I don’t often write from the position of vulnerability. It’s much easier to offer you answers and not questions. Today I’m struck with a question, though, and I want to think it through.
Like me, you may be living in a personal season of advent. It’s true that Christians acknowledge the Advent season, the four Sundays prior to Christmas where the coming of the Christ Child is anticipated and celebrated. There is dual meaning here because we also anticipate the return of the resurrected Christ. In either case, the Advent season is for the celebration of the coming fulfillment of a promise, and that’s what I’m driving at here.
Real people. With real questions. And real, unfulfilled promises. And waiting. My question is this:
When it comes to celebrating the advent of the Christ Child or anticipating the return of the resurrected Christ, my decision to enter into the celebration is not based on something subjective. The Christ Child has already come, and so in that sense I join the Jewish people as they waited for the Messiah … the Expected One. I don’t look within, or at my external circumstances to decide whether or not He’s really coming again. Just as the Jews knew then and they know now, that He.Is.Coming, I also know. And in spite of the hustle and bustle of the season I engage my heart in the celebration. And the waiting.
But here’s the kicker…
When I ponder my personal dreams and hopes I base the reality of their fulfillment on external evidence. I keep looking around me. I don’t see people lining up to make an offer on my house, for example. And my heart fails. I become incredibly discouraged because it doesn’t look like it’s happening at all! There’s no evidence, I moan to myself. Everything in me starts to believe I’ve made a mistake, that I’ve got the wrong idea. And, like a Border Collie on espresso I start the spin, chasing my tail round and round. Frustration! Agh! Questions! Grr! Doubts! Self-incrimination! With this I cease to celebrate the coming time when my home will be sold and I will be free to pursue other dreams.
The short answer is that it’s my old enemy, Unbelief, that keeps me from entering into the celebration. The longer, more complex answer is to choose a right response to the mess. I poke at my heart to take the first step, and I whisper softly, “Lord, You see this complexity in my heart. You see all things. How would You have me respond right now? How can I connect with You, right now?” And somehow, the process starts with my taking a bit of His unconditional acceptance. Then even though my heart is “two sizes two small” and a bit wrapped up in myself, I am able to look at the Father. And just let it be. Unfulfilled for now. A mess right now. But it had to be that way in Bethlehem too, that night.
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. …
Because at that time He will great to the ends of the earth.
This One will be our peace.” Micah 5:2, 4b-5
Certainly no one in Bethlehem was expecting the birth of a King that cold night. Why there, exactly? And why Mary? God is funny sometimes in who He chooses for what tasks. But we can trust Him. Enter into Advent season this year … the celebration of Promise fulfilled. Waiting. Believing.
I remember when I was growing up, my Dad would show us stuff. He was intent on teaching us to identify trees and plants, like Morrel mushrooms, Bittersweet and Sumac. Of course he taught us useful stuff too, how to back up a truck with a trailer; how to drive a boat; how to collect sap and make Maple Syrup and, best of all, how to fish. Although my growing up years are mostly wrapped in nostalgia and I have few opportunities to exercise those skills, what I actually learned was this: I am limitless in my ability to learn a skill and do it. Dad taught us to be learners, and to not be afraid to try new things.
One year Dad decided to build a cabin on the back edge of our property. Dad was neither a builder nor an architect but he and my lovely, artist-in-residence Mom put their skills together. With the help of generous builder-type friends, the tiny, humble building came together. At the time the cabin served as the best fort and doll house a girl could ask for! We loved it! With it’s steeply-sloped corrugated roof, woodstove and dry sink, the cabin stood on stilts and overlooked the trout stream that ran through our property. My friends and I would traipse around in the woods and slosh in the creek for hours at a time.
It wasn’t until I was well into my adult years that I learned the strain that building the cabin placed on our family. Apparently it wasn’t the most fiscally responsible undertaking, nor was the building designed to withstand 25 years of rugged weather. My Dad has been gone for some time now, and yet the cabin stands perhaps as a tribute to his tremendous influence on our lives.
Talk is cheap and we spout ideas of who we are and what we’ll one day become. The fact is, we are not who we say we are. We are what we do.
Dad didn’t leave behind a cabin. He left behind a legacy of attempts to show us how important we were to him, how deeply he cared and how much he wanted us to love the things he loved.
Plain and simple, Dad wasn’t great at communicating. I still wonder about who he really was, and why he called me Scout.
But I know he loved me.
And I’m not afraid to try stuff.
Not too long ago I had the inexpressable joy of attending a party and running into a former romantic interest … together with his new fiance. Ah! What have I done, and whom have I angered in order to gain such an opportunity?
As this Unrequited Love made his way around my friend’s home, glad-handing old friends and schmoozing strangers, I couldn’t help but wonder how I had once been so enamored with him, so enthralled by his charm. Not that he was unclean, but he reminded me of Pigpen, the Charles Schulz cartoon character as he wandered around, leaving a billowing trail of unresolved conflicts and unfinished conversations in his wake. As I headed into the kitchen, it certainly felt like I was the one with a terrible headcold and a dearth of dateable men. It certainly felt like I was acutely alone, and not quite able to hide the extra ten pounds of fluff that has accompanied me this past year. I poured myself some lemonade and snarled at the yummy looking treats on the dessert table…certainly they’d been my companions far too often during the cold winter evenings. When another acquaintance walked up and asked the inevitable question, I clutched with disbelief. “So, are you seeing anyone?”, she asked. So this is how it feels! Thus far I’d only read about these perilous peaks of awkwardness. Since she wanted to tell about her own dating life more than she really wanted to know about mine, I listened meekly and later, excused myself and headed for home.
