On callings

Originally Posted on August 29, 2011

It occurred to me this weekend that I actually don’t want this life. Two days of very small children, trying my hardest to keep them busy and get things done around the house (which didn’t get done; the place is a disaster). Taking the kids to the farmers market, to church, to mom and dad Spence’s house, back home, back down there… a weekend of child minding that just runs one into the ground. It’s amazing how such small people take so much out of you.

And so I came to the conclusion: this is not what I want. I didn’t ask for this. Given a choice, I would have said “no” to this a thousand times over, shuddering at the thought all way.

I love my children. I love them with all my heart. Please don’t think I’m about to pawn them off on an orphanage, because that is the farthest thing from my mind. But I cannot help but feel that I am utterly inadequate for this task. This thing, this task I’ve been handed is too great for me, especially as I try to slog through grief and deal with the loss of my wife.

But then I remembered this funny thing that happened to me several months ago. I was at my church, and I prayed with some of the pastors up front that God would show me what my destiny was on this earth. I didn’t receive an answer that day, but the pastors said that I was being called into a season where I would be stretched, but the God’s favor would be over me. To all my non-religious friends out there, this might sound a little odd, but bear with me for a minute.

Stretching and favor. I guess God stretches us from time to time. I don’t put this death and subsequent fallout at God’s doorstep and blame him for it, but I do believe God is very active during this time of grief. I feel God’s presence about me often, in the kind words of friends and acquaintances, in the financial supply that just keeps coming, in my freezer full of dinners, when I am with God’s church singing praises to him. When I look into Seanie’s big blue eyes, when Sophie giggles. When a friend calls me out of the blue at just the right time to encourage me. Segway: en-courage. From the French, meaning to add or increase heart (coeur) in someone else. Neat word, innit?

So God is busy stretching me. There are plenty of examples of people in the bible and throughout history that were called into situations where they were stretched far beyond their ability to cope, or so they thought at the time. And many of them said the same thing I have: I don’t want this. I don’t want this thing you’ve given me. Take it away, if it be your will.

I can think of one person who said that last line. I’m sure glad he wasn’t spared his particular cross.

And so I have to ask: what am I being called to at this time? Is it just to learn to be a better parent, to whittle out the character flaws and shortcomings that are too numerous to list in this or a thousand other blogs? Maybe that and more. A devastation such as this one opens up the landscape to a whole new world of possibilities. I am coming face to face with so much that is of a poor quality in me: issues with temper, trust, default settings that I never questioned. I have to ask over and over: is God enough? Are you enough for all I need, are you enough to carry me through this wilderness into a new land flowing with milk and honey?

My intellect and upbringing say “yes!” My heart, honestly, says a sullen “no.” Somewhere in the mists of the past, somewhere in there, I felt God let me down. And you ultimately, when it counts, say what you believe Out of the overflow of the heart speaks the mouth, and so on. It is hard to accept God’s goodness when deep down you don’t really buy it.

However, God has seized the opportunity wrought by this devastation to say “this is where you believed that lie. I will change your mind. I will prove myself faithful to you.”

Oh, lover of my soul, do it. Do it for me. Do it for my children. Do it for our future. What a gift you gave me in Janie. What a terrible, crushing loss I am experiencing.

Step by step, the language changes. Janie went from having been “taken” to knowing now that, at the end, her Lord “came” for her. I am beginning to see that rather than being “dumped” with the responsibility of raising two children largely on my own, I have been “called” into a season where I will learn the fullness of God’s provision, love and goodness. And God’s goodness is key. If God is not good, then what happened to me and the kids is an unforgivable, evil thing wrought by a depraved, wicked cosmic deity. Who would want to have anything to do with a being such as that?

But if God is good, then God is good always, even when bad things happen. Being open to this truth allows God’s goodness to penetrate the wound and heal it, and then for him to bless: abundantly, richly bless. If God is good, then the devastation is not a permanent state but a transition into new promise. If God is good, then the sun will rise, the clouds will break, the birds will return, life will spring forth again. If God is good, then promise, hope and renewed life are in fact the conditions of my existence, not fleeting glimpses in an otherwise depressing outlook.

And if I am closed off to this truth, then I am in deep kimshi, to quote my dad. If I keep the door closed to this truth and keep God from coming in, then I shut myself off from the healing. I closed the door after being disappointed at God a few times during my childhood. I have had to learn this very lesson over and over again, and there have been advances and retreats in my relationship to God, much like two neighboring countries with a history of conflict but also a shared history. Both sides long to unite, but so long as one holds on to hurt, then true reconciliation can never take place.

To be reconciled to God. Some theologians like to posit that humanity has so offended God that we are the ones that must tremblingly approach him, so great our offenses and so monstrous his wrath toward us. I think this a mistaken way of presenting God, as angry, wrathful, offended. Is God not bigger than us, his children? Is God not wiser and more understanding than us, his children?

We are the ones who rail at God, saying things like “where were you during the Holocaust? Where were you when I was a little girl and that man raped me over and over for years? Where were you when those men broke into my house and killed my dad and little brother? Where were you when my mom’s car lost its brakes and crashed into the wall?”

We are not the ones who so much long for the reconciliation. It is God. God longs to be reconciled to us. I do not believe that we forgive God, but I think the moment of reconciliation is much like an act of our forgiveness for the disappointments we have toward him. And in that act, he restores or begins to restore our brokenness, and if not answer the “where were you questions,” at least he moves into that place and his goodness meets the need in our soul.

Because God did not cause the Holocaust. God did not abandon you to a sexual predator or bring that calamity upon you. God did not put it in the hearts of those thieves to attack your house that night. God did not loosen the brake valve on your mom’s car so that she could die in a fiery automobile accident. He did not cause the darkness in our world. God does not interfere with every aspect of the human condition, because to do so would reduce us to automatons. The darkness in this world is not God’s doing. Much of it is ours.

However, in our personal wildernesses of suffering and grief, much like it did with Jesus, a voice cries out in the desert “make the path straight for the Lord.” God does not cause or even allow suffering so much as transform it into the anvil to shape us, if we are willing to accept him doing so. I think I am at that place now. I’m listening. I’m watching.

This, too, can be a teachable moment.

I have been called into the wilderness to allow God to be my all in all: my life, my breath, my supply, even my overflow. I have not allowed him to be so in the past. God did not take Janie in order to bring me to this point, but since he is good he will use this catastrophe to show himself as just that. And nothing like a low point to instill a bit of humility in the object: I am a broken lump of clay now, not much good for anything but to be reshaped.

The funny thing is we are all in that state, but pride blinds us to seeing that. We all reckon ourselves as more than we are. This is the human condition. God’s goodness is such that he will take moments of despair and transform them into hothouses of new life. This is goodness: that in every death there is an opportunity for new life. But only a life giver can bring that about. We have the choice to let him do it or not.

I do not want this thing that has been given to me. But then, no one would. No one wants this sort of thing. So there is some comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who has been here, looked around and said “um… no. No thanks.” I will say those words again sometime in the future.

However, for every calling, there is the supply, the grace to endure it. God has not left me, nor will he.

I can do this.

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