Old Wisdom

Because ‘tis less.

Julie / October 26, 2017

I was reading John Bunyan’s “Prison Meditations” tonight and these three little stanzas make a solid little sub-poem that I found very encouraging.

We sell our earthly happiness
      For heavenly house and home;
We leave this world because ’tis less,
      And worse than that to come.

We change our drossy dust for gold,
      From death to life we fly:
We let go shadows, and take hold
      of immortality.

We trade for that which lasting is,
      and nothing for it give,
but that which is already his
      by whom we breathe and live.

—John Bunyan, from Prison Meditations

Musings

Ecclesiastes in the Waiting Room

Julie / October 21, 2017

At first, I thought she was coming to coo over the baby.  I was, after all, sitting in a hospital waiting room with a newborn baby peeking out from under his carseat shade.  She meandered into the waiting room, looked it over, and made a beeline for us with an expectant look on her face.

She looked at him.  She looked at me.  I smiled, the tolerant but tired smile of an introverted mother a little weary of all the strangers exclaiming over her baby continually.

“I just can’t believe anyone would choose to have a baby anymore,” she said.

I gaped, and felt my smile waver—but nodded in mute acknowledgement and waited for her to continue.

And continue she did.  She told me baby daddies are never around, never do any work, never help out—just I wait and see!—and that I was going to be up all night every night and clean up all the throw-up forever.  She told me there’s never enough money for food, never enough good jobs to go around, never any stability.  She told me the job was thankless, and that nowadays, it wasn’t even useful to send them off to school, that probably by the time my baby was old enough, all the kids would just be taught by inhuman computers, and what good was that, anyway?  She told me if someone just had to have a baby to hold, that they ought to foster, because at least then they’d get paid for it, and they could give them back when they got worn out of it.

I never could figure out what to say back, although she paused plenty of times for me to get a word in edgewise.  I wanted to tell her that she was wrong, that my husband had a good job and my husband wasn’t like that at all, and that my kids aren’t going to those schools and my kids aren’t ungrateful brats.  I wanted to tell her my baby was beautiful and that every single one of my kids is a blessing and delight.  How could she sit there and berate infants when such an excellent specimen was sitting right in front of her?

But it seemed disrespectful, considering that she was sitting there pouring out the bitterness of her own experience.  She talked about her children; her grandchildren.  And so I said none of what I wanted to say.  I just sat there smiling and making polite noises of agreeableness when I could, and freezing nervously when she made her more outrageous remarks. 

I didn’t know what to do, really.

The much-younger woman who was with her came back, then, and the older woman quickly stopped talking to me at all.  I listened as she made some extremely neutral remarks about my baby to her companion. (“Look at that baby!  He’s a little one, about as new as they come, I’d reckon.”)  Then they called her back, and there were no more words.

All I could think of was Ecclesiastes.

I hated all my work that I labored at under the sun because I must leave it to the man who comes after me.  And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will take over all my work that I labored at skillfully under the sun. This too is futile.  So I began to give myself over to despair concerning all my work that I had labored at under the sun.  When there is a man whose work was done with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and he must give his portion to a man who has not worked for it, this too is futile and a great wrong. For what does a man get with all his work and all his efforts that he labors at under the sun? For all his days are filled with grief, and his occupation is sorrowful; even at night, his mind does not rest. This too is futile. There is nothing better for man than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work. I have seen that even this is from God’s hand, because who can eat and who can enjoy life apart from Him? (Ecclesiastes 2:18-24)

The poor woman in the waiting room waxed eloquently about the futility of life, at least of the life of mothers.  Her whole speech was so bleakly devoid of hope, so… honest about the reality of existence apart from the grace of God.  The hurt and damage bled through her every sentence.

I felt, acutely, how blessed I am.  How blessed with joy, blessed with children, blessed with a loving husband.  Blessed with the Spirit.  Blessed with salvation.  It is from God’s hand—it is God’s hand that made my life so different from hers.  And sin and the broken, fallen world that made her life so wretched.  So many points I could not disagree with her: absentee fathers are pervasive.  Employment and money is a struggle.  Public schools, especially where we were having our conversation, can be very bad indeed.  I once taught at an elementary school near this hospital, and the school was in such bad shape that the computer keyboards used for typing class didn’t even have all the keys.  Her bitterness was laced with no small amount of cold truth.  The world is heartbreakingly broken.

