Sunday, January 25, 2009

Carolyn, for several months now, has been writing to pastors' wives under the theme "Morning by Morning." Here is one she sent just before Christmas:

Morning by Morning

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His mercies never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22, 23

He awakens me morning by morning, He awakens my ear to listen… –Isaiah 50:4

Small Signs of God’s Presence

“The Christmas tree is up and almost decorated—another twenty minutes, and we’re finished.”

When, a couple of days ago, I first read these words from a dear friend far away they seemed merely a bit of chatter. That’s when I first read them.

In our home this last month we have been going through a set of heavy family challenges, stacked on top of tiredness from some happy events and from living in the 70s. The day before my friend’s email came, David and I had discussed how to simplify Christmas, especially in the decoration department. And we haven’t had a tree for years since his shoulder surgery.

David, as most of you know, writes for Our Daily Bread and often get notes from his readers. That evening he had showed me one from a woman thanking him for an article. Here is part of what she wrote:

Now I am 85 and find myself faced with more burdens, decisions, and unsolvable problems than every before. As we grow older we need to be more free of all of the above because we are less able to cope. God does most things right but He flubbed that one!

I confess that this past week I could identify with this dear woman’s feelings, although I have articulated my thoughts to only a few. Including God! (As an another friend said “ I can lament with the best of them.” I know God wants me just as I am.) So putting up a Christmas tree was the last thing on my mind or heart in light of our circumstances at the moment.

But then I read again the letter and this sentence—The Christmas tree is up—and started thinking about my friend’s situation. She is also in her 80s and has been living with extreme physical challenges for a long, long time. One of her dear children has battled an aggressive, debilitating cancer for several years, one has recently gone through a nasty divorce. My friend is unable to travel to be with them in sorrowful or happy times, except in her prayers. She understands pain of all kinds. Her picture looking down at me from my bulletin board is one big smile. I have witnessed her pain and I have witnessed her joy.

At the juncture of her words—The Christmas tree is up— and my thoughts about her, the significance of what she was saying by putting up a tree dawned on me: the brightly lit tree was not just a decoration but a symbol Advent has begun. Christ was born because He understood my sorrow, my fears, even my doubts, and He came to be with me. Yes, to save me but also to enter into my suffering and yours. And to give us hope beyond these challenges we may not understand. This is something to light up my life, real good news. Joy to the world.

These five words were for me a small but real sign of God’s presence. God used them to change my outlook from lament to anticipation. Each day I plan to look for Him in ways big and small as I wait for Christmas and walk in my world.

And this year we are going to put up a Christmas tree!

With love because He came,


Saturday, January 17, 2009

I Shall know Why

By Emily Dickinson

I shall know why-when Time is over--
And I have ceased to wonder why--
Christ will explain each separate anguish
In the fair schoolroom of the sky--

He will tell me what "Peter" promised--
And I--for wonder at his woe--
I shall forget the drop of Anguish
That scalds me now--that scalds me now!

"Who has not suffered that lives at all?" asks one of MacDonald's characters.[1] Indeed, life is suffering: Contradiction, misfortune, disappointment and heartbreak surrounded us. Why must we enter the Kingdom of God through many tribulations?

I used to know the answers to that question, but life--now that I'm closer to its end than to its beginning--has knocked most of them right out of my head. God chided Job and his friends,[2] as Jesus chided his disciples,[3] when they drew unwarranted conclusions from suffering. In the face of affliction, I'm learning now to be more or less silent. When my friends tell me their lives are difficult, I answer "Of course." When they ask me why they're suffering, I shrug and tell them, "I don't know."

Why life should be this way, I cannot say, but I do know this: It will not always be this way; there will be an end. Eternal glory lies ahead, as Peter promised, "after we have suffered for a little while."[4] There, in that "fair schoolroom," our Lord will explain "each separate anguish," but I doubt, then, that we will care. In the awesome flood of his wisdom and love, and in the beauty[5] that will be ours for all eternity, we shall forget our present, light, momentary affliction[6]--"the drop of Anguish that scalds me now--that scalds me now!"

It's a matter of perspective.


[1] From George MacDonald's Donal Grant
[2] God's "answer" to Job's questions was "Hush, child. You wouldn't understand if I told you" (Peter Kreeft).
[3] John 9:2ff.
[4] "The God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, will perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you"(1 Peter 5:10).
[5] I have become convinced that the New Testament word, "glory," which refers to the epiphany (shining out or manifestation) of eternal truth and goodness, is the equivalent of our word "beauty."
[6] "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Erected by her loving brothers,
In memory of Martha Clay.

Here lies one who lived for others;
Now she has peace and so have they.

C. S. Lewis[1]

The highest good is always subject to the greatest corruption. "Deep, deeper than we believe, lie the roots of sin; it is in the good that they exist; it is in the good that they thrive and send up sap and produce the black fruit of hell."[2] So it is that we can, under the guise of "living for others," make life miserable for those we love. We can be bothersome at best. At worst, we can be intrusive, smothering, manipulative and controlling.

Speaking for myself, I've come to see that much of my "helpfulness" is driven by anxiety, and thus, in effect, is the help that I'm giving to myself. It is to help and heal me, to assuage my own worry and fear. That's why I can become compulsive, persistent and all enveloping when I try to lend a hand. I will "help" this person, whether they want or need my help so I will no longer be afraid. (And woe be to those I help if they don’t respond well to all that I have done, for their refusal to be “helped” exacerbates my fear!)

That being said, how then can I know my heart and its perturbations and move toward acts of mercy that are, in fact, helpful? There is but one way: Through prayer and what ancient Christians called "the examine of love":

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know all my anxieties.[3]

See if there is a way in me (i.e., a way of doing things) that causes pain to others,
And lead me in the way that produces eternal good.[4]

I must bring my heart to God to expose the anxiety that drives me and cast my care upon him, for he cares for those I love as he cares for me.[5] Then, in his warmth and tenderness and in the wholesome peace he gives, I may learn in time to give prudent help in a way that produces eternal good.[6]

The test of my peace and the measure of my progress is, of course, the way I choose to react when my helpfulness goes unrewarded.


[1] C.S. Lewis, Poems, "Epigrams and Epitaphs," Number 10
[2] Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove, p. 108
[3] Grammarians are unsure what this word “anxieties” actually means since it only occurs twice in the Old Testament and the root is unknown. It probably has the idea of hidden, or suppressed anxiety.
[4] Psalm 139:23,24 (My translation)
[5] 1 Peter 5:7
[6] I must point out, for my own comfort and for yours, that anxiety, while it may lead to sin, is not in itself sinful. It is rather an affliction, and like every affliction, it is our share in the sufferings of this life.

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