So, I'm sitting here sipping on Lemon Ginger Zinger and babysitting again as my Spring Break finishes up. I have my regulars Jack and Julia to babysit tomorrow morning and then Sunday brings a new week and a fresh start. Tonight it's Elinore, who sadly had to retreat to bed shortly after I arrived. She is a stunning and impressive 16 month old - someone I would much prefer to my lonesome, save the cats earlier this week. It really has been interesting, though, looking at my life left to its own devices. I actually don't really like it.
I'm looking forward to my housemates coming back if for nothing else the consistency of seeing faces and engaging in interaction every day. I kid myself that I'm a real loner - that I belong in the dark, quiet places where I can think. The funny thing is - when I actually find myself there, it's all I can do to stay put and be useful. I realized this in Chicago as well. I need people. Sure, we all need people, but I know that in order for me to fully function in the body of Christ I need to be in contact with the body as a community. Without accountability I'm unpredictable and unreliable.
On the way back from Indy last weekend, I battled the long stretches of silence. I don't know if anyone can relate to those times in the car where no music is the right kind. Every CD I put in or radio station didn't seem to connect. When it comes down to it, I was strangely unsettled when I wasn't moved or inspired by the music. I wanted something to connect - gratify my desires and feelings for that specific time.
I ended up shutting off the music completely and painting the road with my own words and rhymes. I'm glad I didn't record what followed, but I stumbled upon a few things that put me again in the role of student. I remember one phrase that came up:
I've got a pocket full of problems and a heart heavy with dreams. There are visions dancing on the backdrop of my eyes...
Sure - it's sappy. Given time, I'm sure a writer could make it into a killer radio single. But, then again you could give anything that slightly rhymes to writers these days and they've got 13-year-olds belting out the chorus within weeks. That's not where I was going, though.
In some ways, it describes the struggle I have - we all have - with what lies ahead. There will never be a time in our lives where we are problem free. Really - never. And as much as we are weighed down with earthly agendas, we are burdened with the weight of an all-consuming glory - a glory that opens the curtain and sets the stage for the most brilliant play that ever was.
There's that... and then there was something else. It started with a seed. In one of the bible studies I'm a part of, we recently studied the parable of the sower and the seeds (I think I wrote on this awhile back). I started thinking about birth, growth, and the anticipation involved in the whole process. What a wondrous thing it is to have a beginning, to take root and claim space for your existence. Really - to think on life and creation is so beautifully wound up in beginnings.
The seed - so small, seemingly vulnerable is put into the ground, inches down and covered with soil. What assurance have we that this small piece of matter will produce anything of substance? Yet, creation is fed by the harvests of many fields and zillions of tiny, precious seeds. After the seed is planted, the sower starts the first of many impatient phases. Oh! The things we find to fret about - rain, no rain, too much rain, animals, insects, fertilizer, good soil, run off, weeds... I grew up between rows of corn and soybeans. I know what it is to have conversation begin and end with a report on the coming crop.
But, back to that tiny, tender beginning planted just so.
(From this point on, I may sound naive and a bit amateur to the way of plant life and green growth, but maybe it will make sense to someone else as it does to me.)
We can not control at precisely what moment that seed is ready to sprout. Sure, we'll know about when it should happen. But, when all is quiet above the surface, that little seed is going about making roots... roots that will sustain the future plant. Only when the roots have stretched far and deep enough for precisely that plant will the wondrous sprout appear. Enter impatient phase #2 (and so on).
Now, not ever actually having the burden most farmers carry about their crops almost as if they are children, it may seem hard for me to relate. But, the way I see it, I get so impatient for the plant first to break ground. I want to see that something is happening. I want to know that I didn't plant a dud - the only evidence, save digging up the poor thing, comes after waiting. I might say to myself, "If I could just see it come above ground. I just want to know it's taken root - that's all. I just need to see that I've done this work for nothing. Really, then I will trust the rest."
Sure enough, when that solitary green shoot emerges in a bed of brown, I get excited. I know I've done something right. But now, I'm only more tormented with anticipation. "Why is the process so painfully long?" I might say, "Why can't we skip to the part where there is fruit and leaves and life coming from this thing I planted?"
But, more waiting. Funny that with each stage of growth I forget more and more about the spreading roots of the beginning. I spend little time wondering at the process of growth and much time impatient for its completion.
Let's say this seed I planted was a tree. What a long, excruciating process - one that I will never see complete in my lifetime. I can almost see myself, hunched over, whispering words of encouragement with great urgency. "Can't you grow any faster? Friend, I've given you water and sun and all those things they say to give in the magazines. I've done it - now when will you grow?"
Winter comes and ice decorates the cold, bare branches. Even though I know the season will pass, it's hard for me not to lose hope. To see the infant tree in such a poor, paralyzed state is quite a harsh thing to encounter from a snow-glazed window. Yet, as death and dormancy melt away on its gray exterior, impatience grabs hold once again. "When, oh when will the leaves come? Those are such a sure sign of life and a welcome assurance of spring."
I could go on - and this would turn into a very sad tale. I would be somewhere in the range of 68 years old, staring out the same window, rocking gently in the soft groove on the wood floor, maybe preoccupied as I knit mittens for a grandchild. My gaze would be fixed on that same tree, now grown and sturdy, but still waiting, hoping, and anticipating.
Oh, that is quite enough! The question is: what are we - what am I really impatient for? If I am waiting and anticipating the sprout, the leaves, the blooms - if these drive my anticipation and excitement than I am missing completely the joy and beauty of things created. I will time and again be disappointed and never satisfied. Why? Because what I've missed is that everything, from spreading roots to the shade-giving branches, is merely a reflection. If I'm impatient for more of the reflection, then I will never see the true beauty.
When the children of Israel begged Moses to petition God they asked that He remove the snakes biting at their heels. They were getting sick from the venom and were desperate for a cure. God answered by not removing the snakes, but by asking His children to simply shift their gaze. Because snakes, too are a part of His creation, and if we are distracted for even a moment we are looking at a mere reflection. God told them to look up to the bronze serpent and those who obeyed found instant healing! I won't go into the symbolism in this passage, but it is clear that we are far too easily consumed with created things. If I spend my life anticipating things in the created realm I will never be satisfied. Yet, if I shift my gaze toward Christ, the author and perfector of my faith, I am no longer looking at a reflection, but at the True, Real Beauty.
I am almost embarrassed at how long this is... I know I could have said everything in a couple sentences, but like it or not, the words just come. There's so much more to these blessings - and also their role in my burdens right now. But, this is quite enough for tonight! I am going to finish up A Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis - what a marvelous and enchanting read!
This week has been long and revealing. I am thankful for even the ugly parts brought to the surface when no one is looking. I need only shift my gaze to know that the God of all the universe waits to lavish his love and laughter on this child.
peace and grace.