It has been a rough couple of weeks. Heath issues. Car issues. Cash flow issues. Car issues again after supposedly being fixed. My stepdaughter, of whom I have become quite fond and who my wife adores, just left, moving to Colorado for a new life, causing an understandable melancholy in the woman I love beyond all others. My schedule has been blown apart for a couple of weeks now and I am a more than bit discombobulated. My house, inside and out, is pretty much out of control. I don’t feel like I am doing my best work anywhere, for someone who prides himself on the quality of what he does, that’s not a good place to be.
Nothing’s resolved. I have no idea the timetable for any of it to be resolved. But I am OK, odd as that sounds. Most people would not notice that things are falling apart for a while.
Last week I was talking to a good friend of mine in Philadelphia. He asked me a question. Was my sense of faith because I am naturally a calm, stable person? Or am I calm stable person because I have a faith?
Most philosophical questions are kind of hard for me. I have to think on them. And I had to think on this one a while. That has more to do with my slow emotional thinking than the hardness of the question.
The truth is this. While my mom did her best to instill a sense of “Never let them see you sweat.” in me, it never really took. Oh, I was stable looking on the outside, but that was the “never let them see you sweat.” act, not reality. I stuffed it all, and worried in silence, all the while inside I was popping more antacids than you can imagine. I am sure somewhere there is an entire Tums factory dedicated to me.
Somehow, I don’t think that’s what God meant when he says in Matthew 6:25-27, 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
Somehow I think he means ACTUALLY do not worry. And dang, I was not good at that. Mostly now, I am. I’m not sweating the stuff on my plate right now. I want to get my latest round of tests done so I can know whether or not I have a medical battle ahead of me. And I’d like to have my old Trooper back, preferably with a bill that won’t make me wince. And the money stuff will take care of itself. It’s all in the mail somewhere, and slow as Vermont mail is, it does eventually show up. And we’ll adjust to my stepdaughter being half a country away. I’m concerned about it all, but not worried. What changed? How did I get from a 24/7 antacid addict to a place of peace? (Most of the time. I won’t lie, now and again I still worry. But it’s rare.)
Time and experience and a mindful understanding..
Let me explain.
I’ve come close to death at least 3 times in my 63, almost 64 years. Sickness has plagued me more than once, often with a longish time of tests and waiting and a longish path back to health.
I’ve been dirt poor once or twice, so poor I had to choose between medicine I needed and food. The memory is vivid and still feels acute, as if it were new.
I’ve come completely, and I mean completely undone emotionally and spiritually. I lived in a black place for some time, struggling to rebuild my faith and struggling to cope with depression and emotions I was utterly overwhelmed by.
As I told my wife the other day, once you have survived certain things, you come to understand you can and will survive anything. That gives you a leg up on taking a few less Tums in your day.
But that has nothing to do with faith, does it? Lots of people survive and end up irretrievably broke, constantly anxious, a bundle of worry. and I mean LOTS of people. We all encounter them every day.
Let me share what has been different for me, and this is just my experience, not quite a blanket (more on that later.)
As I went through all these things in my life, I always went to God. I acted in the belief that he was a God who loved his children and a God who listened to prayer. When I was in too deep, I prayed harder. I read more in my bible. I acted in faith that he would work to get me through and that it would be OK.
And of course, it did.
I’m not whole from all these things. I have scars, inside and out. Sit down and talk with me some time and I’ll gladly share them with you. No, I am not whole, but things worked out. Disasters led to something new. New opportunities. New understanding. New thinking. New love. God has quite the imagination.
It has taken me choosing to believe God was at work, to trust that he was when things were going to Hell in a handbasket, and to thank him and see him at work as things got better.
And now, a messy pile of disasters later, I see the pattern, when I include God in my personal disaster recovery program, it works out faster, and better than I could have imagined. Because I chose.
It’s the difference between floundering and knowing it will be OK, even if I don’t know how it will get better. In fact, I never saw the paths to recovery that God chose coming. But his path got me to better places.
So that is how I got there. But I’m not done yet.
You see, one of the things we are called to do is witness. That word, witness, I think has gotten all turned around. Many people feel it means to evangelize, even to the point of obnoxiousness. And we are uncomfortable with that. I know I am, and I’m a bi-vocational preacher. My family upbringing and my personality (introverted as they come.). Being in New England doesn’t help either. It’s a place where decorum and manners still matter.
But we Christians are stuck with that commandment that shows up and again and again. We are called to be witnesses. But we are uncomfortable with the idea. It brings to mind standing on a soapbox somewhere and shouting out our faith.
But that is not what witnessing is. The term witness, in the new testament, is a legal term that means simply, telling what you know. You don’t need to preach. You are not required to talk about God as if you were in a tent revival down South (I’ve been to few of those. They amazing, but I’m just not wired to preach that way.) You don’t have to have theological degrees.
You just have to share what you know. “I went through this. And God helped me through by (fill in the blank).
Well, we could fall on the old adage and song that (Sing along with me) “The bible tells me so.), but why does the bible tell us so? I have beome a big believer that when the bible tells us to do something, it’s generally for our own good and the good of people in general. That the rules are not arbitrary.
When we share our own stories of God at work, others can hear, and if they hear enough, or the trust us enough, they can benefit from the hearing. They can know from our share experience that faith works, and not have to struggle to trust God as much as some of us have had to as we went through our own journey. And that’s an amazing gift.
It’s also good for us, because our own brains listen to us, and each retelling, each time we talk and share our experiences, we are reminding our own brains that God is at work and we can trust him. In short, we shore up our own faith, for the next time things fall apart.
So there you have it. This was not the sermon from last week or the thing I intended to write, but it’s what came out. I hope it might be useful. There’s peace on the other side,
if we choose it.
Choose to see God at work. Choose to share. And life will be transformed. Our life and the lives of people we touch. That’s my experience, and I believe it’s part of the Bible’s message as well
Be well. Travel wisely.
PS; The picture was taken on one of the Rhode Island beaches. There’s nothing like the ocean to calm a soul.