I met a woman last weekend who mentioned that she’d started her counseling graduate degree seven years ago, but ended up getting pregnant part way through the program. When she learned her child had special needs, she dropped out to focus on parenting. 14 months after her first was born, she was surprised with another baby and had a third about a year ago. She confessed that she seemed lost, that she didn’t really know whether she’d ever go back and finish her degree, and wondered whether she’d ever have anything to show down the line.
My knee-jerk reaction was, “But you’ll have raised three kids!”
She brushed my incredulity aside, as I’ve done so many times when standing in her shoes about the exact same issue: “I have no idea how they’ll turn out.”
I hear (and feel) the same worry that my acquaintance mentioned. “What if I have nothing to show for this life?” I know many other moms do, too, because so much of what we do is unseen and devalued in our culture. It also takes a long time to see the fruit. You don’t know until years into it what will come of it and even if you do everything you can, your kids can end up haywire. It’s easy to wonder whether it was worth it.
As I thought about even the more notable, outward projects to which we can devote our lives, they, too, can end up haywire. Churches & businesses get planted and never take root. Counselors have no idea whether their clients will function any better when their meetings are done. A close friend of mine devoted the past few years to starting a ministry overseas only to be told that she’d be moving to another project. There are countless things we step out in faith to do with no idea how they’ll turn out. We really may have nothing to show for it.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Hebrews 11:1, a verse that appears on many mugs, embroidered pillows, and other Christian tchotchkes. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It’s usually accompanied by beautiful pictures which make it sound so hopeful and sweet.
But with flesh on it, it’s not nearly as lovely.
The very heart of Hebrews 11:1 says that faith can only be in things we don’t have and don’t see. Faith exists when we don’t know what will happen, when we don’t have what was promised in hand, in unanswered prayers, and seasons of dryness. When we see something happen, it doesn’t require faith.
The author of Hebrews goes on to list examples of faith, including Abraham, who was called to leave his home and go to a place where the Lord would lead. Abraham believed the God would give him a good land and descendants as numerous as stars in the sky and sand on the seashore. The problem was that by the end of his life, Abraham was still living by faith. When he died, he owned a single piece of land in the land that was supposed to be his, a grave, for his wife. He had one child with Sarah, hardly what one would call numerous.
But Abraham did have something to show for his efforts: faith. It is precisely his faith that created a legacy that’s echoed through generations. It would have been far easier to give up as the years turned to decades and nothing seemed to happen. The fact that he clung to that faith is what led to his descendants in the faith like the stars in the sky or sand on the seashore.
Maybe you won’t have anything outward to show for your faithfulness today. Things may not turn out as you hoped when you started. I pray that you’d hold fast to the promise that even when things seem like a flop that the Lord is yet at work in those unseen parts, creating in you something worth more than gold.
May you have faith that your faith is enough.
“I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.” -Andy Bernard
Years ago, when I was fresh out of high school and still living at home with my mom, I took a creative writing class at the local junior college. One assignment we had to complete answered the question, “Can you ever truly go back home?” As I said, I was still living at home, so I have no idea what I would have written. I didn’t know what it meant to go away for a period of time and then to come back.
It’s been almost a year since my husband and I began looking for a church home closer to us [I wrote a bit about our search last year]. We just recently became members of a new church, but it still doesn’t feel like home. I mean, we know some people and have a general idea of what’s going on now, but the comfort of knowing all the ins and outs isn’t there yet. The comfort of being known isn’t there yet. It’s just not home yet.
On the other hand, I had the chance to spend time with friends and former coworkers from our previous church this past weekend. Like going home for the holidays in Hallmark movie, my visit was full of warm hugs and snippets of conversations about family and life. I find there’s never enough time to actually say everything that you want to say when you’re just passing through. But it was also full of the things I didn’t know anymore: life events that I missed, plans that I didn’t know that don’t really affect me, and changes I’m not used to seeing. What I found is that the church that seemed like it would always be home, wasn’t.
So it seems I’m neither here nor there.
