“To everything…(turn, turn, turn)…there is a season…(turn, turn, turn)…and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Thank you King Solomon via Pete Seeger via The Byrds.
Every culture develops certain idiosyncratic “diddies” that meander their way into conversation like “being self-aware” or “being fully present.” Let’s “dialogue.” I want to just “sit in this” for awhile. In an effort to be “transparent…” One diddy that continues to be part of our metaphorical vocabulary is “season.” Christian metaphorical folks often use the term in relation to what “season” God has placed us in. For example…
A typical conversation:
Person 1: “I can’t figure it out. I keep praying and there’s no answer. Why isn’t God moving in my life right now? I feel dead inside.”
Person 2: “Looks like God is keeping you in a season of quietness. It’s just a bump in your journey. A small chapter in your life book.” (Ok, so I threw in the journey and life book metaphors).
I can appreciate a good metaphor. Really, I can. I taught poetry for 20 years—I totally dig a great, winding metaphor (or conceit, as my literary friends would call it). Metaphors take our concrete reality and move it towards an abstraction—and strangely, the abstraction is more relatable.
Welcome to the “seasonal” metaphor
According to this metaphor, I’m in my autumnal years. It’s harvest time for those of us “Baby Boomers” still left on the planet. Yes, I came in at the tail end of that classification, but those of us in our late 50’s still belong to the Baby Boomer club. I should be “harvesting” and “reaping” right now. All my accumulated life experience should lead to wisdom and maturity. I’m not sure it has, and I’m not sure God thinks I’m “harvest ready” yet, either.
Thus my tussle with my Creator, the Elohim, the “I AM”, YHWH, the name of whom I’m not worthy to say aloud, yet He invites me to call Him Abba, Father. I tussle in fear and awe of who He is. Maybe He invites the “tussle.”
In January, a friend shared her New Year’s resolution: to develop her prayer life. I felt a giant Holy Spirit prod—the prods are usually a bit more gentle—to pursue prayer. I wrote about it back in May and suggested I might want to write Prayer: Part Two; so this is it.
After journeying through this prayer adventure since January, it’s time to look at what God is teaching me. Or not teaching me. In fact, what am I learning through these months of God’s silence? I’m learning to tussle—to wrestle with God’s Word, the essence of Him. As Christy Nockels sings, God is inviting me into the glorious…
But it doesn’t feel like it; it feels like I’m disappearing and becoming invisible.
In May I wrote: Prayer is more complex than all my whining. It isn’t a “fix,” but nor is it empty and fruitless. It is an essential component—even “THE” central component for a Christian. But be forewarned! Diligent—and sometimes urgent—prayer requires concentrated time and effort, and will reveal your true self while also revealing a fearsome glimpse of the God who created all.
I smile at that a bit. I had no idea how much my “true self” would emerge. None. I couldn’t see what was coming. But God did. He had to. He allows “crucible time.” Frankly, I’m still tired of character shaping moments. I want out of the crucible, but it’s not up to me. So in June, I was plunged into the crucible again. No—it wasn’t life threatening, but it was life altering.
The life-altering experience began innocently enough. Like millions of people, I have a ornery back that refuses to be tamed. I had a cervical disc fusion three years ago and had to give up teaching for awhile. (It’s actually become permanent since then.) Then in June my hubster and I decided to go ahead with a laminectomy to help my disintegrating lumbar. He’d had a reverse shoulder replacement in February, and now it was my turn to get better and get the pesky discs off of my sciatic nerve. I’d gone through a series of steroid shots in my bum area and a few MRI’s and X-rays, but my sciatic pain just kept going and going. So, a laminectomy. And then an infection. And then six days in the hospital with IV antibiotics. And then re-opening the incision and cleaning it out. And then a PICC line (central line to heart) and five weeks of antibiotics at home. And then, just when I thought it was over, a gallbladder flare, which led to gallbladder surgery. The night before the surgery, I broke down and bawled like a hungry calf who’d lost it’s mother—or a sheep that felt abandoned by her shepherd. My sweet nurse just held me and let me cry.
