The last five months have been hard. Life’s been in upheaval; there have been questions and concerns and answers were slow to come. My writing–and my motivation to write–has dried up, as it often does during stressful and uncertain times (except for my journalling, which isn’t for public reading until I can look back on it with a better perspective). It’s felt fairly dark and dreary. I’ve tried to fight it; to make myself move on and get over it. But moving on can’t be forced. and sometimes you just have to ride it out and see what happens.
Yesterday was the last Sunday for our pastor and his wife to be here before they move to Illinois for their retirement. This last day reminded me of my own last day before I moved where I currently live, and my own last sermon from my last job in ministry and how appropriate it still is to me today, since I am also about to move to Illinois. With a sick kid the night before, I almost didn’t make it to this last day celebration, but thankfully I did, and while the tribute to our pastor was great, there was more to it than that.
I’m not much of a singer and even less of a hand-raiser, but this morning, for the first time in a long time, I actually did both. It’s not like it was a new song or anything; we’ve sang “Exalted” enough times before and I knew the words well and could close my eyes and sing.
And something changed.
I felt a tiny shift, somehow, as if the darkness and anger and sadness is lifting. I know there is a future with hope.
It’s just that getting there is often fraught with difficulty.
In the devotional I wrote in the NIV Bible for Women, I said that sometimes God’s presence is like sunlight hiding behind a thick gray fog. Sometimes, that fog takes a very long time to lift. Sometimes, it feels as if it will never lift. It takes a great deal of energy to even get through it. That darkness is real and is different for all of us. We often ignore this in the church. Our music is often about being happy and joyful; we don’t hear sermons about Lamentations or the Psalms of Lament. Ignoring that darkness collectively as we do can make us individually feel as if there is something wrong with us. Sometimes we try so hard to force the darkness to lift. Pray more. Have more “quiet time.” Read the Bible more. Do more. Do more. Do more. But God doesn’t often work in the ways that we want or in our timeframe.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 Paul asked for a thorn to be removed three times. God didn’t do it.
Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
The funny thing is that while Paul seems content to hear God’s no and turn the thorn–whatever it was–into a way of experiencing God’s grace, I rarely–if ever?–hear about anyone boasting of their weaknesses now. We talk about how we only need faith the size of a mustard seed, or that we shouldn’t doubt, or that we should always feel God’s presence, or always be happy. It’s as if we expect our thorns to disappear if we just do more or ask enough or believe enough or have faith enough. We don’t see weakness as a strength; we don’t see weakness as a way of Christ dwelling in us.
But what if our questions, our doubts, our fears, the darkness in which we walk and in which we may not feel God’s presence, is a weakness similar to Paul’s thorns?
If we look back to Genesis, when creation was in chaos, it was in chaos until God stepped in. And God said let there be light and there was light…GOD said. The chaos didn’t say,”I need to make a change in my life” or “I need to pray harder” or “I need to read my Bible more.” The chaos was in chaos until God brought order out of it.
What if instead of trying to force our own outcome, we trusted that God knows chaos of our lives, as well as the outcome, and is leading us to it? What if, instead of trying to work hard to get rid of it because we think it means we aren’t faithful enough, we trusted God through it instead?