As Israel wandered through the desert, they weren’t yet home in the Promised Land. Neither were they in their former home, Egypt. The discomfort of being in between homes frequently led them to complain about how the desert was so much worse than being in Egypt. They’d say things like, “We had tons of food to eat in Egypt, but are starving out here” (Exodus 16:3); and “Remember all the variety we had? Now it’s just manna, manna, manna” (Numbers 11:5, 6).
It was as if they could only see things from their past with the rosiest of rose-tinted glasses. Never mind the fact that they were slaves in Egypt. Never mind the fact that they were crushed under the weight of oppression. Never mind the fact that they cried out to the Lord to free them, but then refused to enter into the land he promised to hand over to them, extending their wandering. All they could see in the in between was how good they’d had it before.
I totally get it, too. The temptation to try and go back is overwhelming because anything beats the discomfort of being in between homes. We also put on our rose-tinted glasses and focus on the nice things, ignoring anything else. Of course there were days of feeling lost and lonely, even as a staff member at my old church. Of course there were hard times. But you can’t always see that in the in-between season.
The reality is that we can’t go back home because home isn’t behind us, but in front of us.
The Bible tells us that we are sojourners and foreigners on earth (1 Peter 2:11) and that our bodies are earthly tents—temporary dwellings (2 Corinthians 5:1). As long as we are on earth, there will be moments of feeling like we’re only passing through, like we’re not where we belong, because this life isn’t home. We’re reminded in these awkward moments of the reality that home is with our Heavenly Father. Home is the eternal life we’re traveling towards.
Don’t get me wrong, this life is full of many amazing people and moments. We are here because we have a purpose while we’re here on earth. I believe that the Lord intends for us to use every moment we have on earth to love others lavishly and serve him. We just shouldn’t be shocked by feelings of loneliness or being out of sorts because we’re still not home yet.
In the meantime, may we faithfully continue as sojourners in this life, looking forward to the day when we’ll hear Jesus say, “Welcome home.”
One of my favorite aspects of the Psalms is their authentic voice. While some are lovely and full of elaborate praise, others are full of pain, anger, and fear. Sometimes they’re both. It’s hard to imagine that people would sing these kinds of songs as part of a worship service, but they are just as much part of the canon as the more pleasant ones.
I came across such a Psalm yesterday that I wish were part of modern worship because it gave voice to struggles I mentioned having a few weeks back [see my last post]. Years of ministry tell me I am not alone in those struggles. Teaching this Psalm gives us a process when we feel inner turmoil and even offers resolution. We so need it!
Maybe you’re in a place with questions and doubts, too. I hope the process Asaph mentions in this Psalm is as encouraging and helpful to you as it is to me. Psalm 73 is too long to post in its entirety, but you can read it all here.
The first movement of this song says,
But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.
For I envied the proud
when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
They seem to live such painless lives;
their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don’t have troubles like other people;
they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else. (Psalm 73:2-5)
Asaph was caught up looking at what other people have: money, health, happy lives, in spite of rejecting the Lord. It hardly seems fair. This is a very common observation for Christ followers, even if we don’t often say it out loud. It’s hard to follow Jesus and watch other people seem to prosper so much more without him. Which leads to Asaph’s very natural question,
Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?
Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
I get nothing but trouble all day long;
every morning brings me pain. (Psalm 73:13-14)
He says, “I’m trying to follow you. I’m trying to do what you’ve asked me to do, but it hardly seems worth it. The people who aren’t following you are having much easier lives than I am.” I love that he asks this question outright. As I said, Christians can long for the easier lives they see in others, but don’t often verbalize those questions. Maybe they don’t have a safe place to struggle and ask. Maybe it makes you feel like a burden to have nagging doubts. Whatever the reason, we bury it and pretend like slapping a smile on our faces will make everything okay, no matter what is on the inside. P.S. It doesn’t work that way.
Burying and pretending isn’t what Asaph does, though. He takes his struggles to God and attempts to gain perspective:
Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,
and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.
Truly, you put them on a slippery path
and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction.
In an instant they are destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors.
When you arise, O Lord,
you will laugh at their silly ideas
as a person laughs at dreams in the morning. (Psalm 73:17-20)
He went to God with his confusion and envy. Because he voiced his doubts, he got an answer. When he went to the Lord, he could see things through the Lord’s eyes. What he saw was this life through the eyes of eternity. Sure, things may be easy right now for some people who reject following God, but there will come a reckoning. This life is a blip in light of eternity. The consequences of both following and rejecting God will last forever.
