It seems to me that I have spent most of my adult life on the verge of running on empty- until recently. In the giddy relief of completing my thesis last spring, I opened my life to a wave of change that swept me away to this tiny hermitage in the woods. It is secluded- a half hour drive from anywhere and deliciously quiet. Here I am sheltered by a wintery forest and bathed most days in bright eastern sun from every window. The wood stove is slowly teaching me to how to warm myself to a glow against the winter chill. There are books and blankets and sleep to reknit “the ravelled sleeve of care.” This is plenty, I told myself, but then I discovered even more among the trees. A community bulletin board beckoned all to come for tea. I hadn’t known I was so hungry for the hobbit-like banquets with steaming pots of tea, genuine conversation, and eagerly-offered practical help. My heart surprised me with the bloom of delight from such generous hospitality. What is it to be replenished? It is to be filled with gratitude for silence, trees, light and warmth. It is to be brimming with joy that desires to be poured out for others.
My morning meditation suggested I decide to change 2 things intentionally today. I thought about my New Year’s Resolution to write every morning right after coffee and contemplation. Since it’s now January 6th and I have yet to put a single word to page, I decided I would start. Wow! I am actually doing it. The second thing I decided to do was to speak less. Not as easy to judge success on that one, but I have been more aware of my tendency to loquaciousness. The goal is to listen and ponder what I hear before responding. Or failing that, to at least pause a moment before speaking so that the other person feels heard. I think the two changes may be related- the more I write, the less I will need to over-express my thoughts and feelings verbally. It’s something to observe as I forge ahead with my writing resolution. But for the moment I am simply thankful to have spent a few minutes here.
Being brave doesn’t mean I don’t have fear. Fear is healthy when it reminds me that I’m vulnerable and calls me to carefully discern my path. But taking the next step in spite of my fears is a choice in freedom to look beyond my feelings. Scripture tells me over and over- actually over 100 times- not to “be” afraid. Of course I will feel fear, but I can’t “be” in it. With loving encouragement, I can choose not to remain in fear. Being afraid can become like a prison. It can keep me from going out each day on the adventure of letting God use my life to share his love. Fear is the lock that says no, but God has the key to bring me out to yes. The key is friendship.
Living in faith is saying yes. But I need to be continually reminded that God has the best plan for my life, especially when I’m afraid.
If I knew God’s plan for my life was to jump in a boat, cross a misty lake and climb a mountain which I could see clearly from the dock, I might just stand on that dock for quite a while, admiring the view, wondering at the enormity of the plan and occasionally thinking about how much I dislike boats. Knowing what a home-body I am, I could gaze across the water at the majestic mountain and say to myself, “Wow, that’s more than a day-trip, no way!” Fear of the imagined discomforts of doing something difficult or of the unknown would seep in. If I were alone on that dock I might never get in the boat.
The Lord of the Rings gives me a clear analogy of really living in faith. Before ever setting out on his journey, Frodo had Gandalf. His mission began in that bond of love and truth. And while he set out in faith that Gandalf would meet him, suddenly he had Sam. And then whether he wanted them or not, he had Pippin and Merry. When things got increasingly confusing and dark, Frodo had Aragorn then Arwen, Legolas and Gimli. Tolkien knew that the key to the life of faith, with all its difficulty and unknowns, was the vulnerable love in true friendship.
I have Jesus. Human because he feared abandonment, torture and death. But so deeply loved that he not only accepted this suffering, he went out to meet it. With the love of his Father, in the Holy Spirit, he didn’t remain in his fear. Instead, he spent the night praying, with his friends- and drawing on the divine relationship of love, for the courage to accept his part in God’s plan for the world.
Being God, Jesus nevertheless chooses to call his disciples, friends. (John 15:15) I could never quite imagine that but over time I’ve come to relate to Jesus like a much older brother. He is the kindest and truest, though admittedly also the most mysterious of friends. Always leaving me free to choose, it is up to me to turn to him in prayer. When I open my heart, Scripture draws me into his compassion and wisdom. (Matt 11:28) Then renewed by his love Jesus sends me out to go and make disciples. (Matt 28:19)
So to live freely in faith, Jesus is the key. But just as he had his inner circle of Peter, James and John, I have others very close to me who are also on this mission of Love, trying to be the kind of brave Jesus was. They listen to me, pray for me and help me to get beyond my fears. But Jesus had other good friends such as Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, and the apostles. I have many friends old and new, teachers, priests and acquaintances who are like family to me because they try to do the will of God. All of them encourage me with their words, their presence and sometimes with emoticons! 🙂
By the lives of my friends I am reminded of the diverse beauty of God’s plan. Their vulnerable love for God and for those in need- including me, makes me brave. Remembering I am not alone, but surrounded by love, I leave fear behind and get into the boat.
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
– Isaiah 60:5