By Tuesday of this week, I thought it had finally happened. It’s been 1½ years of getting a blog post out every weekend. Looking between the cracks where God faithfully opens my eyes, at least a bit, and provides some kind of answer to the question of the blog.
But this week, I thought the well had dried up. “I will have to put a notice up on the blog on Saturday,” I mused with more than a little cynicism. “Due to circumstances that are too tangled and messed up, we are closed. Come back next weekend.” One of my favorite jokes from The Simpsons is the sign on the handle of the Quik-E-Mart store. On one side it says, “We never close,” and the other side says “Closed for the first time ever!”
It is obvious by now that this did not happen, for here I am, typing away once again, setting out in this exercise of hope, saying no to the cynicism that sometimes pounds on me with hurricane force. The act of typing words of hope this morning, of being “back in the saddle” when I didn’t think I would be causes a prayer of thanks to well up in me to God.
The outer circumstances don’t look like much – the reoccurrence of stomach flu which I’d had less than two weeks ago, added to the regular stresses of school. This combination made for a perfect storm for my inner critic to pay a visit.
It’s difficult to describe the torment that comes at night when I can’t sleep and am left alone with thoughts that seem all tipped over on the doubt and cynicism side of the cart. I was convinced that I should retire early from teaching, that I am a “has been” and am no longer able to do this admittedly challenging job. Convinced that it’s too difficult and I can’t make it through another day.
I know I’m not unique, but when you’re going through it, doesn’t it seem like you’re the only one? That you’ve got it worse than any known human being? But of course, that’s part of the lie isn’t it? We separate ourselves from resources at the very time we need them the most, thinking we are unreachable.
The reason I’m back to blogging about it though, is despite what I felt at the time, I wasn’t alone with that torment. As soon as I reached out my hand for help in prayer, I found God was there the whole time.
What happened was that at 3 am, a Word came to me like a life rope. I remembered something from our Wednesday night study only a few hours earlier. Paul had reminded us that the deepest challenge on our walk of faith is to hold both Good Friday and Easter Sunday in balance. We go through trials and difficulties and like Jesus, we feel separated from God. (Didn’t Jesus cry in anguish on the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”)
But we also experience the odds miraculously winning out on the side of resurrection. What seemed dead and clearly past hope, comes to life and breathes again in God’s rescuing hands. If we live only in Good Friday, we give in to the doubts and fears. If we live only in Easter Sunday, we live in triumphalism where we are not being honest.
At 3 am, I remembered about keeping these two sides of the Story in balance, and I had the thought, I better start standing against the flood of anxieties and pray. Not that I hadn’t been praying until that moment, but something in my will kicked in. Was this a real prayer where the others had been in doubt? I’m not sure, I just know that a verse came to me and I just began to repeat it, holding on to it like a life raft amid the storm.
“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1
At those moments, I felt anything but “not want”. My life felt like a big canyon of “want”. I want happiness, I want sanity, I want more peace, I want a less stressful job, I want to get this incessant school planning out of my head, I want a less messed personality, I want a healthier intestinal tract. I want. I WANT!
But against this crazy flow of thoughts, I repeated the mantra, remembering the Other Side of the coin – the side where God rescues, and God has always rescued me, despite myself, despite the crazy feelings. Where even in tough experiences, God never leaves me without meaning, love and hope.
Today is Saturday, and my want list is still there in some ways. My stomach is still gurgling for one thing (doctor tests are underway). But on Friday morning, I woke up with a line from a song repeating like a mantra, and this strange sense of peace. The lines were,
“Drink this wine and eat this bread,
By your Spirit we are fed.”
Scripture says that we receive a peace that passes understanding, and that’s what stayed with me all day, more than less. Christian tradition calls that God’s consolation, and I know it won’t always be there, but I know that no matter if my experience is Good Friday’ish or Easter’ish, God is always with me, making sure the blog post sign stays firmly on the side of, “We never close.”
“We share in the terrible sufferings of Christ, but also in the wonderful comfort he gives.” 2 Corinthians 1:5