Did you miss my blog post Monday? Last minute I had to fill in and deliver the message for Sunday worship. Today, I will stray from our recent joy conversation to talk about a path toward joy by sharing the message I delivered. It happens by just doing the next right thing. You can watch the worship service where I deliver the message HERE.
I am the daughter of an alcoholic. Don’t feel sorry for me. That life lead me to people who shared Jesus and I’ve been able to better understand his suffering by showing the kind of grace and mercy and love that he does. But that is a sermon for another day.
I am the daughter of an alcoholic. In those circumstances I became skillful at developing multiple exit strategies. These were detailed steps I would take if things went south so that I could get away safely.
The first time I did it I was in a car, riding with a drunk behind the wheel. I ended up in enough unsafe situations that I developed a routine.
Pray.. Imagine... Pray... Watch/Wait.
The other place that I did this was at bed time. Arguments and abuse happened outside my room at night. I added a little to my routine in this case. I would pray for God’s safety and ask, not that he erect a hedge of protection, but that he encase me in a bubble. I would close my eyes and see that bubble and when I was done praying I strategized. How will I get out? What neighbors would I go to? How will I call the police? How will I get back in to get my sisters? When I had imagined all the possibilities I would pray again and feel calm enough to sleep.
I developed quite the skill of observation in my waiting, to the point that I could predict incidents before they occurred. This has served me well in business, as a mother, and in communicating with people who have dementia. I can take in a lot of information from my surroundings, assess the safety, interpret body language and react accordingly for safety.
But that is all the exit planning does. It’s only ever kept me in a bubble of safety. In that bubble I’m protected and safe but lack the opportunity to explore and marvel at the wonder of God because it limits God and it limits me.
My sister told me she read this week that the feeling of excitement and anxiety represent the same biologically and we tell our brain what to do with those feelings. One is negative and the other is positive.
All of our feelings have opposites. Happy/sad, excited/anxious, jealous/grateful, sorrow/joy, love/hate. In life we can’t understand one without experiencing the other. We can’t know love and joy and happiness if we don’t know what sadness, grief, fear and suffering feel like. We can’t know connectedness without knowing loneliness. Heaven will be marvelous because we’ve known the suffering of earth.
We aren’t meant to be encased in a bubble and safe from the emotions of life. I hear the words of Isaiah so clearly in this scenario….
ISAIAH 40: 21-26
Do you not know, have you not heard??
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heaves like a canopy and spread them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground than he blows on them and they wither and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
"To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
I feel Isaiah is speaking to me! It’s like he’s saying, "Come on Ila! You know better. God is all knowing and all powerful, and ever present and why would you limit that with your silly little trajectory planning." Isaiah reminds me that God’s got this, he’s got me. He calls me out by name just like the stars. It’s my job to hear that call to listen and be ready.
Oh boy that makes me uncomfortable! It can be exhausting working hard to have all the faith it requires to trust that the path before us will turn out okay.
In this chapter of Isaiah, he is beginning to bring a message of hope to Judah. They still had a 100 years of trouble and 70 years of exile before they could return to Jerusalem and they were weary.
Do you know what weary feels like?
Just this week I had worked all day through a migraine. I did all I could do to relieve it and all that was left was to try and relax in a bath. I'm ready to get in, pull the curtain back and the tub is dirty. I bent down to clean it but the energy to do that was more than my body could take at that moment. I started to get nauseous and hyperventilate and cry.
Have you ever been so stricken by grief that you just plop down wherever you are to crawl into a ball and cry, or lay flat on your bed covering your head with a pillow. Have you been so frozen with fear that you couldn’t make your body move if you wanted to? During this pandemic, just asking my kids to unload the dishwasher makes me feel weary. Maybe this pandemic has you resonating with the tribe of Judah.
Even the strongest of people get weary. There is no doubt that tribe of Judah was weary. With almost two generations of trouble and exile ahead of them how could they not be.
So, what do we do when we feel weary?
Psalm 119: 105 says: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for my path.The powerful word of God, that spoke all creation into being, that is tangible in scripture, that we hear in our hearts, is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.
Let’s think about that lamp. In Biblical times they had candles and small lamps. The lamps were small and fit into the palm of your hand. They were made of clay with a whole in the middle for oil and the flame came out of the front. The sphere of light from the lamp was not that big. It was only bright enough to light up the next step, not the whole path. We aren’t meant to see the whole path we are only meant with God in hand and heart to take the next step.
In the worlds of Anna from Disney’s Frozen 2, yes I’m quoting Disney. We just do the next right thing.
In the bathroom with my migraine, it was to stand up. Then it was to go to my bed. Then it was to rest and then it was to go back to the bath. In my grief balled on the floor it was to let it all out. Then it was to stand up. Then it was to put water on my face. What is your next step?
Let’s hear how Isaiah goes on to comfort the weary tribe of Judah.
Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Oh Israel?
"My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God"?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
God does not grow weary, God does not stop fighting for our place with him. We should not limit God or ourselves by living in bubbles of safety or by wallowing in weariness. God is the source of our strength and our power for those who have hope. With hope in our Lord we will not grow weary, we will soar like eagles
Did you know that an eagle knows when a storm is approaching long before it breaks? The eagle will fly to some high spot and wait for the winds to come. When the storm hits, it sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm. While the storm rages the eagle is soaring above it. The eagle does not escape the storm it simply uses the storm to lift it higher.
Friends and family in christ, we have joy and sorrow, love and pain, sadness and happiness, anxiety and excitement to experience. That’s life. Would we really want it any other way?
Join me in putting down the flood light you carry and picking up the candle instead. Join me in trusting the all powerful, all knowing, every present God of creation, Savior of the world and Lord of our lives. Let’s exercise our trust in God by not worrying bout the path ahead but instead commit to just doing the next right thing.