Recently, while starting a new textbook I read through the preface and discovered the book had been dedicated to a friend of mine. She’s a beautiful sweet woman who’s getting married in a few months and I have the privilege to have her dad as a seminary instructor. She has been encouraging and patient and kind with me, excited about my life and my hopes in a way I’ve rarely had with female friends. Needless to say, I read the lines of dedication and nearly burst into tears in my office.
Needless to say, it’s been a long week. It’s been a week of tears and exhaustion and late nights with dinner at 930pm on more than one occasion. There’s been enough discouragement and existential theological crises to go around the seminary and back again. And I’m not even referring to midterms.
E has been on a deadline. This, of course, is nothing terribly new. We live on deadlines, our culture thrives on them as markers of achievement, accomplishment and success — even personal value and worth. I had deadlines too: papers, midterms, scholarship apps, taxes. But there was something in these lines, these boundary markers this week that made it harder than usual to push ahead and “keep up the good work.” Maybe it’s that in some of our life we’ve been over the deadline lately, in a way that nagged at security, value and worth. Maybe it’s that lent and penitence and realizing sin before the looming cross has just gotten to us.
To be honest, I wish it was the second option; that my sense of sin and unrighteousness, that my failure to to be conformed to the One in whose image I’m created was the reason for the tears in my office.
I cried on Monday because in a few minutes spent on social networking websites I felt undermined, cast aside, forgotten and unnecessary. I almost cried today because of the beauty in seeing my friend be so lavishly loved by her father so as to be remembered in words that many hundreds of people will read — to have work that took years of formation, challenge and perseverance dedicated to her sweet smile and progression from daughter-child to daughter-woman.
This week, I thought about giving up so many things for fear of failure, rejection and wavering purpose. Last week I heard Ethan do the same as he stood in my kitchen and said that work was doing him in, that everything was going wrong and wondering where is God in this? We’re trying so hard, striving, working, scrambling and serving. We’re on deadlines, with plates too full and cups too empty.
But then, last week, on the first day of Spring, the sky clouded over and I felt like the world was slowing down, coming to a halt; and we were finally starting to catch up to the spinning axis. And after class I read that “God was so much, and so intimately concerned with the destiny of man (and precisely with the destiny of every one of ‘the little ones’) as to intervene in person in the chaos and misery of the lost life.” Like the father dedicating his book and work and time to my friend, dedicating the project that had consumed so much of his very life, this is how God is: coming down, kenosis and self humiliation to walk alongside little Ethan and me in the midst of ruined projects, grammatically incorrect papers and mounting bills.
So we’re holding these two things in hand: that God is good and that life right now is hard.
But what if we’re not to hold those in separate hands, but pull them together and realize they aren’t so incompatible as they seemed at first glance?Jean Calvin placed election in such a position within his Institutes to comfort us and give assurance that amidst the travails of life in a fallen world we are saved, called, and promised such vindication beyond the grave that this will seem small and of no account. Nothing separates us from the love of God, even when it feels as if everything separates us from the love of God. And thus we are renewed, restored with value and worth that draws on being created by such a great and gracious Lover, given worth by being held tightly and close despite the mess of this thing that we call life. And we’re given back our purpose, we’re given back our heart to carry on — not because we are striving, but because we are already accepted, known and loved.
Not meeting deadlines or making grades or getting published. Just walking with Him, growing in trust, learning what it means to be like him as we learn who he even is in the first place and then giving all that back to him as glorious praise.
This week, by God’s grace, I’m busy with papers and reading and catching up on day to day work after midterms. It is grace to be so occupied because Ethan is busy and I’m hardly seeing him but for late night dinners full of exhausted words and tired hands propping up heads and slumped shoulders. I’ve had a few nominal fits of tears, always restricted by the workload before me and the very energy it would take to allow for salty tears.
And somehow, we’re choosing, or learning to choose or choosing to learn that God is here, alongside, walking and speaking and listening. He is good when life is hard. We’re saying thanks for work, pushing control from our own hands and refraining from forcing God to meet our expectations. We’ve come into Holy Week when Jesus was crucified not only for sins but for failing to meet the expectations of those in Jerusalem. What are my expectations? That life should be easy? That work would be life giving despite the curse and hardened ground? That somehow choosing Jesus meant choosing life abundant in terms of the American dream? Are these my expectations of Jesus as saviour messiah? And how must that be recalibrated?
How can I see God, who like my friend’s father, has lavished love and time and effort in order to serve me? to bless me in ways I so quickly fail to recall? And in the midst of remembering his love, his faithfulness, his hesed and hoping in his name, his character rather than circumstance, how must I remember this:
that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We’re exhausted yes, but not ruled or governed in worth, value or purpose by the deadlines and measurements of society. We are governed and given worth by the love of the One who made all things, sustains all things and brings all things to completion.