Monday, September 15, 2008

Of rocks and rapids

If Christianity were to be compared to a river, many Christians would be standing ankle deep in it. They enjoy the exhilaration of being in the river, and perhaps the water at times feels good (other times it almost certainly feels too cold or hot) – but they just aren’t going to get in past a certain point. I think that the banks of the river are fairly gradual for most of us, sloping gently down towards a middle that is deep and where the current is much much stronger than any of us is comfortable with. God beckons us to the middle of the river, where He is in control and where we are not. He beckons to a life of surrender, we wade in the eddies* enjoying the feeling of water around our ankles.
By the Grace of God (most certainly not through our own effort) Marinajo and I find ourselves further out into the center of the river than ever before. As we prepare to leave our friends, family, and all that is familiar for Honduras, there is a very real sense that the current has taken us over. This has never been more real to me than it was Saturday evening. We were in the process of moving all day Saturday. Assisted by dear friends, we moved a piano, and then about 24 boxes of items that we had packed away for long term storage while we are to be gone. This is the stuff that we don’t want to get rid of, the keepsakes, the memories. In the process of moving we stopped by our home in Windsor (now rented) several times. I don’t know if it was the act of putting the memories into storage, saying goodbye to a dear friend (my best friend, really), or saying goodbye to the house that did it – but somewhere in all of that I began to feel this overwhelming sense of loss. After all of the moving, I met my family, late, at Christ Community Church for Saturday evening worship. I had barely sat down when the tears welled up side of me. All evening, as the worship service progressed, my emotions just took over and I could barely keep from weeping there in the pew. As the sermon ended and the Praise and Worship band came up to play, I just kept feeling this deep sense of loss at all that we were leaving behind. The friendships, the familiarity, the sense of home here, it was as If each of these things were being peeled away from my heart and it hurt. I started looking for Pastor Steve (missions pastor). I knew that of all of the people in the church service, I could walk up to him and spill my heart out to him and he would understand. I wouldn’t have to explain to someone that I didn’t know that we were about to leave the country to go into missions work, Steve knew all about this. I also knew that Steve’s heart would be open to just listening. I can’t tell you what a blessing he has been to us as we’ve walked this journey of faith in getting ready to go to Honduras. So, I told Marinajo what I was up to and then went and found Steve and asked him if we could talk. I could barely hold back the torrent of tears that was certainly coming. Steve, sensing the seriousness of the moment, took us back into a private prayer room where I simply fell apart. I am just not given to large displays of emotion. I cry a lot – but just little bits at a time where you might have to wipe away one tear, but never the river. Tonight there was a river of tears. I still don’t fully understand why. I just know that God had tapped my emotions and was releasing sorrow and anguish that had been building up about leaving. I should say that these last few weeks have been particularly stressful and that it is very possible that the stress had been building up to a moment like this. Steve just kept his hand on my back while I sobbed out the words to try and describe what I was feeling. He just listed, like I knew he would, and kept his hand on my back to let me know he was there. Four hundred Kleenexes later, I was finally able to compose myself long enough to talk normally with Steve. I explained to him that tremendous sense of loss that I had been feeling.
(Back to the river analogy) I think that by God’s grace, we’ve stumbled in towards the middle of the river such that we are in over our heads. Make no mistake; I think that this is God’s design for each of us. I guess the rocks are what surprised me the most. I think our American mindset makes us think that if we are “in the middle” of God’s will, then we will be floating around like the angels, playing harps and laying on clouds. Nothing could ever be wrong with one who is “so spiritual” to be in that place. In fact, I find myself tumbling along in the river, bouncing off of big rocks as we go by. I don’t know why I am surprised. Jesus defined it so well by His life and His words. “In this world, you will have trouble” or “the world hates me, they will hate you also” or “blessed are you when men hate you”. Where did we get the idea that the Christian life is supposed to be easy and prosperous? As we prepare to leave, we bounce around among the big rocks like money and family and Saturday night I swam headlong into a boulder of loss and sadness. I don’t feel like I’m steering at all. I can remember the instructions from the white water rafting instructor years ago, “if you fall out, no matter what – keep your feet in front of you, whatever you do don’t go down the rapids head first”. And that is what this feels like: rapids.
Here’s the point. We stand in the river, ankle deep, thinking that there is safety there. And in a sense, there is – for we are in control. We get to decide just how much of God we take in at any one moment. We can climb out of the water and go back to our daily lives and then wade back in next Sunday to see how it feels. But this is no God at all. Rather it is a god that we control. God (Jehovah) never accepts this kind of faith. It is familiarity, not faith that we have when we are up to our ankles. God demands more. When we do finally slip into the middle a bit and get bounced around by the rocks some, we get back out shaking and cold and our friends on the shore say “see, I told you so” and others who are standing ankle deep say “you’re doing it wrong” and we just assume that the middle must only be for pastors and such. What we don’t understand is that the rocks and the rapids bring weakness. God is interested in only one thing for us, that the life of His son Jesus be made more and more real in us. His goal is that we might become His righteousness and that we might be made to abide. “Apart from me, you can do nothing”. But “abide in me, and you shall bear much fruit”. Lastly this: Jesus said that it is only in losing one’s life for His sake that we can truly find life. If we try and keep our lives, we will lose them and if we are willing to forfeit them for Him, then we will find life. I think that the only place that the character of Christ can be truly formed in us is in the moments of our discomfort, the moments where we lose our footing and are swept away, if you will. This process simply can not happen as long as we are ankle deep.

So why go in for it at all? Why endure the rocks and the lack of control if all we are to learn is how hard life can be? We go in to the middle of the river because only in its complete abandon can God be truly known. Oh the joy of feeling the presence of God in the midst of your complete brokenness! If you want something that will satisfy you right down to your very fibers, then find yourself with no hope, but Him, and then let Him deliver. Throughout this whole sobbing mess Saturday night, my overriding feeling was one of God’s presence and peace in the midst of pain and loss. He is SO FAITHFUL. He says that He will never leave us or forsake us and that is so true in the rocks and the rapids. We find that God did not design us for a life of comfort, rather He designed us for a life of adventure at His control. And we find that like an engine that is finally rid of the bad gasoline, or the bad spark plug, we are finally free to be what we were designed to be. Life is never so hard as it is in the middle of the river, but it is never so good as it is there either.

*Eddie - Water flowing upstream behind a rock or other obstacle. Eddies often provide a safe place to get out of the current