Tuesday, September 7, 2010
It's raining, it's pouring
"It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring. He bumped his head when he went to bed and he didn't get up in the morning."
Do you remember that nursery rhyme? It came to mind for me today because a tropical storm hit the coast of Texas and decided to let Austin borrow some of its rain bands. Austin says, "Thank you Tropical Storm Hermine" like students in a kindergarten class thanking someone's mom for bringing cupcakes for their kid's birthday.
It was delightful to hear the rain last night, after the first summer I can remember where afternoon showers have not been a normalcy. Growing up in NC, almost every afternoon was accompanied by a giant thunderhead or two, which, regretfully made you leave the pool, but gave life to the trees and grass and shrubs. Austin afternoons sometimes come with cute little mini-cumulus clouds that look like over-sized cotton balls floating by but that's about it.
So it's nice to see a rainy day. But, when I thought about that rhyme, I also thought about the book I'm currently reading. Shattered Dreams, by Larry Crabb. "Meredith, you are a newlywed. What on earth are you doing reading a book called Shattered Dreams? Aren't you supposed to be living in wedded bliss, at least for a little while?"
But, you know what? I can't get past the reality that God allows us to always hunger for Him. That He disciplines us because He loves us. That He says "No" to prayer so that He can teach us how to crave Jesus, and how to hate sin. And to do that, He let a dream shatter. Even when He made another one come true.
I met Andy, we fell in love and for a few months there, God gave the most peculiar respite from the various forms of hurt I've felt since I was a teenager. But, true to form, God allowed pain to re-enter my life, He let me feel the consequences of my sin, and the sin of other people. He didn't do what I thought He should do. He made me search deeper within my own heart, begging His help, as I discovered roots of bitterness, disappointment, anger, frustration. As odd as it always feels to journey with God through your heart and soul, it also felt like coming home. Being happy was foreign to me. It felt strange. I enjoyed it, every moment of it, and I do not think I took it for granted, but I knew it was a present, something God delighted to give me, just for a moment, maybe because He couldn't help Himself. I hope He loved it as much as I did. I think He did. I truly believe that God delights when we delight in what we are given. And I delighted in the months of getting to know my would-be husband. It was the only time in my life where almost every craving of my life felt satisfied. It was odd. I never expected to feel that way. I never expect it again in this age.
But I am not sad about that. Not at all! I don't want anyone who reads this to think that I am complaining. I adore my husband. He is a delight and a great help to me every single day. God didn't stop blessing me through that gift, He just allowed other trials to enter into our life together. This too is a blessing. And I am thankful.
The nursery rhyme is part of the reason. Because when I look out my window at the falling rain, and I consider the season of discipline and disappointment we are going through, I smile when I realize, God is not the snoring old man in that sing-song. For one, He is not an old man. Praise God. One of the most fantastic revelations I ever had about God was that one: He's not a man (though Jesus is, and I think that there is significance that God reveals Himself in a masculine context. But still, He's not a man, and I think that is AWESOME. In the most literal sense of the word.) For two, He's not snoring. Or sleeping. Or hiding out. He's here. And I can feel Him. And, like most people who are given the privilege of pain, I feel Him best when I hurt.
Pain is a relative experience, is it not? Right now, I can think of dozens of people that I personally know who have endured much greater pain than I ever have. I have two things that some people never get, or lose too soon. A father who loves God, loves me, approves of me, appreciates me and desires to know me. And a husband who desires to know God more completely, who provides for me, and voices his appreciation on a daily basis. I can imagine that to look at that from the outside and then hear me talk about pain might make people going through more severe trials want to gag. I don't blame you for that. I don't take for granted that there are greater pains that I could have endured, that I could still endure in the future. But, like I said, pain is a relative experience. It's not absolute. There's no way to actually measure one's experience of pain against a world-wide standard. How does a widow's loneliness compare with an orphan's longing? How does a starving child compare with an abused one? There is no way to measure this. We only know pain in the capacity in which we experience it. And, regardless of the cause, it is always real, and always truly felt. When I was in high school and my boyfriend broke up with me, I was in pain. It was real pain. It hurt. Later in life, I discovered a much deeper pain, but it doesn't mean that I wasn't in pain back then. A teenager suffering from feelings of inadequacy, friendlessness, depression is in real pain. A mother whose child chooses a rebellious lifestyle is aching as well. So is the widow. So is the starving child. So are you. So am I.
