I have, for a while now, been taking life one day at a time without having much in the way of an overarching plan or any real guess as to what tomorrow may hold. Even as I try to make plans for the coming months to see what doors may open to me, I find it is still an arduous process without many guarantees. This can lead to more than a few stress filled days and sleepless nights.Since, I’m not a big fan of stress, though I’ve seemingly chosen a lifestyle that attracts it, and since I do love my sleep, I’ve had to find ways to deal with this constant living in the unknown.
I could certainly tell you of the unhealthy means of coping. The escapes into naps, isolation, food, or Minecraft. I have quite the extensive Minecraft world on my iPad. It is the healthy means of dealing with this on which I want to focus.
I’ve found three.
Many people have asked me how I am still going. Over the last two and a half years I have lived and worked on three continents and five countries. I hurt my back and ten days later evacuated from the Country over security concerns. I’ve been in a rural hospital for what they called malaria and sepsis at the same time. Now I am finishing my time in my fifth country trying to make plans for my next steps. Somedays it does feel more like I am crawling not taking steps. My next steps, every step really, is a step in faith. I suppose not everyone is in faith as somedays I wonder if I am still going because I am stubborn and refuse to quite, or because I am afraid and don’t want to admit I’ve failed. But, these are driven from my mind by the promises of God I can meditate on in his word and so I am able to say I don’t know how I am still going when I am not even sure where I am going, but I go on because I have faith and that is a gift from God alone.
But my faith is not alone.
To it he has added…
I was sitting in a coffee shop enjoying a proper cup of tea and some free wifi. I was also listening to a music playlist I made while on a guided retreat with the interns. The playlist is called Go Mall, from the Irish meaning slow down. Amazing Grace came on and I was struck by one verse in particular:
The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures
Remembering the promises of God are helpful in times of stress. I especially love the imagery of the shield. For a long time I thought of shields as cool decorations and even cooler toys, in the case of the stage combat shields by Brother-in-law owns.I didn’t really see them as something I needed, but they are pretty important on the battlefield.
I love the idea that God is my shield. A shield isn’t there for decoration, if you are going to battle, you are going to need it. God being our shield doesn’t mean we aren’t being attack, but rather the opposite, that we are going to be under constant barrage and he will be what covers us.
Paul writes in Ephesians of our need to put on the full armor of God and list amongst the armor “the shield of faith, by which you will extinguish the fiery darts of the evil one”. I was sharing this passage in a bible study with a group of interns this summer and got to tell them about my favorite part being the shield. I love in particular the idea coming from an old battle practice where soldiers would soak their hide shields in water over night, so that when fiery darts struck a flammable liquid was released and spread fire, the shield’s soaked hide would extinguish the flame. Our shield of faith doesn’t just provide protection if arrows come are way, it is prepared knowing they will. In the midst, of battle , God provides shelter, a respite. So faith leads to hope as we are sheltered from the worst blows, able to renew our strength and advance the line.
God shields me in ways I wouldn’t think of when he provides respite even in a form of a beautiful day. My day was supposed to be spent helping with a local church arts festival all day. The weather forecast brought about a postponement of the event and left me with the day free. The storms held off their full force and there was actually quite a beautiful block of time filled with sunshine. Being able to relax and go for a walk along the canal, enjoy a nice lunch at a cafe and sit and write were all times of great refreshment for me that I badly needed. So many little moments like this I can point to that restore my hope and renew my strength.
We have a shield of faith and so we have a hope, but…
…The greatest of these is…
Newton’s hymn doesn’t say God gives us a shield, it says God is our shield. He puts himself in the line of fire. He did it on the cross and he still does it today. Tim Keller points out that when Christ confronts Saul on the road to Damascus, “He asks him, ‘Saul why do you persecute me?’(Acts 9:4). Here we see that Jesus so identifies with his people that he shares in their suffering. When they are hurt or in grief, so is he.” What a beautiful thought. As an awkward middle schooler I was bullied, but their was no greater feeling of pride, security, and renewed strength as when I saw my big brother come around the corner and put that bully in his place. How much greater is the sight of Christ our brother coming to shield and protect us!
Seeing this gift of faith and hope you see it is bound together in love. You see that in your worst, he has deemed you worthy of his love, not a reduced portion, but the whole of his perfect love.
It is hard when in the midst of our suffering we can’t hardly see through the storms, when we struggle to see and remember his love.
Sometimes it seems as if we are able to endure the little sufferings of life, the discomforts by trusting God has a plan, that he is still there with us and loves us. So, if he is what alone can get us through suffering how then do we go about it practically. Like driving in the rain. He gives us his word to illuminate the path for us like headlights (thy word is a lamp unto my feet) and he gives us prayer to push back the rain from our vision. And while the rain is light this seems manageable and we feel we are doing it on our own and not always remembering we do it because God is with us and has given us his gifts to help us. Then the rain falls harder and we start to get a little nervous, we slow the car down to a crawl and we lean towards the windshield straining our eyes to see the path. So long as we can still see his path before us we can keep going and though we feel uncomfortable driving in such conditions we still trust we will make it, after all, we have been driving a long time and seen storms before. Then it really hits. The wind visible moves the car and we fight and grip the wheel hard just to stay on the road. The rain falls in such torrential sheets that the wipers cannot keep up and the path before us seems nonexistent. Sometimes the only thing to do is pull to the side of the road and wait. Sometimes, we feel judged for stopping as though it were giving up, being still and waiting on God, crying out for help to believe when you struggle to is not giving up anything except yourself to a great God which is exactly what we need in such times. Maybe the storm never passes, but we can still remember there is a path ahead of us. Waiting means the storm may pass, it could mean someone will stop and help, we may find others on the same road that we can help, or perhaps a new path that is a bit more clear, we can’t always know but faith isn’t rooted in the evidence of things seen it is rooted in hope of that yet to be seen. Still, it hurts. There is pain in the storm, but not all of it is bad. We hurt because we have lost what we thought was our true path, our plan for our lives not believing God could have a greater one in store. We hurt because of loss, we hurt because we know nothing else. It is good to mourn loss. The storm may not pass but we may learn to see better through it and start moving slowly again towards our true destination.
To love and to be loved: that is the answer where ever we are, Stuck in the mud or racing down the highway. Faith hope and love are the only ways I have found to deal with a life of uncertainty and world of struggles. And it isn’t easy, but it is worth it. Fatih, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.