I mentioned in a previous post that I read through the vulnerable memoir of New Testament scholar Wesley Hill and finally wrapped it up a couple of weeks ago. Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflection on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality is hauntingly honest and open about the tension between faith and life.
In his book, Hill confronts his sexual desires and his desire to follow Jesus, even when those two seem to be at odds. What I found to be so refreshing was Hill’s aim to place his own desires in front of God’s. He aimed at bringing the whole of his life under the Lordship of Jesus.
While I do not understand what it would be like to be in his shoes, I do appreciate his perspective on the journey of bearing certain unmet desires in this life. And the thing is this: no matter how perfect one’s life is on the outside, there is always something missing underneath the façade. There is always something that does not met all of our desires.
In the stillness of the evening or in the stirring of the morning, we are met with the unending call of our unrequited desires: wealth, security, companionship, love, sex, children, to be understood, and self confidence. For Hill, it is the unmet desire for marital intimacy that he will not taste. For me, it has been self-confidence and insecurities. What unmet desire or unfulfilled need has not been filled for you?
Maybe it’s too painful to say out loud.
I would love to say that Jesus is the answer, but it’s too simplistic. After all, Paul had a thorn in his side for years and it was never removed, even after a lot of prayer. This metaphorical thorn stayed with him throughout his ministry, and it very well could stay for a majority of our lives too. Even Moses himself longed to enter the Promised Land, but he never set foot on the soil of Canaan. Sometimes desires will be unmet this side of glory.
One of the beauties of Scripture is that we are assured that our desires will be met one day. Our desires will be fulfilled on the other side, as we physically look at the face of God and thrive. For now, we wait with unrequited desires and trust that Jesus will bear our burden as we journey through this life. For now we wait, because his grace will sustain us through the desert.
noun \ˈgäd also ˈgȯd\
1 capitalized : the supreme or ultimate reality: as
a : the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe
b Christian Science : the incorporeal divine Principle ruling over all as eternal Spirit : infinite Mind
2: a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship; specifically : one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality
3: a person or thing of supreme value
4: a powerful ruler
Who are your gods? Can you name them?
In the Christian tradition, there is one true God whose name was revealed to Moses as YHWH and was personally revealed in the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. However, the religious marketplace of the Ancient Near East was vibrant, as Baal, Zeus, Aphrodite, and many others vied for attention. And the Bible captures this quite well, as the stories recount the clash of cults between YHWH and other gods (Elijah and the prophets of Baal is probably the most memorable).
If I can be so bold to say: in American society, work is a god. Busy-ness is a god. Beauty and prestige are gods.
Throughout the annals of history, the gods of this world competed for our attention with a refrain of constant noise. In the ancient world, Israel’s God—YHWH—claimed to be the only God among the other false gods. There simply was no other.
Today, there aren’t too many idols on desks at work. Instead, we have idols of a busy calendar, bigger paycheck, better looks, more sex, and a better society. Productivity, paychecks, taking care of ourselves, and building a more just society are all good things; however, they became nefarious when they become the only thing. When they become the highest thing and our lives gravitate around the position.
As I close out this musing for the day, I want to ask you to consider whether a god competes for your attention. What vies or your focus? Busy-ness? Fame? Wealth? You?
What god clamors for your worship?
In my previous career, I attended a lot of groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies. What I found in those momentous events was an abundance of speeches, veggie trays, and watered down fruit punch, yet the hosting parties anticipated the great reveal of what could be and what something will become. However, rarely do we find people celebrating the murky middle, the time in between the pouring of the foundation and the unveiling of a completed project. For most of the project, these people just wait.
Currently, I find myself in a similar situation: I’m waiting.
Waiting for the birth of our son. Waiting for the completion of a total loss accident claim with our car insurance company. Waiting for answers to big career questions that will mean whether or not we move. Waiting for God to act in pretty sizable ways.
As I wait, I cannot help but think about the way Jesus must have felt as he waited. Waited in a womb for 9 months. Waited to walk. Waited to potty train. Waited to take up the family trade of carpentry. Waited for 30 years to start his public ministry. Waited through a trial, execution, and burial all while knowing who he was and that he will be seated at the right hand of the Father.
