Sunday, September 02, 2012

The first signs of new life

Spring is such a thrilling season. In countries where there is a vast difference between summer and winter, particularly countries in which there is snow in winter, spring is a time of celebration - a time when there are the first indications that life is returning.

Years ago, I felt I had a close relationship with God, when I was able to hear him speaking to me easily, and frequently. Then I suffered a series of disappointments, including Zoe's death, and I found myself in the valley of the shadow of death. At the bottom of the valley, I felt I lost my connection with God. I couldn't hear him, and that feeling of isolation has been incredibly difficult to manage or work through. These past 5 years have felt like the hardest, darkest, longest winter of my soul. It's felt like the winter in Narnia - I've known what spring and summer feel like, what the warmth of the sun feels like, but can't really remember what they felt like. Over the past year or so I've felt the gradual thaw, but spring still felt like a long way away.

This past week though, it feels as if spring has finally arrived. I had a moment of celebration earlier in the week when I heard God speak words into my mind for me to share with someone else. It has been about 5 years since that last occurred. What joy! To hear my Saviour's voice again... For whatever reason, he's decided I'm ready again, that this ordeal is at an end.

My celebration and relief were short-lived though.

Back in the late ninties (I think it was in '99, but I can't find the exact journal entry to confirm it) I felt that God had given me a passage of Scripture as the direction for my life. At the time, I believed God told me that this passage would be the mission of my life, that this was his calling on my life. The passage in question? Is 61: 1-4:

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of   mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations."

It was confirmed for me several times since then that this IS God's calling on my life. In the darkness, when I was questioning everything, I tried to hold onto those previous moments when I felt God confirmed this for me. Today, God confirmed it for me again, but not in the way I would ever have anticipated.

It struck me, on this occasion, that when Jesus spoke these words in Luke 4, he hadn't yet been to the cross. The cross was still to come - and Jesus knew that. He knew that in order for him to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim release, etc, he would need to suffer and then die. What's more, even as he said those words, as he opened the scroll and read them, he knew that that was what would have to happen.

It then struck me that when God has made this passage the calling over my life, he knew that in order for me to fulfil it, I would have to share in Christ's suffering. I would also have to experience a death, an isolation from the Father and a grief. I, too, would have to be wounded. Where in the past I have focussed on the positive aspect of the words, without thinking about how I would get there. Today,God revealed to me how this long night of the soul and the disappointments of the last few years have all been part of God's plan for my life. Even Zoe.

It struck me that even before I was born, God knew that Zoe would die. He chose not to remove this grief from me. He chose to allow it. He made her death part of his plan for my life. Paul had his "thorn in the flesh". 3 times he asked God to remove it, and 3 times God's response was that His grace was sufficient for Paul. While Paul's thorn may have been physical rather than spiritual, the principle remains. God allowed him that grief, that wound, in order to use him to bring God's good news to the Gentiles.

As I reflected on this, and on the passage, instead of seeing the positives, I saw the pain. How do I bind up the broken-hearted? By having my own heart broken and allowing myself to weep with them. How do I preach release to the prisoners? By sharing my own journey of release. How do I comfort those who mourn? By having mourned myself. For each of the promises, where before I saw myself in a position of strength reaching out to help the weak, now I see that God's plan was always for me to be in a position of brokenness sharing my life with fellow sufferers. And how would he achieve that? By breaking me. By isolating me. By leading me into the valley of the shadow.

My reactions were multiple. First and most overwhelming was my shock. Zoe's death was purposeful. There it is. In my face. How do I carry this cross? However, fortunately, that was not my only reaction, which in itself says something. It struck me that God didn't have to reveal this to me. The fact that he did tells me that He thinks I've come far enough on the road to be able to handle this piece of news. Wow. Wow. Overlaid on this are my reflections on how I handled her death in the first place. 

In grief, some Christians are able to maintain their joy, not to move into the blame game. I was not one of those. So, as I was reeling from shock, I deliberately chose to take it to God, to continue to honour him. I was able to thank him for revealing this to me, for trusting me with this information; praise him for moving me on from where I was.

That I was able to do so was some comfort. Her death has not been in vain. It has helped to mature me. But it hurts. It really hurts.

Moving beyond my pain, after crying my way through a good deal of the service, I have come to a place of acceptance. Her death is not something I will ever get over, partly because it is only in this place of grief that God can fulfil the calling he placed on my life. It is only as I allow my heart to be turned from stone to flesh, to be wounded by the woundings and brokenness of others, that God's words over my life will bear fruit.

Jesus had to be crucified in order to bring shalom into our lives. I had to lose Zoe.If God had revealed this to me beforehand, I think I would have walked away. Jesus, in facing the cross asked God to take it away, if he could, yet submitted to God's plan to save human kind. My role on this earth is FAR from being that far-reaching or vital. Having had my own "cross" to bear, I can still choose to walk away, to say this is too much to bear.

All this was running through my head during the service. There were tears, and lots of them. Yet, I have chosen to walk this road. Why? Because God spoke to me. God spoke to me! If I have to go through another grief like that, then I'd rather do it with God on my side, than not. Being isolated from him has been hell. Sheer hell. I can get through anything else if God is at my side.

Spring has sprung, people!