It feels good to be small.
This is my main take-away from six months of sabbatical.
Recently I described the year like being lost in the woods .t felt like I ceased to be myself for a whole year. I ceased to know the things I thought I knew well and stopped connecting with many things that had previously given me joy and life.
It freaked me out to be unsure of everything I used to know. To add another metaphor to the pile, I was drowning.
And kept drowning…
Caedmon’s Call has this great lyric; “The hands I’ve seen raised to the sky/ Not waving, but drowning all this time.”
Before we lift our hands, there is a lot of panicked flailing.
The positive outcome of being lost in the woods, adrift and sinking under water is that I did find one true thing, and it saved my life. I discovered this flashlight of goodness, a life raft of hope;
God is, and He is good.
While I was clinging for dear life to the one truth that held me afloat, the one light that made any sense of the dark foliage at my feet, the villains inside that led me there fell away in the claustrophobic darkness.
When the flailing limbs calmed, and the crowding storms dispersed, suddenly there were winking stars in the sky. The one buoy, the one light was solid. I no longer just clung out of desperation, I began to hold tenderly with gratitude and love.
After the literal new year began, a metaphorical clearing in the forest stood gently before me on the path, I stepped into the open air and realized I had shrunk to the size of a happy mouse.
What? How? Why? I don’t know.
Why do I write in mingled metaphor? Because I don’t know how to tell the tale with words that are direct.
What does it mean to be “small?” I would say that I’ve always had a sense of my unworthiness, my brokenness, but along with that I had this hope of growing up and becoming more worthy. Anything little looked wrong and in need of fixing even though I knew all about Jesus’ upside down kingdom. I guessed that what he was talking about was worldly leadership and acceptability, but I still clung to the hope of spiritual bigness. Moral strength. So I despised what was morally weak and my own lack of knowledge in theological areas – not because I needed to see myself as a scholar, but because I wanted to know God himself better. I wanted, too, to communicate him well to others.
I’m not saying that all of the above things are bad. What I am saying is that I still carried around the balanced, crushing yoke of pride and shame and I could only see growth through those two lenses. And so I felt offended by correction and afraid to ask for help- afraid that others would despise me as much as I despised myself.
When Jesus said to take his yoke because it is light, he was talking about a kind of self-surrender that knows the real worth of what is surrendered, and gives up the right (real for Jesus, imagined for me) to choose the size or kind of fruit that grows as a result.
What Jesus’ yoke looks like is knowing, simultaneously that in and of myself I am and will remain totally small and empty… but I don’t have to be “in and of myself” any longer. For the past few years I’ve been going on and on about the love of God and suddenly it no longer calls to me from an unattainable distance. I breath it in through my nose and set my feet upon it with every step.
I have two examples of the difference. The first is my new job working with Rise Campaign in Lynden, Washington. Because it felt like I’d lost a storehouse of spiritual desire and knowledge, I was nervous that I could not do the job they had invited me to do. Just before arriving, though, this peace settled over me and I realized (for really real) that the only day I have to live is the one I am in. And in this current day I can both set my hand to the task and trust God for fruitful results.
The last three weeks of work have been a joy.
The other example came a few days ago when I joined a gym and stepped on their scale.
This is not a strange tale. You know the drill (unless you don’t and then, well, skip this example). On my way home from the gym I started scheming in a frantic fashion: HOW TO STOP BEING FAT. Very quickly (I made it just a couple of blocks) God reminded me of my smallness and his desire to exchange burdens with me.
I accepted his offer.
Augustine said, “(Grace) goes before the unwilling to make him willing; it follows the willing to make him effectual.”
It doesn’t mean I’m not involved, it means I put my hand to the task with the trust and the understanding that the results are in God’s hands. He caused me to trust him by being trustworthy and then he breathed life into my half-hearted attempts to live like I believe him.
These words of Paul’s now come to life; “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
My friends, may we know (with joy) the reality of our smallness and the ever bigger truth of God’s powerful hands extended to us in love.