When we’re plagued with doubts and pain, there are real answers that we can’t see on our own. The times I most need to talk to Jesus or seek wisdom in the Bible or be around Christ-followers who can encourage my faith are the times I’m also most likely to hide. I hide because I’m afraid I’m too difficult, too much for Jesus (let alone others) to handle.
But the psalm assures me I’m not,
I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny. (Psalm 73:22-24)
Even in our questions and rejection, we still belong to the Lord. He is holding our hand. He is still guiding us with his counsel towards a glorious destiny. When we stumble, he remains surefooted. When we are weak, he is strong. Doubts, struggles, and questions are not too much for him. In fact, when we work through them, we can get to the place where Asaph ended up:
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.
Those who desert him will perish,
for you destroy those who abandon you.
But as for me, how good it is to be near God!
I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,
and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do. (Psalm 73:25-28)
May our doubts fade as we turn towards Jesus and see his eternal perspective. May we truly come to understand that there is nothing on Earth worth more than him. May he be our shelter in trouble and our guide in darkness. May we have the joy of telling others about who he is and what he’s done.
A couple weeks back, my husband and I got some disappointing news. Okay, it was more than disappointing. After much prayer and excitement, we thought things would go one way but they didn’t. I didn’t even realize how much I had riding on hearing “yes” until I heard “no”. I felt discouraged and devastated for several days afterwards. I had an angry conversation with God…or several. “Why did you let me down? Seriously, it’s not fair!” [For the full effect, you have to read this out loud in a grating voice, a la whiny toddler. Go ahead, I’ll wait.]
With this in mind, I read the story of Israel facing the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4. Day one, the Philistines attacked and killed 4,000 Israelite men. Their lament was just as whiny as mine: “Why did the Lord allow this to happen?” [See note above.]
So Israel immediately devised a plan to help them defeat their enemies: bring the Ark of the Lord. Yes, THE Ark. You know, the one that melted all those people’s faces at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie (see also 1 Samuel 6:19-21)? The Ark that represented the presence of the Lord, and was covered by the mercy seat, AKA his dwelling place in the Tabernacle. It’s kind of a big deal.
Israel knew it was a big deal and was sure they’d be victorious with this development. In fact, they shouted with joy so loudly when the Ark arrived that the Philistines were sure Israel would be victorious, too.
But Israel lost.
It wasn’t 4,000 men, but 30,000 Israelite soldiers who died the next day. Seven-and-a-half times the number who died the first day. To add insult to injury, the Ark of the Lord was captured and taken away by the Philistines (…and hilarity ensues. Seriously, read about Dagon and the Ark and the rats and tumors in 1 Samuel 5. Who says the Old Testament is boring?).
At first glance, it seems like Israel did everything right. They were God’s own people. They brought the Lord into battle with them because they knew they couldn’t do it on their own. Why didn’t they win?
Because they didn’t actually bring the Lord into battle. They assumed that all they’d need is the Ark to win, as if they could force the Lord’s hand into doing what they wanted. They didn’t actually seek him. They didn’t listen to and follow him. They wanted one outcome and wanted the Lord to rubber stamp it though right behavior.
In essence, they made the Lord into an idol that they could use to achieve their own ends. Unfortunately for them, he’s not made of wood or stone and subject to manipulation. He’s alive and he’s king. He calls the shots.
With hindsight, I realized just how easy it is for me to do what Israel did. I assume if I do the right things that Jesus will give the results I want. I fall into believing that years of ministry service and following the Lord means I can decide which path my life will take without his input. It doesn’t work that way. His ways aren’t my ways. My plans aren’t necessarily his plans. Instead of putting so much energy into getting him on board with what I want, I should put my energy into figuring out how I can get on board with what he’s already doing. He’s still king.
There’s an epilogue to our disappointing news. After several days of feeling discouraged and stuck, I finally came to peace with the fact that the “yes” into which I wrapped up so much hope wasn’t to be. Yesterday, my husband and I got some very unexpected, wonderful news. I could clearly see how God was still at work, since it wasn’t even on our radar. A few weeks ago, I could only see one answer to prayer, the “yes” I didn’t hear. Yesterday, I was reminded that God sees angles we don’t.
