The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, he has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why.
The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bath or a football match, have no such tendency.
Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home. ~C.S. Lewis from The Problem of Pain
I am reminded every day, with every headline shouting bad news: this is not our home; we are mere wayfarers.
We tend to lose focus on the “why” of our journey on this troubled earth: so much of our time and energy is understandably spent seeking out safety and security, striving for a road filled with happiness, joy and contentment, as if that should be our ultimate destination and purpose.
Yet the nature of a fallen world leads us down boulder-strewn paths filled with potholes and sheer cliffs. Suddenly nowhere feels safe or secure.
We are now confronted with thousands of ill and hurting people world-wide, some dying before their time, their travels on earth ending abruptly. We wonder who may be next.
Will it be someone I love? Will it be me? He accepts our fear of the unknown destination, as He knows what lies ahead on our journey.
God in His mercy never leaves us homeless or without hope. We are called to be the gift to others who are hurting.
…just as He gifted Himself to us.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. ~Matthew 25:35-6
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
1. What is the crying at Jordan? Who hears, O God, the prophecy? Dark is the season, dark our hearts and shut to mystery.
2. Who then shall stir in this darkness, prepare for joy in the winter night. Mortal in darkness we lie down blindhearted, seeing no light.
3. Lord, give us grace to awake us, to see the branch that begins to bloom; in great humility is hid all heaven in a little room.
4. Now comes the day of salvation, in joy and terror the Word is born! God comes as gift into our lives; oh let salvation dawn!
We’re not always sure we’re on the right road, are we? Too often we’re struggling to find our way in the dark.
Suddenly things are under water, the bridge is washed out, there are potholes everywhere, the fog line disappears in the mist, a mudslide covers both lanes – the road seems impossibly impassable.
Yet we set out on this road for a reason and a purpose; this is not wasted effort. If we can’t see where we are going, fearing we may plunge off an unseen cliff, we pause, waiting until the light is enough to take the next step.
So the light will come. I believe it will. I know it will as it always has.
We live in a world of hurt. We are consumed with hatred for all that is unjust and unfair yet underneath it all we are people who are in fear and in pain.
We get angry at what we don’t like or don’t understand and that includes God.
We are a people struggling with a profound irritability of the spirit. We give no one the benefit of the doubt any more, and that includes God.
We ask God why He doesn’t do something about the suffering we see everywhere, or the terrible hurt we feel ourselves. We want answers, now, and that includes answers from God.
Instead He asks us the same question right back. What are we doing about the suffering of others? What are we doing about our own misery?
God knows suffering and hurt. He knows fear. He knows what it is to be hated, far more than we do. He took it all on Himself, loving us so much because His pain was part of the deal He made with us to rescue us.
With that realization, we trade our pain for hope, our fear for trust, and our hatred gives way to His sacrificial love. Only then are we ready to respond to His call.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.. 1 John 4:18a
Renouncing fear We stand in your glorious grace. When the oceans rise and thunders roar I will soar with you above the storm Father, You are King over the flood I will be still and know You are God from “Still” Hillsong
1. In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.
2. In Christ shall true hearts everywhere their high communion find; his service is the golden cord close binding humankind.
3. Join hands, companions in the faith, whate’er your race may be! Who loves and serves the one in him, throughout the whole wide earth.
4. In Christ now meet both east and west; in him meet south and north, all Christly souls are one in him throughout the whole wide earth. ~William Dunkerley
We Christians are often rightfully accused of being judgmental and unwilling to consider other points of view. We can be the first to criticize another Christian of being unfaithful or heretical, not following doctrine and creeds, or being too liberal or too conservative or just too plain stubborn.
I’ve done it myself (doing it now in this post!) and have received more than my share of mean-spirited, even hateful, messages from Christian brothers and sisters who disagree with my point of view on some issue. Christians can tend to revel in eating their own.
When I’m tempted to judge lest I be judged, I remember who Christ hung out with: the cast offs and most undesirable people in society. They were surely more receptive to His message than those who believed they knew better than Him, who questioned His actions and motives, and who plotted against Him behind His back.
We need reminding that Christ isn’t more present in one political party over another, one denomination or faith community over another, one zip code over another, or in one racial or ethnic group over another.
We, east and west, north and south, constitute His body on earth, we dwell fully in His image just as we were created to be. It is only through His loving Spirit we are brought home where we belong, back to the center from the fraying edges of our faith.
Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. ~ Henri Nouwen
When the slings and arrows are directly aimed at me, hit their mark and open a wound, I can choose to pick at the scab, maybe even cause it to get infected and make the scar worse, or I can marvel I’m still standing, still capable of doing what I do best, and able to fully heal.
I see beauty in recovery and becoming whole again. I see goodness in those who come alongside even if it means they become a target along with me.
Even when my heart bleeds from its inflicted wounds, I choose forgiveness arising from grace and gratitude. I hope I too will be forgiven for any wounds I inflict.
All becomes grace, the gift that never stops giving.
I spent this morning adjusting to this change in season by occupying myself with the familiar task of moving manure. Cleaning barn is a comforting chore, allowing me to transform tangible benefit from something objectionable and just plain stinky to the nurturing fertilizer of the future. It feels like I’ve actually accomplished something.
As I scooped and pushed the wheelbarrow, I remembered another barn cleaning twenty years ago, when I was one of three or four friends left cleaning over ninety stalls after a Haflinger horse event that I had organized at our local fairgrounds. Some people had brought their horses from over 1000 miles away to participate for several days. Whenever horse people gather, there were personality clashes and harsh words among some participants along with criticism directed at me that I had taken very personally. As I struggled with the umpteenth wheelbarrow load of manure, tears stung my eyes and my heart. I was miserable with regrets. After going without sleep and making personal sacrifices over many months planning and preparing for the benefit of our group, my work felt like it had not been acknowledged or appreciated.
