a list on a sunday evening (after long weeks and loud silence and by grace we endure because what else can we do?)
- There are so many reasons not to trust God. When someone points to Job or Joseph as testaments to God’s faithfulness, I want to point to Achan’s family, stoned to death because of one man’s greed, or Uzzah, whom God smote because he tried to save the ark from falling after the oxen slipped. I confess honestly that the more I read the bible, the more I think that the matter of God’s goodness and faithfulness depend on who you are in the story. We tend to focus on the miraculous and redemptive stories of grace and turn those into household names, and we skip over the many individuals (and towns, and nations) who got lost along the way. Couldn’t only a minority of people in Scripture truly sing “Amazing Grace,” that God saved a wretch like them?
- I was reading Frederick Buechner this evening, which is always a good use of time. One of his sermons asks what we should do with our pain. He uniquely defines “adolescence” as the experience of learning how to grow with our pain. He writes that we do not—indeed, should not—always speak about our pain, but that we should speak out of it. There is a tendency in our culture to put up a disclaimer whenever the topic of pain or suffering surfaces. I feel that now. But to speak of painful experience is not to speak of grandiose suffering so much as it’s to acknowledge the humanness of our lives. We suffer. The bullied kindergartener as much as the bereaved widow. We all have our basic orientations of the world, and for whatever unknowable reason, mine has always been one of fear. The world scares me. It makes me anxious and slightly uncomfortable without even trying. I find life painful—not merely because of its suffering but because of its beauty—and when Buechner writes of just that beauty and terror and says quietly, “Do not be afraid,” I feel it as if he is speaking to me. Do not be afraid. Trust Him. If anyone is trustworthy, it is not you but Him.
- But another part of me says, be a little afraid. You have learned invaluable things from fear. It has taught you to be wary, and though that wariness always has the temptation of becoming cynicism, it has also enabled you to listen, to be slow to speak because when it comes to other people’s pain, “there is nothing more offensive than intellectual understanding.” Fear has taught me to start listing those thousand thousand reasons to live, as Marilynne Robinson writes, because it is fear itself that creates those reasons. I would not find friendship beautiful if I did not also fear not having it. I would not find quiet walks or choral music or conversations beside fireplaces beautiful if I did not so deeply fear the general chaos and seeming meaninglessness of existence—the loneliness that haunts, the tragedy that strikes. If I did not love anything in life enough to fear it, I’m not sure I’d be alive.
- What does it mean to believe that God does not make mistakes? It takes so much faith to believe that—more faith than I have. I think of people I have loved who are gone, or places that have meant so much to me that can never be regained. I think of the special needs girl in high school whose mother abandoned her at a road-side bar. What does it mean to believe that God’s hand is in all of these things, that nothing is wasted, that everything is redeemable? Thielicke claims over and over again that the cornerstone of the Christian faith is the assurance that behind every event in our lives is the heart of a Father. That we are not wandering alone in a dark wood, using science or art or religion as a whistle to keep the darkness at bay, but that instead we have a Father we can call to because through Jesus he first called us. But how does one live out the reality of this truth? It is so humanly natural to hate discomfort, uncertainty, loneliness—in short, to hate suffering. But the Christian holds claim to a deeper reality, that all suffering is ultimately creative suffering, and that it is in the depths that we learn who we truly are and who God truly is. There is no arbitrary in the Gospel.
- In the past several weeks, I’ve reread the quartet of Chaim Potok novels I’ve loved since early high school: The Chosen and The Promise, My Name is Asher Lev and The Gift of Asher Lev. It’s difficult to articulate how much these books mean to me. Besides their structural, syntactical brilliance, their quiet grace, these books have stayed with me through some of my darkest nights and I resonate with them even more now than I did in high school. Their discussions of belief, aesthetics, friendship, family, and belonging always meet me where I am. It may sound strange, but I feel that I owe so much to these novels. They are deeply, powerfully a part of me.
