Monthly Archives: December 2012

How Can This Be?

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As I grow older, I notice myself becoming a bit, well, jaded.  I’ve come to question people’s motives, suspect their agendas, wonder (out loud sometimes) “what’s in it for them?” when an offer is made.

Some would call this wisdom.  It’s not.  It’s just me being negative.

I wasn’t always like that – and I don’t really think it’s a good thing to allow to grow and settle into my personality.

Here’s why:

Have you ever noticed that the exact same question can be asked in entirely different ways?  When you read the words on the printed page it’s impossible to tell the difference between the scenarios – until you read the reaction.

For example:  “What is the meaning of this?” can mean entirely different things.  Someone can be genuinely asking a question to clarify something.  Or, someone can be incredulously stating something along the lines of, “you’d better explain yourself this instant!”

It can also be the other way around – we can ask the same question using different words – “How can I know this?” can mean the same as, “Will this really happen?” or  “How can this be?”

In Genesis, we hear this question when the Lord is telling Abraham that Sarah, his wife, will give him a son, even though Abraham is 100 and Sarah is 90.  It’s a fair question, really – laughable even.  And that’s exactly what Sarah did when she overheard the conversation.  The Lord heard her, and told her as much, but there is little reaction to the question.  (Later she couldn’t keep from laughing for joy when she held that baby in her arms!)

Skip forward hundreds of years and a similar announcement is being made to Zacharias – John the Baptist’s father.  Zacharias is also old, Elizabeth, his wife, is, too (the old English says poetically: “and both were well stricken in years” – I can’t wait to find an excuse to use that line…).  They, too, have no children.  While Zacharias is faithfully performing his priestly duties, an angel appears and tells him that he and Elizabeth are going to have a son.  The angel, tells Zacharias all the great things this son will do, and Zacharias says, “How can I know for certain, for I am an old man and my wife is old, too?”

The response is quite different.  Zacharias is struck dumb until the baby is born.  There was a little something different behind his question – a doubt, a disbelief, a momentary question of the goodness of God, perhaps?  (Zacharias, too, couldn’t keep from expressing his overwhelming joy after that baby arrived.)

But just a little later in the story, another angel delivers a message to the young girl, Mary.  He starts with a puzzling greeting to her, which she doesn’t understand (“Hail favored one! The Lord is with you!” – can you imagine??) and then goes on to tell her that even though she is not married and has never had sexual relations she is going to have a son and He will be great – the Son of the Most High.  It really is understandable that she would ask, “How can this be?”

But there is something so very different in the response to her question that there had to be something different in the way it was asked.

“How can this be?” could mean, “Oh come on – that’s ridiculous.”

But it can also mean, “Really!?  Tell me!  I can’t wait to see how this turns out!”

I can’t help but believe that Mary’s response was really the second.  She rejoices at the news.  She breaks into song!  She runs miles to go share the news.  She’s ecstatic!

She is definitely not jaded.

She has simple, child-like faith.  She believes what is told to her.  There is an inherent beauty in her willing acceptance of this incredibly weighty news.  There is a fundamental trust that God is caring for her.  There is faith that His plan is good.  There is joy in the expectation of long-awaited promises being fulfilled.  Her response is delightful, yet striking at the same time.  Would I have responded this way?

I wonder.

I want that kind of delight in the Lord.  I want to recognize the sovereign hand of God in every moment of my life.  I want to live out what I profess to believe – even when things are overwhelming and look really bad.  I want to say with utter conviction, like Joseph, ‘what men meant for evil, God meant for good…’ no matter what the circumstances.

And like Mary, I want to recognize that though the news is weighty, and even scary, “My soul exalts in the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior!”

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How many days?

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How many days?

Funerals… sad and wonderful at the same time.  The searing loss, the waves of grief, the sudden and unexpected tears that flow in fits and bursts.  But sweetness in the midst of pain is there as well.  Friends and family – some not seen for years, sweet memories, an appreciation for life.

How many days?

“Teach us to number our days, oh Lord, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.”  (Psalm 90:12)

“And in your book they were all written – the days that were ordained for me, before any one of them had come to be.” (Psalm 139:16)

Most of us don’t really want to die – for lots of us we know we will be separated from people we dearly love and we know the pain it will inflict on them.  But I confess that sometimes I’m more comfortable with the “being dead” part than I am with the “dying” part.  We naturally shun pain and suffering – it’s how we’re made.

But we’ll all face it.  When you’re at a funeral it’s pretty hard not to wonder, “How many days do I have left?”  A lot?  Or will it be few?

But for me, the bigger question is not, “How many days?”  It is, “How will I spend them?”

Intellectually I understand that death is no respecter of persons – but emotionally I think I want it to be.  I want to be able to say, “I’ve earned more time,” – to… someone.

But here is what I’ve come to know.  Death comes for each of us.  Death comes like a thief in the night – even when dear ones have fought a long and hideous battle with illness, their moment of breathing their last breath has been surprising.

Once we’re dead, we’re gone.  We get no more chances to say the things we meant to say.  We have no more opportunities to be with the ones we meant to spend more time with.

As a Christian, this knowledge changes how I live my everyday life.  I see bigger things at play all the time.  Little things are infinitely more important than some of them seem, and great big crises are like the dust you blow off of forgotten treasures in the attic – it’s the treasure that’s important but sometimes we focus on the dust.

Telling people I love them – and why – seems small, but it isn’t.  Listening to a child chatter on about something I’m not interested in but he is, seems annoying, but teaches him that I value him.  Allowing a teenager to learn how to respectfully disagree with me seems counter-intuitive sometimes, but is a gift to her and to all those she will disagree with later.  Those ordinary, daily, small interchanges are not what make life – they are life.  If we miss them or neglect them we lose them forever.  But if we embrace them they are also ours to keep forever.

How many days?  Don’t worry about it.  “For which of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to his life?”  (Matthew 7:27)  Concentrate instead on how you will spend the days you are given.  Speak the things you need to speak as if the next moment will be your last – for it may.  And invest in the lives around you as if you will live forever – for you, and they, will.