One of my favorite authors, Ann Kiemel, said this many years ago, “We all have a place of stretch in our lives. It’s what makes us strong. Rich people have troubled children, and poor people have healthy marriages and brilliant kids. It’s what makes us long for God with our whole being.”
And so I’ve given you a glimpse of one such place in my life but I would add this to Ann’s comment…we often do not realize that we are the ones who are rich. The truth is that we all suffer a private battle of some sort. Our failing is not that we are faced with situations that cut us to the quick. Rather it’s in believing that we are somehow poverty-stricken, and unable to do anything about them. Each one of us has so much in our lives that is rich and good and beautiful, things to make us laugh and love and hope.
“Don’t let your longing slay your appetite for living.” — Elizabeth Elliot
Not long ago you trusted me with some rather heartfelt questions. I’ll be honest. The questions caught me a bit blind-sided and my answers were small, I thought. I just wanted to say thank you for trusting me enough to express them. With your permission, I’d like to try to answer them again, having given them more consideration.
Understanding the purposes of God can be a bit tricky. As I navigate this turf I want to point out my frame of reference – or starting point – for this response to you. I truly believe that there is a God. If we wanted to talk about the proofs of the existence of God, we could. But I think that you know – deep down – as well as I do, that He most certainly exists. I also believe that our God has feelings, just like you and me. The Bible says we are created in God’s image. There’s a whole lot of meaning to that statement. Just as you or I wrinkle our brow or feel a tear drop on our cheek, why shouldn’t God do the same? Every single thing that we know about ourselves, we can know that our God is wired similarly. Simply because you cannot see Him wrinkle His brow, or shift His gaze doesn’t mean that He hasn’t the ability. And so, this God who has feelings has deep feelings for you, and for me, wants to be in relationship with you.
He wants to know what *you* think, Friend … even your ugliest thoughts. He can take it. In fact, He’s better at fielding the questions that I am. I find that He doesn’t even care if I use rotten, un-ladylike language. (Yes, I did balk at your language. But it’s because I love you, and want you to become a fierce and lovely lady; one the world must reckon with.)
But, I digress…
I think it will help you in your discoveries to know that absolutely everything about God will be upside-down from the way you think it should be. That means that the reasons why He does things will often confuse you at first glance. But when you look a little deeper, and you ask Him about it, He will show you the deeper meanings and reasons of His ways. But you have to ask Him. He’s the kindest Person you’ll ever meet. He waits for you to look at Him, for your questions. And, once you ask, He will answer.
It will also help you to know that when we become followers of Jesus Christ we actually transfer our citizenship to the Kingdom of Heaven. In doing so, we suddenly realize that our priorities and focus has shifted as well. Remember that God created all things – all things – and through Him all things hold together. So, that means that He created time. And space. And stuff. And people. He created the enemy – satan and his household- that antagonizes us and, for a time, they rule this world. Knowing that there are two kingdoms at work sometimes helps me understand the conflicts
Whenever I get bogged down with the questions, “Why did You leave me here?” “Why was I born into this family?” and “Who are You, anyway, and why don’t You speak to me?” I really only do one thing… I sit quietly and ponder God’s big-ness. Smile. I become like a first grader, and expect that, as my real Papa, He’ll explain everything to me. So where do I look to understand God’s big-ness? I might look at Scripture. I could just look at the horizon, or the night sky, and see the stars and all the things around me that He’s created. But I happen to like Scripture and usually after I read the book of Job, or even just the chapters 38-42, I almost always get a sense of the magnificence of the one true God.
Ciao! Until next time…
Remember your mother’s distracted promises, “We’ll see…” or “Well, we can’t now but perhaps later…” And then you wondered exactly when ‘later’ would come to pass?
Seems like I haven’t changed much from when I was a kid. “Later” means this afternoon possibly, yet still today. Certainly not into next week or, God forbid, next year. There’s no time with God, don’t ‘cha know? He created everything! Time is like a play-thing to Him. So when we stand around stamping our feet, and I know I do, He smiles at me. One of those long blinking smiles, in the way that you know that He’s got a totally different grid on this thing than you do…always. And, to be fair, He has a delightful way of making you forget the long weeks, months, and years of waiting and growing into the shoe size He’s got in mind.
There’s something to this idea about resting in my Father’s purposes. I remember when I was a child I used to walk with my Dad, standing on the toes of his steel-toed boots. Hand in hand, I’d ride while he’d stride. Yup. It worked. It took effort from both of us to pull this off. I had the tricky part of balancing. He had the difficult part of essentially carrying me. Hmm. My heavenly Father is much the same way. I have to keep my eyes on Him, and not try to pull my own weight. To rest is tricky. It’s not unlike waiting.
One of my favorite authors, Bob Sorge, said of waiting,
“How to wait: Run after Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Waiting is aggressive repose. Waiting is stationary pursuit. Waiting is intense stillness. Waiting is vigilant listening.” [italics mine] — The Fire of Delayed Answers
How does one stand still and still pursue? And how did stillness become intense? This reminds me of how things become upside down in the economy of God. The last shall be first. The weak become strong. It’s here in the Kingdom of God that pursuit is stationary and stillness is intense. May we pursue Him with all that we have, all that we are, and He’ll meet us more than halfway.
“May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him who shields him all the day, and he dwells between His shoulders.” — Deut. 33:12
May you dwell this night between the shoulders of God.