He’s still at work. May we persevere in hope, no matter what the outcome, as we remember that we worship a living king who sees what we can’t and understands what we don’t.
My husband works for a non-profit that partners with a chain of second-hand stores to sell their donations. This means that he gets an employee discount at those thrift stores (50% off most stuff!), which means his lucky wife gets an employee discount, too. Yay!
Yesterday, I went to one of those store to stock up on random household items I needed, (but didn’t want to pay full price for): beach towels, a shower curtain, and maternity clothes. I walked away with what I needed and a couple extra fun things for good measure. Macklemore was right; this is *ahem* awesome!
This morning, I put up the new-to-me shower curtain and thought, “I probably wouldn’t have bought this particular pattern in a regular store, but I like it enough and it’s what I needed–and it was $2.” Such as it is with some of the things I’ve found the past few years as I’ve shopped there. I can afford them; they’ll do.
On the other hand, I also found a board game I’ve been wanting for my son for a fraction of the price I seriously considered paying at Target recently. That’s just one of the many treasures I’ve uncovered as I peruse the crowded racks. Somethings that I’ve found I swear are just for me (hello adorable Anna and Elsa shirt in a grown-up size!).
As I reflect on shopping in second-hand stores, I am thankful for the experience because I see it as a microcosm of my daily life. I never know what I’ll find when I walk through the doors, just as I never know how a day will unfold. Sometimes, I don’t get what I’m looking for and leave feeling disappointed. Other times, I find things that are delightful and seem like they are a gift, just for me. Most days, I find that I get what I need, even if it doesn’t always match up to what I expected beforehand. However things unfold, I’m invited to be thankful for the journey and God’s provision in it.
My prayer is that I’d be just as willing to search out the goodness that God brings into my life, as I am to pour through motley racks in the thrift store. I doubly pray for that heart on days when I don’t see what I think I need. May my heart reflect that of the psalmist on all days,
This is the day the Lord has made.
We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
May my life reflect a heart of gratitude for God’s goodness, provision, and faithfulness…even at the thrift store.
Last weekend, I went to a women’s retreat with my church where, among other things, we spent time painting to express what was going on inside of us and in our relationship with God. In our painting, we answered three questions. 1) What does your soul look like right now? 2) What’s blocking you in your life right now? 3) What does your next step in a deeper relationship with God look like? Given the nature of the questions and my lack of painting skills, it was a difficult exercise.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my life is in flux right now and I feel like I’m between two different worlds adrift on a sea of uncertainty. I blubbered to my painting group trying to explain my work after finishing it, thinking only of how dark it was with lots of black on the canvas. Surely, I looked like a crazy person.
After allowing the paint to dry, I picked up my picture a few hours later and it looked very different. I couldn’t put my finger on why or how, but it didn’t seem so bleak. Even a friend who was part of my group said she did a double take later upon seeing my painting again, thinking it was a different one.
When I got home, I unpacked my bags and explained what happened over the weekend to my husband. As I described the art experience, he said, “Oh! I thought your painting was day two and three of creation [separating of the waters above and below and sprouting vegetation, respectively]!”
And there it was. I painted three disjointed pictures in reverse order and my husband nailed what came out of my soul in one glance. I was painting creation, just not the external, but the internal spiritual formation that occurs between the shores of where I’ve been and where God is taking me next.
The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Genesis 1:2
Creation begins with uncertainty and darkness. And as it occurs personally, a lot of fear. I love that Genesis mentions that God’s Spirit was there, in the darkness. It’s true for us, too. As we leave where we’ve been, sometimes all we can cling to is the fact that we can venture neither out of his sight nor reach. The darkness is as light to him (Psalm 139:12) and is at his command:
Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Genesis 1:3
All of a sudden, the light shines in the darkness. A glimmer of what is happening, hope on the horizon. A sign of how things just might work together. The process begins, but things are far from over.
