, of course.) That meant I was part of two, and sometimes three conversations taking place on either side.
We are friends. We know each other’s histories and struggles. I joked that when we were younger, conversations in this kind of setting tended to be about comparing childbirth experiences, balancing work and home responsibilities, and diet and exercise plans. Now we compare surgery stories, and talk about adult children’s work, grandchildren’s and nieces’ and nephews’ adorableness, and which vitamins or herbal supplements “they” say will keep us going.
We did cover all those things, but we are all women who have lived through difficult circumstances we never foresaw when we first enjoyed getting away on a Saturday morning. Among us there have been some devastating life events such as the death of children and spouses, betrayals, divorces, financial losses, long hospitalizations and recoveries from accidents and illness, and many hopes deferred. But there were also stories of God’s provision in our lives. This was not a churchy testimony meeting. This gathering was just a group of friends talking about real life and the goodness of God.
I took advantage of my seat in the middle and listened to stories of what has happened since we last met. One beautiful woman spoke excitedly about doctors agreeing they had no explanation for her husband’s remarkable recovery from an illness that brought him entirely too close to death’s door. She knew it was Jesus’ doing. Another friend spoke about a wonderful encounter with Jesus that healed deep wounds – in the very place the original trauma occurred. Another, who had lost functional eyesight, is now able to see. One who was unable to leave her house for months because of severe pain now walks without a limp. Some who feared not being able to survive the crisis financially reported with joy and relief that God has taken care of them.
My good news? I was able to share that I finally had the tests and scans that were postponed last spring due to the hospital’s preparation for the onslaught of crowds of covid-19 patients that, thank God, never happened here. I felt that in this season the Lord wanted to show me he is my keeper and that his provision of peace and patient endurance were available if I wanted to pick it up. (A little background. I was told after surgery for stage 3b cancer three years ago, that although the primary tumour looked like it was low-grade, it was acting aggressively and these kind “always return with a vengeance.” Due to mix-ups and pandemic protocol, postponement meant 18 months between “keeping an eye on it” procedures that are part of my palliative care plan.)
Worry and a tendency to catastrophize have dragged my faith into the ditch since I was a child. This time holding on to hope while waiting was not as difficult as it used to be. I am learning that the Lover of my soul may take me through valleys on this journey, but he is trustworthy in his methods and his timing (and that the valley is where the feast is kept.)
This week I finally received the overdue medical report: No demonstration of metastatic disease. Thank you, Lord!
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but don’t be afraid. I have overcome the world.” In other words, “I’ve got this.”
We can ask God to show us his true nature and tell him that we want him to help us become more like him, but we can’t tell him how to do it. When he asks permission to work in our lives, he doesn’t say how he’s going to show us aspects of himself we haven’t understood before or how he’s going to transform us into the people he knows us to truly be. When we say yes to God, we surrender the right to write the script. After a while we can begin to recognize challenging circumstances to be the opportunities for change (some of us sooner than others. I have been a slow learner.)
All the mature women I met with today can tell you the journey with God took them in directions they never would have chosen. Every one received answers to prayer in different ways and in different lengths of waiting time, from seconds to decades. Every one of us can tell you we are still mid-crisis in some area with problems that, on our own, we don’t know how to fix, but every one of us will also tell you that God is good, and that the good news, the really good news, is that he loves us so much that he sent his son to show us how much.
This is the best news ever. Hang on to it. You are going to need it.
I woke with two songs in my head today. One is The Boxer by Paul Simon. The other is Take Courage by Kristene de Marco. That’s an odd combination.
It’s a puzzle. I feel like the Holy Spirit is dropping breadcrumb hints. I follow. They lead to Jesus Christ, and the pandemic response, and the week between Ascension and Pentecost.
Before he left, Jesus told his disciples it was to their advantage that he leave. That must have been confusing. After he rose from the dead, he told them to wait to be empowered from above. That must have been even more confusing. He had just come back. Something was coming that could not be explained with words common to their experience. They couldn’t understand. All they could do was trust and do as he said.