Here is what I have seen to be good: it is appropriate to eat, drink, and experience good in all the labor one does under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him, because that is his reward. God has also given riches and wealth to every man, and He has allowed him to enjoy them, take his reward, and rejoice in his labor. This is a gift of God, for he does not often consider the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with the joy of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)

I am thankful for the reminder of how indebted I am to God for every joy that fills my heart.  I am thankful for the reminder of how much the people around me need the Gospel, need redemption and rescue from the pain and hardship that batters them every day.  It is too easy for me to get in my Christian-and-happy-family bubble and forget the very real suffering of other humans around me.

I hope next time God puts me in a situation like that, that I am better able to find words.  That I might speak words of a better way, of a Redeemer who lifts us beyond the misshapen circumstances we find ourselves born to.  Ecclesiastes ends with Hope, with justice—the futility of life being answered with the promise of eternity.

Those are the words I could have said today.

When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity.  For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

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Musings

Faith from the edge of my seat.

Julie / October 13, 2017

In recent years, it has become exceedingly clear that God is teaching me to trust Him.  Within the space of a few months, two of our boys had acute medical issues that could have been catastrophic—in the long run, it turned out that neither issue was that serious, but the symptoms were terrifying.  In both cases, it took a few days to pin down the severity, and Philippians 4:6-7 was chiseled onto my heart in such a fearsome way that it has transformed my understanding of “worry” forever after.

I love it when I can look back and see how days of suffering are indeed transformed into endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5).  It is a great testimony of the sureness of God to be able to see how horrible moments are indeed for our joy, and, in retrospect, to appreciate the experiences that were so unendurable at the time.

So, when new trials arise, I can whisper God’s truths to myself, and know experientially that they are true.  I can whisper, God works all things for good, and I can remember the times it was true.  I can whisper, rejoice in suffering, because I have seen how suffering has been worthwhile.  I can whisper, be anxious for nothing, because I can still feel the restfulness of bringing my worries to His throne.

However.  God never stops teaching me, for which I am very thankful… and also appalled at my own ability to continue to fall short and need more instruction!

The past week has been jam-packed full of stress.

Nothing has actually gone utterly wrong, but there were many moments—maybe as many as ten—when we were waiting on test results, waiting to hear back from some doctor, waiting to see what was going to be done, waiting to see if labor was going to happen (I had a baby a couple of days ago, an event I totally failed to anticipate even as recently as this time last week).  So much waiting.  So much uncertainty.

I am really, really bad at uncertainty.  I often feel like I’d rather know the bad news than wait to hear the good!

I told Seth after the last of it (at least as far as I know, ha!) came to a conclusion yesterday that it feels like God is deliberately keeping me on the edge of my seat.  More particularly, like He is teaching me how to live and trust Him not just to hold us through the worst of times, but in the minute-by-minute uncertainty of daily life.  Do I trust Him to be good?  Do I trust His planning?  Can I hold myself and my “needs” for everything to be perfectly sketched out and just—wait?

I didn’t respond perfectly.  There were too many nights in the past week when I couldn’t sleep, and many hours of desperate internet research and trying as best as I could to control all the situations that unfolded.  But God kept bringing Himself to my mind and reminding me (often via my much calmer husband!) that I needed to trust Him, that I needed to quiet my spirit and rest in His goodness and sovereignty.  In short, I failed.  But even here just a couple of days out, and, oh, what I have learned through this experience!  How good God is to continue to lead us through these situations and teach us to stand up under them!  I have been learning much more vividly the meaning of 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.

This is a dear truth.  So many times in the past week I felt the desperate war within myself between resting in God and giving into the strong pull of despair, frustration, anxiety, and even anger.  So often it was almost a conscious choice: am I going to give in to my wretched desire to be really upset about this situation, or to be really fearful, or… am I just going to let it go and be still (Psalm 46:10)?  Anyone who was within earshot of me this week knows how often I chose to be a wretch!  But even in the middle of my frustration and desperation, I could still feel the battle raging and know all the promises of Scripture—that He would be faithful. I knew that my fear and frustration were founded in the mire of my sinful heart, not in reality.

God promises us in Hebrews 12:10-11 that He disciplines us “for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Then this little bit, that is so helpful:

Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead. (v 12-13)

I love this.  There is something lame in me.  Well, there are many things lame in me, but what I’ve particularly learned this week was lame is that I do a pretty terrible job of trusting God when my plans are going all awry.  And this past week has served as a marathon to show me my lameness and give me ample opportunity to repent of it and change my ways—to be healed rather than dislocated by the circumstances God brought my way.

We serve such a good God, that He is not content merely to redeem us and rescue us from the consequences of our sin, but that He also sanctifies us and purifies us and even, sometimes, lets us see how He is using circumstances for our betterment.  Rejoice in suffering.