And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day…And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day… And evening passed and morning came, marking the third day… And evening passed and morning came, marking the fourth day… And evening passed and morning came, marking the fifth day… And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day. Genesis 1:5,8,13,19,23,31
My husband’s idea that I was painting two days of creation reminded of one of the most important parts of creation: there’s a rhythm. It doesn’t all happen in a day, but over several. The process gets more complex, the world more lush and vibrant with each passing day. Each step moves creation closer to what it will become when it is complete. Even when we see God at work in the process, it’s all too easy to forget that we’re somewhere in the middle, with more yet to come.
Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! Genesis 1:31
Though God paused to note how good his creation was at each step, it wasn’t until every piece was brought together that it was very good. There are moments of goodness in every season, even the pain of transition and uncertainty, but when we are able to take God’s work in as a whole, it is exquisite.
As you consider your own seasons of transition, I pray that you’d be encouraged by the story of creation as it is also true of you. God is in it. His grace grants us glimpses along the way of what is to come. He works in a process over time to bring more life, more flourishing in our souls. One day, when we look at his work in us, we will see that it is “very good.”
Oh, and in case the curiosity is killing you, here’s the painting:
When I was in seminary, I learned about Arthur Guinness’s Christian faith and its impact on his chosen profession: brewing beer. Beer in general served an important purpose in his day, namely providing something safe for people to drink (they didn’t understand how water contaminated with microorganisms made people sick). Guinness also made it harder for people to get drunk than some of the other alcoholic drinks, such as gin, since it was so filling.
Guinness personally used his fortune to impact the world around him: creating Sunday schools, giving vast amounts to the poor, and serving as a board member in a hospital for underprivileged people. As the company grew, it also treated its employees far better than other brewers did by paying higher wages. In the strangest of places, Guinness lived out the Biblical command to love your neighbor as yourself. He was able to take the least sacred of industries and make it into a ministry.
It’s all too easy to assume that leaving ministry to the “professionals” is the best course of action; after all, clergy are trained to answer difficult questions and pray for people. The truth is, most ministers work alongside church people most of the time. They don’t typically have coworkers unsure of who Jesus is. They don’t have the benefit of working in a mission field to live out their faith. They also don’t typically amass fortunes through their work with which to bless those in need around them.
When I hear Guinness’s story and look at his legacy, I see just how much influence any one of us can have when we commit to serving Jesus through whatever vocation we have. Even in our day, there are companies founded and led by Christians that are known for treating their employees and customers well (e.g. In-and-Out). God uses willing servants in the unlikeliest of places for his glory. What if each of us is called to be a Christian in whatever we do? How would it look to be a Christian doctor, lawyer, admin, stay-at-home mom, teacher, hairstylist, police officer, cashier, any other job you might have? How can we honor God in our “un-Christian” work?
May each of us take seriously our faith as we live out our vocations. When we have opportunities to bless those around us, may we jump at the chance. When we have an abundance from our work, may we live with open-handed generosity. When we have the chance to speak words of truth, may we do so with boldness and love. May we raise a pint this St. Patrick’s Day (if that’s your thing) in honor of Arthur Guinness’s ministry of beer and allow his legacy to inspire us to good works in our own industries.
Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. Colossians 3:23-24
Just before I started writing my previous post, I had this pesky thought creep in while musing about putting my ministry career on hold for the time being. I can get lost in thought about the things I’d do differently or the way that I wish things were headed. In the midst of my reverie, seemingly out of nowhere, came the question, “What if it’s not a blip?” meaning, what if this isn’t a temporary arrangement? What if this isn’t a minor detour from the path I had set out for my life? What if this changes everything for the rest of my life? What if this path is my life?
I honestly wasn’t prepared for that question. It hadn’t occurred to me. Perhaps I just didn’t want to accept that things might never be as I expected them to be. Nevertheless, this question has haunted me, as perhaps it has haunted some of you, too.
I mentioned in my previous post that we can have minor blips that change the course of our day. What about those things that change our lives? Not a minor illness, but a chronic one. Not a spat with a loved one, but a shattered relationship. Not a fender-bender, but an accident that leaves us feeling permanent pain and consequences. Permanently closed doors and unanswered prayers. What if the light and momentary sufferings are neither light nor momentary? What if it’s not a blip? What then?