We hurt. Then we do other things. Some people yell. Some eat. Some sleep. Some drink or shop or make fun of other people. But eventually, those of us who desire to follow God, we pray at some point. I've done that. In fact, I've done all of that stuff. And then I've prayed. It's knee-time, not me-time. But, though I've prayed, consistently, fervently, following Christ's model in Matthew 6, God hasn't done what I wanted Him to do.
Instead, this is the sort of thing that happens. Last night, while the rain was falling, I woke at 2:30. I wake often in the middle of the night. I know that it's God waking me. I can feel the soft warmth of my husband and my dogs nearby and I don't want to move, I want to roll over, I want to find solace in sleep that will instantly feel good. I don't want the longing, the attention, the deliberate honesty and humility that prayer requires. But He won't let me sleep. I lie there awake, hoping He will be placated with my "guided thoughts" as I try to fix them on Him. He's not. He wants me up. He wants me to acknowledge Him by shirking off my sleep and facing my aching head and stomach, and the cold floor. Eventually, I do. I rise. I kneel by the bed. I pray. It's not even for very long.
I climb back into bed, wondering if it is selfish to ask for sleep now. My stomach hurts. My head aches. I've barely prayed, but will He take away my physical aches and give me rest? I don't think that He ought to just because I've been up and praying, even though I want Him to. I know that He can. And I also know that I haven't done anything to deserve His kindness. But He can. And He is kind. So I ask. Moments later, I feel a warm numbness spread over my head and bowels. I rest.
It reminds me of the story I read about in Matthew 8. Jesus is met by a leper. He says, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus says, "I am willing." Sometimes Jesus is willing to take away my stomach and head ache. Sometimes He isn't. Last night He was, and I went back to sleep.
In my life, this is what it looks like to have "shattered dreams." Most of my dreams are still in tact. I think that every time I feel the warmth of my hubby and doggies. Or when I am able to call my mom and dad. Or talk to my brother on Gmail chat. They are here. God has blessed me with them now. But I know that He might bless me by taking them from me, or me from them, later. That's what I know about God. Far from being a snoring old man, He is always working out a way so that we who are willing will be able to know and experience Him more. I love this about God. I love that He doesn't let us sleep, even though we want to, even though it's easier and it feels warm and good. I love that He awakens our minds, our hearts, our desires so that we can go to Him.
I don't have this figured out, not by any stretch of the imagination. But I'm thankful for this. He is always working. Waking. Letting us hurt. Disciplining us. Making us hungry and thirsty for what truly satisfies. It's crazy to think that could be love. It's crazier to think that it's not.
God doesn't stop at shallow. We don't have to either. He is a deep well of deep satisfaction. And, Larry Crabb is right, we have to hurt to find the well. We have to ache enough to want to find it. We have to be unsatisfied in the false relationships that we have settled for. We have to seek truth, and we will find Him.
Another nursery rhyme about rain comes to mind, "Rain, rain, go away, come again another day." But I don't mind the rain. Not the water falling outside or the stormy feelings that come sometimes with a shattered dream. I'm learning, not to "dance in the rain", but to cry in it. And God hasn't turned into a giant umbrella to shield me from anything. No, He's doing something so much better than that. He's showing me that He brings the rain. He is in the rain. He wanted me to experience it because He loves me. And He wants to wash me. To make me holy. To make me His.
Far from that snoring old man, isn't He? He's alive. And He is life. To the full.