During this season, I take comfort in the words of Psalm 40,
I waited and waited and waited for God.
At last he looked; finally he listened…
Soften up, God, and intervene;
hurry and get me some help,
So those who are trying to kidnap my soul
will be embarrassed and lose face,
So anyone who gets a kick out of making me miserable
will be heckled and disgraced,
So those who pray for my ruin
will be booed and jeered without mercy.
But all who are hunting for you—
oh, let them sing and be happy.
Let those who know what you’re all about
tell the world you’re great and not quitting.
And me? I’m a mess. I’m nothing and have nothing:
make something of me.
You can do it; you’ve got what it takes—
but God, don’t put it off.
For me, this is how I feel while in this season of waiting: I sit on the edge of my seat, waiting for God to act, waiting for him to show up and intervene. But does that always happen? Is there an unexpected benefit to waiting on God? Let me tell you about that in my next post.
What are you waiting on?
Have you ever taken a corner too quickly and feel the center of gravity inch you ever so closer to tipping over your car? Have you ever went too fast over a hill with a steep grade and you catch a little bit of air off the hill? How about when you hit an unexpected speed bump and the coffee cup flies out of the drink holder and the bag flips over in the frontseat of the car? Hopefully I’m not the only one here.
How about when your life hits something unexpected like a pothole or a deer? Sometimes we don’t know if a good week will turn into a mediocre week or if an OK week will descend into the pit of hell. That knowledge is simply outside of our range of vision. Regardless, life is relentless and things happen.
I am reminded of the psalmist who wrote,
By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembers Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’” (Ps 137:1-2)
Can you imagine yourself in captivity and being mocked by people? Can you imagine yourself crying over the destruction of your home and feeling deep anger over the violence done to you and your loved ones?
The psalmist ends the writing with incredible anger and a shocking amount of raw emotion.
Perhaps you have been there, in the pit of despair and anger, cursing both God and others (it really is an easy place to end up). Perhaps you’ve been in a personal nightmare, and it leaves you in near hopelessness.
When injustice happens, plans fail, and sharp elbows are tossed at your nose, I want you to know that it’s OK to lash out at God and tell him everything that’s on your mind. Tell him off, because through this courage you can encounter intimacy with the One who formed you in your mother’s womb. God meets you in your emotional wrestling match (dive into the Psalms and see for yourself). Through this brutal honesty, God will meet you in the valley of despair. Through your honesty, healing can finally begin.
Have you ever caught yourself staring out the window wondering if everyone else is passing you in life?
Baby number 1, 2, or 3 shows up on your friends profile page.
A new house for someone else.
A dream vacation to that spot you’ve always wanted to go to.
A marriage. An engagement. A new car. A job promotion.
Have you ever left Facebook or Instagram and felt that you were three hundred steps behind everyone else?
It’s so easy to compare my life to someone else and to see all the good that is going on in their life. It is so easy to look into the highlight reel of that friend and not see the dark shadows that form around the horizon of their lifestyle.
Maybe we don’t see how the 6 digit salary comes at the price of overwhelming stress and little time with their child. Maybe we don’t see the health problem that is looming overhead. We don’t see the loneliness that is amplified from the accumulation of more toys and more trips.
Jesus talked about money so frequently in his teachings that is pretty startling. He said things like how it’s easier for a camel to fit into the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to get into the Kingdom of God. He relayed stories of people who went away sad because the cost of following Jesus meant that they needed to trust in him and not in their rich life. Harsh words relayed to an expectant group.
I look out my window as I type and see a few little birds on a wire, sitting there and chirping at each other. I look out my window and see that God cares for those songbirds. I’m reminded of the words of Jesus,
“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?”
Maybe God will provide. Maybe God will be and is true to his word.
I heard a sermon this past Advent centered on the angel’s message to Joseph and it stuck with me. See, Joseph was a good man, very kind and just. When he found out about Mary’s pregnancy and he decided to cut ties with her quietly, otherwise she could have been seriously damaged within that society. Regardless of his character, Joseph was in deep personal crisis.
In the middle of his crisis though, his world was forever altered. While the narrative played out within his house, the music seemed to stop and everything changed. The whole narrative was life altering for him as he discovered that he was called into being part of God’s rescue plan on earth and his good name would be dragged through the mud.