As I prayerfully pondered this question a few days later, the first thing that occurred to me is that I need to find a way to live here. Not just grin and bear it, but to actually grow and thrive in this unexpected place. When my life takes an unexpected turn, it’s easy to assume that I need to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass and the return to my regularly scheduled programming. But sometimes it won’t pass. Sometimes it’s not a season. I don’t want to live a life hunkered down waiting for something that will never come. That path doesn’t take me anywhere except bitterness and regret.
I need to thrive here, even if it isn’t the “there” I want.
Hebrews 11 talks about several people who demonstrated powerful faith as they followed the Lord. The chapter ends somewhere unexpected, however: “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised” (Hebrews 11:39, emphasis mine). They didn’t end up where they thought either in spite of their faithfulness.
The very next verses offer encouragement and guidance for us today in the times when our struggles are not a blip.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. Hebrew 12:1-3
When it’s not a blip, keep going. Strip off every weight. Strip off unmet expectations. Strip off “what ifs” and “if onlys”. Strip off the (not-so) secret longings for another life. Strip off the idols we secretly harbor believing they’ll give our life meaning, without which there’s no reason to go on. Strip off the sin that binds you, entwines you, and defines you. Strip it all off and run forward. Let it go. The more you’re holding on to from the life you wish you had, the harder it is to embrace the real life before you.
When it’s not a blip, keep your eyes on Jesus. Fix your eyes on the one who stripped off his divine privileges, took on the nature of a slave, and humbled himself to death because his eyes were fixed on God the Father and on you. Fix your eyes on the one who came to earth for you even though you weren’t even thinking of him. Fix your eyes on the one who is interceding for you in your moments of weakness, so that you might be strengthened and continue to run. Fix your eyes on the one who beckons you towards eternity, where he waits at the right hand of the Father to usher you into glory.
In all this, when it’s not a blip, remember you’re not alone. The author of Hebrews tells us stories of faithful people who kept going (the cloud of witnesses), whose eyes were fixed on the Lord because we need to know we’re not in this alone. People of faith have gone before us, giving their whole lives for the very same Jesus we serve. People of faith surround us, strengthening us when we are weak and in turn being strengthened by our faith in their moments of struggle. People of faith come behind us, watching our faith, emulating us as we follow Jesus.
When it’s not a blip, keep going, eyes fixed on Jesus, arms linked with the faithful so that you might thrive in this fallen world until you step into the next to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.
Just as I was stretching after a more strenuous workout a couple weeks ago, looking forward to an overdue shower (I’m a stay-at-home mom; don’t judge), I was listening to the washing machine making its last couple of spins before finishing the first load of the day and mentally checking off my day’s to-do list. Then it happened: the power went out. I’ve been living in the mountains for over 8 years now, so I’ve grown accustomed to minor power outages that take less than an hour to fix. After waiting some time, I called the power company and found out it would be a couple hours. Then a couple more.
Most of my morning plans were delayed indefinitely in an instant. I realize not being able to do my laundry and take a hot shower are such first-world problems. I mean, I could just as easily have gone another day without a shower (which I love to do, just so I don’t have to change out of my sweats; don’t judge) and postponed laundry until tomorrow (which I also love to do, since it means another day I don’t have to fold and put away stuff; don’t judge). Even without power, I can still flush the toilet, make a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and even check the internet on my phone. It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
But this blip in my day’s plans got me thinking about other blips that happen in our lives. What about those moments when our day is derailed by illness, accidents, unexpected events and visitors and other minor inconveniences? Here I am, a couple weeks after the power outage with a different blip changing the course of my day: a sick son. We all have things that need to get done and are being pulled in many different directions, but sometimes stuff just steps in and redirects our day. What then?
I think of the story that’s one of a handful taught at every women’s event since the beginning of time: Mary and Martha. Just in case you’ve missed it, Mary and Martha are sisters who welcome Jesus into Martha’s home. Martha, recognizing the importance of the event, is hurried trying to get everything done for the dinner she’s preparing. Mary, recognizing the importance of the visit, sits at Jesus’s feet and listens to him. Martha is frustrated by her sister (since I’m sure this slacking has been happening since Mary was born; Martha’s clearly the older child by her bossiness) and tells Jesus, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” (Luke 10:40)
But he doesn’t.