Finally, Labor Day. No more antibiotics. No more PICC line. Life could resume as before, but disc fusion in my lumbar still looms; I refuse to think about it. I just want to get strong and postpone the surgery as long as possible. The pain is a constant friend that I try not to acknowledge—until it knocks me around a bit.
During the Summer from Hell, I didn’t have enough strength to tussle with God. I was knocked flat, isolated and weak. God was teaching me through a study of Jeremiah. I was overwhelmed by God’s Word. Enveloped by it. My prayers continued. My prayer wall in tact. But then another metaphor took hold.
The crucible experience might be over, but still I remained in a valley.
“God gives us a vision, and then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of that vision.” Oswald Chambers
I have no idea what God’s vision for me is now. I’m broken and spilled out. I talk to myself a lot. I’m a teacher without a classroom. Lord, why do you place such hunger in my soul and then deny me a place and purpose? Why?
I continue to dwell in the valley. Praying. Studying His Word. Waiting to “hear” from Him. Yes, I’ve been faithful to Him. And still silence reverberates. Is it unconfessed sin? I don’t think so; I have to believe and trust that He is true to His Word: He washes me as white as snow. He throws my sin as far away as the east is from the west.
Because of this valley, I haven’t written. I haven’t had anything to say. My creativity dried up. Was God present during this time? Certainly. His Word says He is. Was I praying and listening to scripture speak Truth into my life? Absolutely. Did I experience God in a mighty way? Not in a mighty way, but in a quiet, loving way. He brought friends around me. Friends I didn’t know I had. Friends that were a blessing. So God moved through His people.
Yet, I remain in a valley.
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
One of my favorite books about prayer is *Pete Greig’s, God on Mute. He writes deeply and personally about God’s silence during his wife’s struggle with a brain tumor. Despite the constant prayers of God’s people surrounding her and Greig during this time, there was no healing. Despite an operation, Greig’s wife still suffers with epilepsy, an after-effect of the tumor. Despite God’s silence, Pete and Samie (his wife) persevere carrying with them truth and insight only the Holy Spirit can provide.
Working with God during this valley time has been a battle of perseverance vs. despair. Somedays I waver between both. My poor hubster watches and has no idea how to help. But he stands with me and prays for me.
The truth is I don’t know what to do with myself. My identity was so tied to teaching that now I feel lost. I’m a mother whose children are adults and live far away. I’m a Nana to two precious grandchildren, and one on the way, but I’m too far away to be a constant in their lives. I’m a wife to my hubster who loves my cooking and appreciates what I do around the house.
I have no more students. I’m invisible.
Most days I’m alone. I begin the day with Bible study and prayer. Then lunch. Then I take my pup for a walk (trying to get strong enough to have the fusion surgery in my lower back). I read a little. Work on some crafty stuff. Then fix dinner and spend the evening with Steve.
Yes, I try to schedule lunch dates with friends, and I get out and enjoy the beauty that is NOCO. On weekends (now that I’m 6 weeks out of the infection/surgery mess), the hubster and I take our Jeep out on mini-adventures in the mountains.
It should be peaceful, yet I’m in turmoil. Why? I think it’s because I’m at “harvest time” and I haven’t grown a crop in two years. I’m not rooted, and God is silent and unmoving.
In God on Mute, Greig explores the way God answers and doesn’t answer prayers. There’s nothing formulaic about it. This guy is direct and never boxes God into a particular formula. He is in awe of our Father. He respects and fears our Abba and creator. He looks at God’s Word without bias and brings a fresh pair of spiritual eyes to the complexity—and simplicity—of prayer. I brought my 50 years of walking with Christ into this book and I found nothing that bothered me—no Holy Spirit warning flags that I’ve had when reading many contemporary “Christian” writers. I’m a cynic about popular writers and test them constantly, looking for scriptural mishandling. I’m good with Pete Greig. I find him compelling and honest. Since I’m “tussling” with God right now, I had another look at this book. One reason for unanswered prayer connected to me right away.
