Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Vulnerability: Thoughts on Nehemiah 1

     (Before I begin, I want you to know that I am post-dating this. I originally wrote this post on April 2nd, and I'm going to publish  it as if it was written then, but in reality, I took two weeks to edit it and get the thoughts of other people in on it. I'm not in that same place any more, but it doesn't make it any less true.)

“And they said to me, ‘The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.’”

The remnant in Jerusalem has survived; somehow they have lived in Jerusalem (or somehow made it back) during the captivity of Babylon and then of Persia, and now they are vulnerable, open to attack, because the wall is broken and the gates are gone. Their defense and protection has been broken and burned, the gates are gone. They are open to great trouble and shame, vulnerable to attack.

There are periods like this in all of our lives when somehow we have made it through one crisis after another. An attack, a loss, and a betrayal later and finally we emerge, but barely. We’re only just hanging on, and we have fought so long and been hurt so deeply that all of our defenses have crumbled down until we are this close to breaking point. We are vulnerable.

There are days we are strong, when the kind words of friends, the encouragement of those we love and the joy of the Lord build a shining barrier round our most precious parts and we feel secure, confident, safe. Happy. In these moments we have the power of choosing to whom we show our hearts. We can open the gates; let others in, or bar the gates to keep them out.

But then there is that treasured dream which is crushed, and not just taken away but mutilated, scorned, smashed to bits before our eyes and we are left humiliated. Hurt. And there are the words and betrayal of a friend whom we loved, trusted and pursued which shake our foundations and cause us to question ourselves. There is the long anxiety of unknowing about the future which gnaws at me, wears me down in unrelenting steadiness. Loss, too, breaks the walls. It doesn’t matter what it is—a friendship or a friend, a trust, child or parent or relationship, a family member. Our walls are broken down and our gates destroyed by fire.
     In that moment our hurt and shame and anguish and grief are so near the surface, boiling-over ready, on-the-verge, breaking-out ready. You’ve been walking barefoot too long and if anyone mentions your dirty feet, you lash out at them with the buildup of the last month. You are so tired, broken, that you’re just hanging on. Just barely.

It’s easy for me to forget that I’m not the only one who knows that feeling when I walk into a store or church or work. We’re walking bombs, waiting to collide with one another before we explode and hurt everyone around us.

But despite all of this, we have a God who rebuilds defenses. He doesn’t tell us to get over it and move on already, but tells us we don’t have to build our own walls. He tells us that we don’t have to ignore our anger and pain and hurt, because he is our defense. He is our stronghold, our refuge, our strength in times of weakness. He holds the pieces together.

     There have been days in the past two months when I have been so angry I didn’t understand myself. In those moments I hardly knew myself. I have inwardly exploded and thankfully had the self-control to keep most of it in, to control that dis-proportionate and unjustified anger. The impurities have been boiling to the surface lately and I’ve seen myself once again, that “old man” of which the apostles speak.

      I’ve been tired—body-and-soul tired, not just late-night, early-morning tired. A month of fly out, audition, fly in, teach for a few days, fly out, audition, fly in, teach, repeat again and again wore me out. I was emotionally exhausted of being “on” all the time, being “great” all the time, hanging on, hanging in there. I needed time to process, to think, to just be and instead it was all airports and planes, colleges and teaching.

And then this past month I’ve been waiting. Stuck in the holding pattern and it’s all finally going to come together at some point and I’m going to have to choose, make my decision. In the meantime I’m fighting constantly, fighting for my dreams and hopes, struggling against my fears and doubts, but most of all against the idea of settling. Each day as I go out to the mail box, my dash out is accompanied by a “please God, please God, please God.” Then, when occasionally I do get a letter, the suspense and anxiety engulf me—what if it’s bad news, what if I can’t afford that school either? And the tearing open of the envelope is accompanied by the inward “please God, please God, please God.”

Interspersed are the days when I wonder how I’ll ever afford it at all, when I think, “So much for choices.”

So I awaken and pray in the morning light, struggling to focus my thoughts.

But the wisdom from above is first pure and then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18)

I say to my God, “‘The wisdom from above is first pure’—oh God, give me your Son’s purity today, wash me clean because I am not pure. ‘Pure and then peaceable’—oh God, help me to be peaceable, to make peace, to bring peace with me wherever I go. Give me your peace, because mine is frail and easily broken and blown away. ‘First pure and then peaceable, gentle’—oh God, give me your gentle spirit, your kindness of heart, because I am bumbling and hard on my own. ‘And then peaceable, gentle, open to reason’—help me to be open to reason today, God, to be reasonable in all things. Show me where I’ve been unreasonable. ‘Full of mercy and good fruits’ –oh God, teach me your mercy, for I have none today, I have only anger and wrath and punishment in me—give me your mercy. Spirit, put your good fruits in me, help me to have the fruits you promise, help me to live them today. ‘Impartial and sincere’—oh God, I am not impartial, grant me your heart to see your people, to not judge what my eyes see but to give them your grace and mercy and kindness. Give me your real love for those around me, a sincere interest in their lives and their hearts, in the events of their week, the details of their day. Oh Christ, give me your life, for mine is pale and weak and mean.”

So each morning I pause and try to let that other life, other perspective, that wisdom from above flow into me. I offer up myself that He, Christ, might be enough for me today; that I would remember my “even-ifs;” that I would be defended and hidden in Christ.

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