The Boxer, I realized as I listened again this morning, is about three responses to stress: flight, avoidance, and flight. The boy flees to the city. He succumbs to loneliness and takes comfort in loveless sex. The boxer, “in his anger and his shame,” fights on without success.
Take Courage talks about responding to stress with courage, steadfastness, and trust in a time of waiting when we don’t understand.
Today I heard the cry of more leaders in Christian ministries who are fleeing, self-medicating, and fighting not so gainfully on. All lament they feel like failures. All of them want very much to love others, relieve suffering, fight injustice, and make a difference in the world. They put in maximum effort, but they are exhausted, disappointed, broken.
One burned-out pastor, after receiving an invitation from his board to resign for failing to “put more bums in seats,” told me that with the current way most church structure operates, clergy are more like butlers than family members. They are there to work day and night for the betterment of the family, but when they themselves are tired, hurt, or losing hope, they learn they were never considered part of the family after all. They were hired help.
If you look around, it’s standard practise in many places to fire pastors when they are down. Perhaps there is more to loving each other than what we accept as “standard.”
There’s a reason why Jesus said to wait for this whoever-it-was to show up. The Holy Spirit would be their destiny, their comfort, their strength. He would teach them, reminding them of what Jesus told them. He would convict, he would transform, he would empower. Unlike Jesus in physical form, he could be everywhere and with everyone at once.
Without an external source of power, a self-propelled bicycle cannot go the distance. Without God’s grace to be who he empowers us to be, we all eventually become like the exhausted, disappointed, disillusioned character(s) in The Boxer.
In the Liturgical calendar, we are in the time between the Ascension (when Jesus was taken up in a cloud to sit the right hand of God) and Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit came in power). Many of us are sensing a shift in the spiritual atmosphere. Something is different. God is doing something, but what? I don’t know.
What I do know is that when we attempt to save the world through our own efforts we are in danger of breaking down. We need the Holy Spirit to lead, teach, convict, comfort, and empower. Waiting on the Lord requires steadfast trust as we lean in to hear the One whose promises never fail.
I am angered by lies and injustice and suffering all around. I am even more angered by my weaknesses. I want to do something – anything – to help. But I’m tired and in pain and struggling to understand truth in a barrage of “misinformation.” When I pray for wisdom, I hear, “Wait.”
I planted daffodil bulbs today. They’re not very pretty. It’s hard to imagine what they will become.
In fact, the entire garden is not very pretty in November. We’ve had snow already, and some nose-under-the-covers cold nights. The snow melted, but today is my brother’s birthday, and as far back as I can remember the kind of snow that stayed always arrived on or shortly after his birthday.
I’m in mourning for the season of colour. A hard freeze turned the willow tree brown overnight. The plum tree leaves heaved a sigh and waved goodbye without the annual flash of red before departing. The snapdragons lay strewn about like the last soldiers to fall in a battle the other side will record in their history books. Saying goodbye is never easy.
Today may be the last day the soil can be worked before it freezes. So I worked it, digging holes and dropping humble brown bulbs into them. Then I buried them. Now they rest.
The Lord is speaking to me about both hope and letting go these days. I decided to plant some hope in the form of daffodil bulbs. The deer ate all my tulips last year, but I noticed the daffodils failed to impress them. They did impress me though. I love the early spring flowers that find their way through the detritus of winter. I planted more.
Sometimes, in the spring, seeds will germinate within a few days. These bulbs will wait for six months. Sometimes the things we plant spring to life right away. Sometimes they take so long, we forgot we even planted them. I am learning to let go of my desire for immediate reward. I recognize now that some of the truths planted in my life in past cold blustery seasons are only now starting to bloom in my heart — in His time.
For there will be peace for the seed: the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce and the heavens will give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of these people to inherit all these things.