Writing for Story Warren is an honor and a joy, but it makes me feel like a hypocrite. I talk about how messes are beautiful proofs of the life we’re building with our kids. Then my kids make a mess, and I just want a clean house. I talk about taking time to grieve our losses, but when it comes down to it, I’m a coward. I don’t want to grieve.
It would be easier if we experienced all truths in the same way, if, as soon as we heard the truth of God, our eyes were opened, and we received it fully, and there was no more doubt. But most truths are things that we wear like garments. Every day we make a conscious choice to put them on. We cling to them; we hope to be identified with them. But they are external. They can be taken off and laid aside. With time and use, they tend to grow tattered and threadbare.
So I wake in the morning to the pounding of small, sturdy feet or the clatter of a metal bucket on the wood floor or the slamming of the bathroom door. And before I throw off the covers and rise, I feel the press of the coming day—the meals and snacks and messes and conflicts, the math and phonics and chores and activities. I think of Sara Groves singing “The Long Defeat,” and the words feel as if they were siphoned from my own heart. “I have joined the long defeat,” Groves says, “that falling set in motion. And all my strength and energy are raindrops in the ocean.” Yes, Sara, I know. The needs of my household, of my children’s hearts, of my community, are an ocean. And I could squeeze the sum of my wisdom and motivation into an eyedropper.
I get out of bed and slide my legs into an external truth, one illustrated by the widow of Zarephath in I Kings 17. Elijah went to her and asked for a meal, and she replied that she had only enough flour and oil to feed herself and her son one more time. But Elijah asked her to make him a cake first, knowing how little she had left, and she responded with a stunning act of faith. For the remainder of the famine, she and her son and Elijah were never hungry. The widow got up every morning and thrust her hand into a nearly empty flour barrel and tipped a nearly empty jar of oil and found just enough to make breakfast. She did the same at lunch and dinner, day after day, for thousands of meals, and there was always enough. Like her, I cling to the truth that there is always enough—enough energy, enough money, enough insight, enough butter. But I wear this truth on the outside, like a droopy pair of shorts.
The sounds of shouting and arguing pummel the walls. I slip my arms into another truth. Or is it the same one? It’s frayed at the edges. My fingers have been worrying the hem. This truth is illustrated by a young cucumber plant. As it grows, its thin, yellow-green vines stretch out and curl around the fence. The work is imperceptible, almost magical. You go to sleep with a tiny vine curling in the air like a beckoning finger, and when you wake, the thing has wrapped itself around the fence a dozen times. It climbs and circles, climbs and circles, supporting the fragile stalk so it can hold the weight of the cucumbers. In the end, plant and fence have become one, and the strength of the fence is the strength of the plant. And this is the reality of my life and my daily struggles. Because I am united to the source of perfect, unfailing strength, there is more strength in me than I can possibly fathom. I am clinging to this truth, holding on for dear life.
But there are truths we no longer wear, truths that, by revelation, have sunk so deep into our hearts that they have become part of us. They glide through our veins like blood. We are mixed with them, and no amount of external pressure can separate us from them. These are the places where we raise our Ebenezers, for God has done a work we cannot explain. He has built something we could not create. In these places, we know union. We know peace. We know Christ.
This is what I pray for–revelation that takes the external truths and works them into me. I burn the toast. I spill juice. I lose my temper. I grow weary. I feel the Long Defeat. But because of Jesus, there is flour in the barrel, oil in the jar. Because of Jesus, I have a strength that cannot be exhausted, a life that cannot die, a love that cannot fail. Because of Jesus, I have joined the Long Triumph.
Lord, make it real to me.
Photo courtesy of Carey Pace (www.careypace.com)