If there’s a time for everything, then there’s a time for grenades of darkness to pummel our souls, battering the illusions we’ve built and exposing the raw pain of evil in this world. Some weeks, some days, pastors are right in the thick of the battle, absorbing the explosion. This has been a week of grenades: infidelity, abandonment, unspeakable pain, the idiocy of a pastor in Florida (whose church, in the height of irony, is named “Dove Outreach Center”), and smaller shrapnel as well, in the form of hurtful words and painful life changes in my little circle in Seattle. I’ve been in the midst of it all this week. It’s been tough.
Last night, my wife and I drove north, practicing patience in 5 o’clock traffic and stopping for dinner in Mt. Vernon. It was our anniversary, and we wanted to celebrate. The sky was painting reds, pinks, and yellows just as we turned east and headed to the cabin. We’d been chatting most of the way north, about the grenades and shrapnel, about the pain and suffering in our world, and among our people. There is, it seems, no immunity. As we turn east though, we stop talking, and listen to a little music, including Dave Crowder’s marvelous song about suffering and God’s faithfulness.
We pull in to our destination and unload the car. It’s dark. I’m tired, but the million stars are shimmering, inviting. My wife and I wrap up in some sweaters and sit outside, in silence, and listen to the stars. Clouds linger and then move through the dark canvas sky, alternately hiding and revealing the light. An owl speaks. In these moments, something begins to happen, begins to bathe my soul, wash the wounds. This is God’s world, and it is enough to be here, to be ravished by the beauty of stars, the call of the owl, the silent testimony of His provision for us all. (God’s by the way..not the owl’s.)
I ponder the sufferings I’ve encountered this week; all of them are rooted in fear or discontentment. All of them. We are, all of us, afraid of losing our stuff, or our position (whether personally, at work – or nationally, in the world), or our health, or whatever we’re afraid of losing. This fear drives us to stupidity, to hate, to war, to paranoia as we respond to false realities we’ve created, fight battles that don’t even exist, and lose sleep over endless “what if’s” rather than praying and trusting, and simply taking the next step.
We’re also lusting; for more, or different, for pleasures to fill some void that inhabits our soul precisely because this is a fallen world. We’re trying to evict the void by filling it with conquests or pleasures, but in our filling we’re hurting ourselves, and others. And when the dust settles, there is a bigger void than ever was there before we tried to fill it. Why do we do this?
It’s here, in the quiet of the forest, that I’m reminded security and contentment are possible. ”Whom have I in heaven but You, and having You I desire nothing else on earth” is what Asaph said in the midst of a world where his neighbors had more stuff than he did. He found contentment in God. I can too, but only when I quiet my heart long enough to see that whatever it is that I’m fretting over in the moment will, like yesterday’s spectacular sunset, eventually fade. The only thing that will remain for the duration is love – and life with my Creator. And I know, in my wisest moments, that this is enough. I don’t need my leadership role, or my stuff, or my chances to teach the Bible; as much as I enjoy them all, they’re temporary–and when I treat them as such, I live wiser.
This posture of contentment, it seems, gives birth to security. I think of David, who never resorted to violence or manipulation to gain the throne God had promised. On the far end of his reign, when the stuff hit the fan, and his kingdom unraveled, he left as quietly as he entered, refusing to fight as his own son mockingly orchestrated a coup. What’s this about? Why doesn’t he fight? I think that for David, positions, prestige, and power were never the things that mattered. He enjoyed a night sleeping under the stars, enjoyed intimacy with God, enjoyed playing his harp. Content with creation and simplicity, his reign was held with an open hand.
It’s late. My wife gets cold and goes inside. I remain, staring out the stars, multiplying through wet eyes as I pray:
O Thou – Creator and Sustainer of Life
Thank you for the silent moments, reminding me that behind the superficial veil of fear and lust that drives the machinery of our world, and wounds the souls of your children, there is a Hand of Love, providing, sustaining, pouring beauty onto the canvas of this broken world to bless and heal. Forgive me for not paying attention to your wooing love. We can’t escape the pains of life, either by fear, or lust, or even contentment. But we can be held, in your loving arms, in the midst of it all – and that will be enough. Give me the grace to be there – and rest.