True Poverty

Jesus, my Brother and Lord, I pray as I write these words for the grace to be truly poor before you, to recognize and accept my weakness and humanness, to forgo the indecent luxury of self-hatred, to celebrate your mercy and trust in your power when I’m at my weakest, to rely on your love no matter what I may do, to seek no escapes from my innate poverty, to accept loneliness when it comes instead of seeking substitutes, to live peacefully without clarity or assurance, to stop grandstanding and trying to get attention, to do the truth quietly without display, to let the dishonesties in my life fade away, to belong no more to myself, to not desert my post when I give the appearance of staying at it, to cling to my humanity, to accept the limitations and full responsibility of being a human being – really human and really poor in Christ our Lord. – (Brennan Manning: Reflections for Ragamuffins)

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3:25-26

Waiting on the Lord is something I’m learning a little more about than I ever cared to know, quite honestly. It is one thing to say that I belong to Jesus and that I have a certain hope as a Christian. It is quite another to say that I am willing to let go of my excuses, facades, strip myself of all my favorite substitutes, and lay myself bare – poor before Him (as Brennan Manning’s prayer so vulnerably articulates) and simply wait.

About six months before Tricia passed away I was having a session with my counselor. I was tired, frustrated, and numb. I began to share about all the ways that my life seemed to be dictated to me. My reality felt very decided for me by my circumstances as a caregiver and while I complained about it on one hand, there was a certain safety in it on the other.

After listening to my “I feel so stuck” speech for the bazillion-and-seventh time my counselor became unusually quiet and began to speak in a very cautionary tone as if she was treading into the conversational equivalent of a walk across a frozen pond.

“David, when Tricia dies I believe you will experience some very anxious days. There is likely to be a level of anxiety that you haven’t encountered even in her illness.”

“No,” I snapped back, “I may be a lot of things – sad, regretful, heartbroken, and even relieved, but anxious is NOT going to be one of the things I feel. I can promise you that.”

She smiled and continued her verbal trek across the icy Lake David.

“Well, time will tell,” she said. “But I believe Tricia has represented a barrier between you and several things that you haven’t had to confront yet. Suddenly it will be open season on things like vocational changes, new relationships, professional opportunities, personal risks, – all things that you haven’t even considered, let alone pursued simply because of your situation. You will be free and fearful at the same time and you will have to honestly ask yourself what you are going to do with these new options. You need to be prepared for that. As much as you’ve been shackled by her illness, you’ve also been protected by it and losing that safety net can produce anxiety.”

Sure enough, in the days and weeks that passed after losing Tricia I began a journey of restlessness like I’ve never experienced. I felt as if I didn’t belong anywhere. Nothing in my life was the same. I was no longer married. I lived alone in the house we built together. I had too many choices. No one necessarily needed me. Life was moving on and I felt as if I was left standing at the station waving at it.

When the subject of a season of fasting here at CCC first came to my attention I initially felt that it was just one more time I was being asked to give something up. Upon more prayerful reflection it occurred to me that I needed to treat this as a season of investment instead of a season of doing without. I realized as I approached praying for our church, prayer for change, and prayer for direction for us as a body I am demonstrating that I need that prayer for me. Life without excuses and substitutes is not for the faint hearted.

I’m finding that peace can reside in the fear as well as the freedom. And waiting on the Lord is simply waiting – quietly, patiently, and purposefully as we acknowledge all of our human limitations. For me, embracing the poverty of Christ is less about what I sacrifice and more about embracing His.

Great Expectations

Far too often I find that I confuse expectation with faith.

What I do believe that I can expect is for God to honor his promises. The quandary becomes exactly what I interpret those to be. What does God actually promise us and how do I integrate that into my faith, my personal grid for how I pray, and for whom and what I pray?

These are bigger questions than I can answer in five hundred words assuming I had the answers at all.

In my own story of adversity and prayers that seem to hover just below the ceiling tiles I’ve begun to ask myself some questions. First of all, is God faithful, trustworthy, and just? Is it an answer to prayer only when things turn out favorably from my perspective as opposed to when they turn out in ways that disappoint and even devastate me? Is God in his sovereignty only going to do what he chooses anyway and my puny prayers are just exercises in futility other than me showing my utter dependence on him?

These are the questions I get pelted with on a very regular basis as I encounter people in the areas of chronic and life threatening illness, tragedy, and the areas of addiction and compulsive behaviors that wreak havoc on the lives of individuals and those around them. Our natural expectation would be for God to heal us, strike us sober, get us well, fix us, and sweep in to smooth out all the fallout.

God doesn’t promise us that any two situations are ever going to turn out exactly alike. I also don’t see that we can take certain promises in scripture that were made to specific individuals, people groups, or cultures (regardless of how comforting and glorious they may sound) and extract them to always fit our personal paradigms. Otherwise, we would just keep the ones we like and throw out the ones where he promises to hand people over to their enemies and even allow terrible things to happen to their women and children.

I see God’s promises to be in the areas of peace, wisdom, courage, and hope. Even as I ask for certain outcomes on behalf of my loved ones and myself what I can expect from him is peace, courage, wisdom and acceptance. These things focus me on the process much more than the outcome, which I believe is really the point in the first place.

Expectation and faith are like Christmas tree lights. Even though I think I have them neatly sorted and wound up when I put them away every year, I manage to open the box to a tangled web of cords when I need to get to them again. I will probably be revisiting this point for the rest of my life. What I am careful to remember these days is that God’s promises seem to be more about carrying me through the process than about guaranteeing my desired result.