My friend Jenny had stayed behind with her family to help clean up the large facility and she could see I was struggling to keep my composure. Jenny put herself right in front of my wheelbarrow and looked me in the eye, insisting I stop for a moment and listen.
“You know, none of these troubles and conflicts will amount to a hill of beans years from now. People will remember a fun event in a beautiful part of the country, a wonderful time with their horses, their friends and family, and they’ll be all nostalgic about it, not giving a thought to the infighting or the sour attitudes or who said what to whom. So don’t make this about you and whether you did or didn’t make everyone happy. You loved us all enough to make it possible to meet here and the rest was up to us. So quit being upset about what you can’t change. There’s too much you can still do for us.”
During tough times which still come often in my professional life, Jenny’s advice replays, reminding me to stop seeking appreciation from others, or feeling hurt when harsh words come my way. She was right about the balm found in the tincture of time and she was right about giving up the upset in order to die to self and self absorption, and keep focusing outward.
Jenny, I have remembered what you said even though sometimes I emotionally relapse and forget.
Jenny herself spent the next six years literally dying, while vigorously living her life every day, fighting a relentless cancer that was initially helpless in the face of her faith and intense drive to live. She became a rusting leaf, fading imperceptibly over time, crumbling at the edges until she finally let go. Her dying did not flash brilliance, nor draw attention at the end. Her intense focus during the years of her illness had always been outward to others, to her family and friends, to the healers she spent so much time with in medical offices, to her belief in the plan God had written for her and others.
Despite her intense love for her husband and young children, she had to let go her hold on life here. And we all had to let her go.
Brilliance cloaks her as her focus is now on things eternal.
You were so right, Jenny. No conflicts from twenty years ago amounted to a hill of beans; all is remembered fondly by those who were part of the gathering. I especially treasure the words you wisely spoke to me.
And I’m no longer upset that I can’t change the fact that you have left us. There is still so much you do for us, alive in our memories.
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back… I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence… ~Robert Frost (1916) from “The Road Not Taken”
Two lonely cross-roads that themselves cross each other I have walked several times this winter without meeting or overtaking so much as a single person on foot or on runners. The practically unbroken condition of both for several days after a snow or a blow proves that neither is much travelled. Judge then how surprised I was the other evening as I came down one to see a man, who to my own unfamiliar eyes and in the dusk looked for all the world like myself, coming down the other, his approach to the point where our paths must intersect being so timed that unless one of us pulled up we must inevitably collide. I felt as if I was going to meet my own image in a slanting mirror. Or say I felt as we slowly converged on the same point with the same noiseless yet laborious stride as if we were two images about to float together with the uncrossing of someone’s eyes. I verily expected to take up or absorb this other self and feel the stronger by the addition for the three-mile journey home. But I didn’t go forward to the touch. I stood still in wonderment and let him pass by; and that, too, with the fatal omission of not trying to find out by a comparison of lives and immediate and remote interests what could have brought us by crossing paths to the same point in a wilderness at the same moment of nightfall. Some purpose I doubt not, if we could but have made out. I like a coincidence almost as well as an incongruity. ~Robert Frost (1911) from “Selected Letters”
Way leads on to way: I am far enough down the road that I don’t recall all the options I have faced over the years of my journey. I know there were times I ran into an impossible sticky thicket, so had to double back and try a different route. Maybe I have learned since to choose more carefully.
I don’t believe in coincidence and I don’t believe our choices are randomly made. I believe I am shepherded in the direction I am meant to go. The issue is whether I listen or whether I bolt the opposite way, come what may.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in instructing catechumens, wrote: “The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.” No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller. ~Flannery O’Connor from “Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose”
But a dragon lies in ambush for the traveler; take care he does not bite you and inject you his poison of unbelief. Seeing this numerous company winning salvation, he selects and stalks his prey. In your journey to the Father of souls, your way lies past that dragon. How shall you pass him? You must have “your feet stoutly with the gospel of peace,” so that, even if he does bite you, he may not hurt you. ~St. Cyril of Jerusalem
…withyour feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:15
<Here there be dragons> was any place on the ancient maps that was unknown and unexplored- a place to avoid at all costs~ or for the daring and carefree, pointing to exactly the place to explore.
Here there be dragons marks the remainder of our days that dwell at the edge of life’s roadmap ~ unknown and unexplored ~ and often full of peril.
So many dragons to pass ready to swallow us whole if we make a wrong turn, or singe our britches if we stray beyond the known borders of the map.
So many dark valleys to pass through so many mysteries remain unsolved, so many stories of fateful journeys told.
We pull on our stoutest shoes, ready to trek where ever we are sent, not straying from the well-worn path of the faithful who have stayed out of the jaws of the dragons to tell the story.
It is easy to lose faith: one bad outcome, one prayer seemingly unanswered, one loss leaving a gaping hole.
It can feel like God has up and left.
Much harder to sustain is faith that keeps an open mind in the darkness of the deep pit, in the midst of interminable waiting, or while facing the disappointment of lost hopes and dreams.
When belief is elusive, the worst possible reaction is to abandon it, to close the door and shutter the windows and remain in the dark. Prayer for faith in the middle of the struggle is to leave the light on even if you aren’t sure God will come back anytime soon.
He knows you’ve left the light on for Him. He’ll be back. Because He never left.