But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41, 42)
Martha had good plans to serve Jesus. I’m sure everything was meticulously prepared, but she forfeited the most amazing thing in the process. She almost missed the mind-blowing fact that the Lord of the universe was sitting in her home, speaking words she needed to hear. In trying to keep everything on track, she almost missed his invitation to simply connect with him while she could.
I get so entrenched in my plans for the day that I tend to miss what is going on right in front of me. Yes, I have plans for today, good plans, things that need to happen to keep this household in reasonable order. God has plans for my day, too, better plans, things that really need to happen in light of the big picture.
When my plans get derailed, sometimes it’s God’s plans breaking in to my world. Sometimes it just reminds me that I can plan out everything and life happens to mess it all up. Whatever the cause (sacred or mundane) I’m invited to look at my life from a different perspective in those blips. I’m invited to ask the question:
What can I see now that my day’s plans are derailed?
Some time ago, I read an author who said we get so focused on our agenda that we wouldn’t even notice a burning bush if it appeared before us, as Moses experienced, or Jesus sitting on our living room, as Martha did. A blip can clear away the brush, so that the burning bush (aka, what God wants us to see and hear in this moment) is unmistakable.
Without my usual distractions when the power went out, I saw freedom to change my routine, to let certain things go for a bit. I saw the opportunity to wrestle with my son a little longer, to pack a bag of stuff to give away, to let the chores remain undone a little longer (the world wasn’t going to end!). Today, with a sick toddler, it was the chance to sit and be present with him: to hold him and rock him in the sunlight on the porch. Nothing super life-changing, but opportunities of life-giving for myself and others.
No, blips aren’t always fun, definitely not always expected, but they can be a gift if we open our eyes to see them in a different light. May your next blip be transformed into a life-giving moment as you see things from a different perspective.
Every once in a while, I’ll catch someone sneaking a peek at my right hand while we’re chatting. It’s not surprising, since I have a pronounced scar that covers a significant portion of my hand. You can’t help but notice it, especially since I like to wave my hands around wildly to punctuate even the most mundane sentences. What I find interesting is that very few people ever ask about it. Maybe they assume that I can’t talk about it, because of the first and second rules of Fight Club.
The reality is that I had complications and a deep infection from my IV after giving birth. While it was healing, it was quite painful and the bandage was a source of constant embarrassment. It took months to heal. Now, it’s not a big deal. I don’t mind talking about it since it’s a quirky story (even my doctors were puzzled at the time). As far as pain, it doesn’t feel “normal” anymore, but I’m used to the new normal.
Not all scars are external. Some of the emotional wounds we’ve experienced heal into scars on our psyche, reminders of where we’ve been and what we’ve been through. As I’ve heard my pastors talk about losing their son unexpectedly a few years back, I can see their scars. I see them in friends who have gone through painful divorces or breakups. Adult victims of childhood abuse carry such scars. Addiction. Rejection. Countless things cause scars and every adult I know has them.
As I read one of my favorite Bible passages, I see how important those scars are to our faith and in community.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Because of the troubles that Paul and Timothy went through on account of their faith, they experienced God’s comfort. It was deeper than an intellectual understanding; it was personal. They knew in their bones that God is the source of all comfort. Because of what they went through, they also could extend that same comfort to others in their times of trouble. It was bigger than Paul and Timothy.
We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8b-9)
Paul and Timothy literally thought they would die as a result of the persecution they faced. Their troubles were life and death and they were in over their heads. Being overwhelmed led to them relying on God, which deepened their faith.
Our scars teach us is that we lived through it. While the pain is a gaping wound, we don’t always know that we’ll make it to the other side. We don’t know that it’ll be okay. Physical scars say, “This didn’t kill me.” Emotional scars say the same thing.
More importantly, when we own those scars, we can encourage others with their own gaping wounds that even the deepest pain isn’t necessarily fatal. The same comfort and healing we receive from Jesus is the salve that comforts others. It’s bigger than us.
My prayer for each of us is that we’d experience deep healing for all of our wounds from the God of all comfort. May God’s word and God’s people guide us on a path to healing. As we heal, may those hurts grow into scars that we have the courage to own so that we can be a comfort and encouragement to others. Amen.