- I’ve been reading Psalm 119 the past few days. The “Resh” section is one of my favorite Scriptural passages, but this time reading it, the whole thing has been striking. What does it mean to love God’s law the way David does? Something about God’s statutes and testimonies give David the grace to say things like, “In faithfulness You have afflicted me,” and “The unfolding of Your words give light.” I want this kind of faith. I want to learn how to see things the way David sees them.
- “Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name.” I read this and found myself suddenly pleading silently: Just because I’m confused does not mean I don’t love You. I do, Lord. You know I do. I am so confused about so many things, but it does not mean I do not love You. I am so confused about Your church and my place in it, if there is a place, but it does not mean I do not love Your church. How can I not? It’s Your body, broken for me and trying to restore a broken world, and broken itself but still trying, trying because that’s what You said to do, and every once in awhile it still gets something right, every once in awhile it actually looks a little like You.
- “Redeem me from man’s oppression.” I read this and did not think I needed any redeeming from man’s oppression. But then I thought some more and realized how much liberation I need from the voice of the world. The one telling me I need to have a career to be worth something, that I need to be powerful to be influential, that success is measured by degrees and resumes and bank accounts. The one telling me that my ultimate efforts should not be applied toward striving to trust God but instead in getting as far as I can on my own, being the best at something, whatever that something is, even if that something will ultimately pass away with the world and all of its desires. Free me, Lord, from man’s oppression, from the fear of man and failure. Show me what it means to be Your servant in the economy of Your kingdom.
- Every morning I wake up, the Gospel is asking me something about the kind of person I am going to be that day. It asks me how I will use my words. It asks me what thoughts I will allow to ripen in my mind. It asks me how whole-heartedly I will love the people around me and if I will use my time well at work. It asks me what I will do with my money and whether the news stories I read will define God or if God will define everything else. It asks me who I want to be when I go to sleep that night. And all these questions are asked of me each morning, and also each Sunday evening as I face into another week that will carry both laughter and sadness, both grace and failure. And it is exhausting. It is wearying sometimes, to be so responsible for oneself. Perhaps that is the mindset of immaturity, but perhaps also it is the mindset of someone who tries with every ounce of her being to be authentic and to be intentional, and who knows that authenticity and intentionality mean finding things harder than they could be otherwise. I am 22 years old, a year out of college. I have experienced far more and far less than I sometimes want. I miss deeply, but I am also deeply thankful. I am so, so afraid. Who will you be this week, Rachel?
- While searching through my old files a few minutes ago, I found a document I hadn’t opened in months. When I opened it, I found prayers I had typed out for this friend, dating back to February 2014—and that was only after I’d decided to shift over to typing my prayers instead of handwriting them. It was a humbling, nostalgic sort of moment. It made me think of this friend and the people who come and go in our lives. But it also made me think of how, just like my friend, I must be wholly unaware of so many people who have prayed, are praying, or will pray for me. Who knows who I would be without these prayers? Who knows where I would be. It is truly by grace that I am where I am—and I am humbled to remember that those words apply to everywhere I am, no matter how it feels to be there. By the grace of God I am here, right here, and you are here, and what are the chances that on this inconspicuous, mundane day whose holiness we cannot even begin to conceive, we would both be alive and real and human? Sometimes a little less than human, but sometimes a little more. Who would have thought? Who could dare to imagine such grace as this existence?
- “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, abide with me”
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
- If it feels sometimes, when reading my posts, that I swing moods by the time you reach the end, that’s probably because it’s true. I say it again because it’s always true: I write to believe. I write to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. I write to move myself into a deeper place, a truer reality, a more gracious be-ing. If even in a handful of honest, human words, I can move just a little further from who I was at the start of the writing, then how much more can the true Word do the same? Even so, I doubt. Even so, I am afraid. Yet he is tender. Yet he has pioneered first this aching world—this suffering priest who went into the far country and offered us a face to trample in our weakness, because he himself knew our weakness, and his compassion was great, and he could not give us up, he cannot give us up, how can I give him up?