I don't sleep well. I should rephrase. I don't stay asleep well. I fall asleep just fine, but waking up several times throughout the night is pretty common. And ever since taking Mrs. Harry's AP US History class my Junior year of high school, it's been regular practice for me to sleep though the early evening and then wake in the pre-dawn hours to study. After APUSH, came college and after college came teaching, and this habit of waking early to study, grade, create, or just think has been recurrent almost every year. When there are things occupying my mind, this waking in the dark is almost a guarantee.
It's not all bad. Once I get over the initial disappointment of not being able to fall back asleep, I generally move from bed to kitchen, where I pour myself a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice. Then I plop down on the sofa to think. This morning's wake-up happened around 4:30AM, and since my to-do list at work is winding down for this year, I focused in on an extra-long quiet time.
I've been reading through the book of Matthew since BSF ended. I wanted to go back and hear Jesus' words again, to just mull them over slowly and see how they changed the flavor of my life. Today, I started in Matthew 11. It's the part where John the Baptist, whose being held in prison, sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus if He is really the One. I love this about John the Baptist. I mean, who can beat themselves up about questioning their faith when experiencing hard times after considering John? John, who leapt at the sound of Mary's voice when he was a fetus. John, who was Jesus' actual blood relative. John, who saw the dove descend and heard the audible voice of the Almighty claiming Jesus as His Son. If anyone had reason be sure about who Jesus was, it was John. But being thrown into prison had to have been unexpected. I can imagine that if you're that connected to God-in-the-flesh, you're not expecting to remain incarcerated for long. I'll bet that he prayed over and over to be released. I figure his motives were probably pretty pure, too. He probably wanted to boast in the name of the Lord, to proclaim Him as Deliverer. When that didn't happen, I'm sure it was confusing. I'm sure because it is confusing now, right? We've all been there. Something happens that is not expected. We think we might be able to endure it for a while. God's ways aren't our ways and all that. But after a little bit, we start wondering why God doesn't deliver- wouldn't it bring more glory to His name if the captive were set free? So John questioned. And so do I.
In Matthew 11, Jesus responds to John's honest inquiry with a list of things that have been going on. Blind people seeing. Lame people walking. Dead people living again. To be honest, I've never really been crazy about this answer. I've been taught that John would have known that Jesus' answer would have affirmed for John what he knew to have been written in the prophecies about the Messiah. And I guess that is true, and that might have had significance for John that is deeper than what it would have for me. But I've sort of wondered if I were in John's position, wouldn't I have just wanted a more direct and certainly more personal answer? Something like this maybe...
I completely understand where you're coming from. I just want to confirm for you that I really am the Promised One. Don't worry, everything is going to work out for good. Keep the faith!
Your Cousin, Lord and Savior,
p. s. I'm working on a plan to get you out of prison. One way or another, I will see you soon!
But this is not at all what Jesus does. He addresses his friend and relative's concerns with a resume of sorts. Then he goes on to tell the crowd that John is a prophet, but they're too clueless or too selfish to get how important he is. John was so chaste that they criticized him as being off-his-rocker, probably demon possessed because, in their opinion, only a total wack-job would live out in the desert like some wild beast, eating just locust and honey. But then the same people criticized Jesus for being a party animal because He hung out with the wild crowd- the immoral fringe that good religious people knew to avoid. Jesus says that both assumptions were wrong and then says this strange, profound thing- "wisdom is proved right by her deeds." Back to this focus on "doing" things. What's up with that?
I paused there this morning and picked up my new summer book, courtesy of my principal (thank you, Joy!) Love Does by Bob Goff. I read through a chapter that tells a tale about high-school aged Bob, who was determined to drop out of school and pursue a more adventurous life climbing the granite monoliths of Yosemite. Before driving to Yosemite in his VW bug, Bob stopped at the house of a Young Life leader, to tell him good-bye. Rather than trying to talk some sense into Bob, the Young Life leader packed up his backpack and went with him. Bob looked for a job in the valley, but none were available. They spent two nights in Yosemite, and throughout that time, the Young Life leader didn't try to sway Bob in another direction. He was just with him. After two days time, Bob realized that he needed to pack it up and go home, but he never forgot the leader's example of love in action. He was there when Bob didn't even realize how much he needed someone to just be with him. He was willing to sacrifice time, and common sense, to just show love to a mixed-up teenager. And, thanks to that Young Life leader's example, Bob Goff's life has been a continuous exercise in the actions of love.
After I read that chapter, I reconsidered Jesus' answer to John. It occurred to me that Jesus was telling John exactly what Bob Goff is trying to tell me. Love isn't just a concept. Love is a real, measurable thing. Love does. And I think that might be part of what Jesus was trying to communicate to His cousin. He wasn't just rattling off a list of stuff to brag about how powerful and awesome He is, or just to remind John of ancient words. He was saying, "This is proof of who I am, because, look... I am doing these things. We're not just talking about these things anymore, John, not just predicting that they're going to happen or wishing that they would. They're actually getting done. And they're able to get done because I am here. I am Messiah. I am love. And love does."
This perspective blew me away. Love does. God is love. So God does. God isn't just an abstract thought or a written prophecy. God is here. That's what Immanuel is all about. And He does. The reality that I could expect God to do something about the things that woke me at 4:30 this morning filled me with excitement. I picked up my journal and wrote down the three things that were causing the most anxiety. 1) Story's arrival 2) Andy's unemployment 3) Preparations for next year's classes (especially in light of the fact that I will be even more sleep-deprived come August) I wrote them down, and then I just closed my journal. I didn't feel the need to spend anymore time in drawn-out prayer. I had brought the burden, and I expected action. I thought of how, in these last weeks of pregnancy, I have relied on Andy so much to help me bear burdens that I simply cannot bear. When I ask him to help me lift something, I know that I need to be patient, I can't be demanding, but I can expect his help. Andy loves me. And love does. So whatever the burden, Andy will pick it up, carry it for me. Because I can't. Why should I expect these three burdens to be any different. God loves me. Jesus invited me to give him my burdens a little later on in Matthew 11. Jesus is love. And love does.
So I went and got back in the bed. I felt something new, something exciting. God is going to do something. I didn't know what, and I didn't know when, but I knew He was going to do something. But after only a few minutes of laying there, eyes shut, the old worries came back. I felt a kick from Story, and that jerked me back to the new truth I encountered only moments ago on the sofa. I had a thought then. I thought about how, in a few weeks time, I will put Story down to sleep. She might cry, she might be anxious or uncomfortable because there are things that she won't understand. But I'll know she's safe. I'll probably do what I've seen lots of other mommas do... utter those reassuring shh-shh-shhh sounds that somehow help babies calm down (I know not always, but I've seen it work sometimes) In any event, I'll know she's okay. I'll want her to trust me. I'll want her to sleep. That's when I realized that's what God was doing to me. He was shh-shhh-shhing me, trying to let me know that He is love. He can be trusted. He will do what needs to be done. And with this in my mind, I drifted off.
A few hours later, I was sitting in a classroom at school with two other teachers when Andy sent me a text with a picture attachment. The picture was of an email he received with a wonderful job offer. Tears welled up in my eyes and began to flow out as I told my two friends.
The job is amazing news. But the real story is about Love. Love that does. Love that provides. Love that reassures. Love that shushes sweet children to sleep at night. Even the grown-up ones.