Have you ever had a change in your narrative, when all becomes flipped over on its head?
Have you ever had a moment when God calls you to put your name, talent, treasure, and time on the line?
Take heart, for you are in the same family as Mary and Joseph, if you, in fact, follow Jesus. He calls you to take a risk. Take a risk and follow him, even if the costs are high.
Life is like a marathon.
It’s a long, grueling race, and within Christian thought, it is a race with a prize waiting for us at the finish line. It’s a tough mudder, a long adventure of both pain and eventual glory that will often leave you exhausted. Exhausted yet still moving toward the finish line.
There are no quick fixes to this race, not even if you prefer sprinting. There is pain but no instant pain relief and obstacles but no easy fix to hurdle over them. Sure, there are straight paths with sunshine and water stations, but there is also that grueling hill at mile 7 and bottleneck when you’re almost halfway there.
The Christian life is a race with an imperishable prize of glory that will neither fade nor disappoint. The marathon of the Christian faith is one that follows after Jesus, even in exhaustion and frustration (when will this mile be over with?!).
Keep running, even if it hurts.
The founder of our faith, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, ran this race with the joy set before him. He endured the cross with you in mind and ultimately we can draw strength from his own perfect account.
I came across this gem in my reading and wanted to share it with you all. I hope it challenges you to quit praying and do something.
An elderly nun came to see a spiritual director. She shared with him the story of a young nun who had just left their community. The elderly nun had very much liked this young nun and appreciated the spark and vigor she brought to the community. For a year, though, she’d noticed that the young nun was obviously in distress, agonizing as to whether or not she should leave the community and as to whether, indeed, the community even wanted her. So the elderly nun prayed for the young nun, prayed that she might stay, prayed that she might realize that she was wanted and valued, prayed that God might give her the strength to see beyond her doubts. But she never went, at any time, and talked to the young nun. She never told her how much the community appreciated the gift that she, the young nun, was. Now she was upset that the young nun had left.
The point is obvious. The elderly nun prayed as a theist and not as a Christian. She never put skin to her prayer. She never concretely involved herself in trying to bring about what she was asking God to do. She left things up to God. But how was God to let the young nun know that she was appreciated inside the community when the community itself would never tell her that? When we pray “through Christ” more is involved than merely asking God in heaven to make some kind of intervention. The community too, and we ourselves, must be involved not just in the petition but also in trying to bring about what the petition pleads for.
The Holy Longing p 83-84
Do you ever find yourself praying as a theist?
Have you ever wondered if your life mattered?
Think about it. There are billions of people on the planet and we’re spinning through the darkness of space, which simply seems unending. With this cosmic dance going on all around us, why on earth would our life count for something in a cosmos so immense?
Might I suggest that you matter because our Maker made you? As Mark Labberton puts it in his excellent book “Called,”
“We matter, and our calling matters, not because we’re the supreme test of anything but because we exist for the joy and satisfaction of our Maker, whose love alone enables us to flourish…we are ‘very good’ in God’s sigh because of bearing God’s image—not because we are fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) but just because we are.”
How joyous is this?
We matter because we’re God’s beloved. You matter because you are made by God and you are called to belong in a family.
Lately I have not had the urge to write on a regular basis. It’s not that my life is dull or I have suddenly lost all my opinions. No, it is because of something much simpler. I simply stopped.
To be honest though, I miss it.
I miss the creative outlet. I miss the consistency that resulted from it. I miss the ability to process what I’m going through on a regular basis. Most of all, writing brings me a good deal of comfort and I miss that.
I don’t know if I’ll ever aspire to the angst filled writing of Hemingway, seeking the one true word or sentence or chapter. That is simply too torturous for me. I find myself varying between the stream of consciousness posts, while other times I simply cut my finger and bleed on the page. Either way, I find a place of refuge in the written word.
I think that’s why I write.
I write for the same reason why I run—it brings freedom and a measure of hope. I write because it feels good after I have a completed a page (or mile) or two. I write because it brings joy and fullness. I write because it is a place I can inhale and exhale, working out frustrations with a mild dose of lucidity. To be dramatic, I write so that I can be free.
Why do you write?