Greig writes,: “Is there an opportunity here for going deeper in my relationship with God?”(pp.142-144). Greig directs me to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. There Paul is tussling with God, too. He has a “thorn in the flesh” and he isn’t too happy about it. Completely understand this. I have a chronic disease—a form of arthritis similar to rheumatoid, but not nearly as debilitating. Yet it is affecting every part of my body and pain is my friend. I have a dear family member who is battling ovarian cancer. Her “thorn” is intense and scary. I believe most of us have something going on that we wish would disappear so we could have a better quality of life. Yet our thorn stays.
And God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It sounds like God is telling Paul to persevere. The thorn ain’t going away, so just trust me. I’m enough. Whew. That is hard to do. Persevere.
Since I’m a “word nerd,” I looked up the use of “perseverance” in the New Testament (by way of my huge, handy-dandy NASB Exhaustive Concordance and a magnifying glass courtesy of Amazon). Thirty -two times. It’s used 32 times in the New Testament (in the King James translation). It’s used 25 times in the NASB translation (the most literal translation of the Bible). The Greek word is “hypomonë.” A synonym for hypomonë is “proskartérësis.” Both carry similar connotative meanings: “to endure; to continue in something; to remain under, to continue steadfastly; to tarry somewhere.”
What strikes me here is that the word implies a “continuance.” Perseverance is active. My take-away point? Persevere. Tarry in the valley. Continue in My Word, Cindy Lou. Continue praying and seeking me.
My current life verses speak to my need to persevere:
- “A disciple is not above her teacher, but everyone when she is fully trained will be like her teacher.” Luke 6:40 (I changed the pronouns to make it more personal.) The “teacher” Luke is referring to is my Rabbi and Messiah, Jesus. Did Jesus ever experience God’s silence? I think He may have experienced a Divine Silence in the Garden of Gethsemane. We only know what the Gospels have provided for us, but we know that Jesus pleaded with His Father to “take this cup from me,” but ultimately He “drank from that cup” and died for us during Passover—the ultimate and final sacrificial Lamb. Conclusion: If Jesus experienced Divine Silence, then why shouldn’t I experience, too? Why should I be spared this tiny, tiny, infinitesimal cup that belongs to me—this wee cup of God’s silence? If I want to be like my Rabbi Jesus, then I must go through the training. I don’t want to fail in this task, so I persevere.
- My next verse comes from Jeremiah 15:16. Here’s some context from 2 Kings 22: Judah had many evil kings who allowed idolatry to creep into the Temple. One such king, Manasseh, was particularly evil (historical tradition has him ordering the prophet Isaiah murdered by being sawn in half) and during his horrific reign, he may have had the “Book of Law” (Deuteronomy) hidden or discarded. However, during the reign of good king Josiah, the Book of Law was rediscovered and the covenant with God renewed. Jeremiah prophesied during Josiah’s reign, and this verse in chapter 15 clung to my heart and mind. “Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts!” I love this metaphor of eating God’s holy Word. I want to do that—to eat God’s Word, to digest it, and have it nourish me. I crave that nourishment.
So here I am. Not where I thought I’d be after resolutely committing myself to prayer this year. I don’t know exactly what I expected? A major epiphany? An aura of spirituality that people would take note of and then invite me to teach? A great calling? A recognition that I was somehow not…ordinary?
How completely self-centered. What a sham! And a shame!
Father, forgive me for my selfish desires. Forgive me for not recognizing that Your Word is enough. You are enough. Help me to walk forward and to continue forward into the ordinary…and into the glorious.
Persevere, dear brothers and sisters. Persevere.
*God on Mute, by Pete Greig was published in 2007. Greig is the founder of the 24-7 prayer movement. He leads the Emmaus Rd. church in Guildford, England. Read more about him and the 24-7 prayer movement here: https://www.24-7prayer.com/team/14/greig/
Here is my inspiration for this blog: Christy Nockels performing, “Into the Glorious.”