I went on a church retreat in Normandy this weekend and it was good. It dredged up … feelings.
In response to these feelings, a friend of mine recommended a book called Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Have any of you read it?
The crux of the matter is that God doesn’t love you more when you do more for him. And he doesn’t love you less when you do less for him. And this is a conviction I sorely need to internalize. One day maybe I’ll understand something and then I will write about it.
But in the meantime, I decided to post something I wrote after our trip to Switzerland about a different spiritual lesson that needed internalisation. 🙂 Here it is:
A Mountain Meeting with God
Brown and white cows were everywhere on the grassy hillside, staring at us balefully as their mouths moved back and forth, clanging bells at their necks. The air was crisply cool, a leftover from weeks of heavy rain; but the sun shone as we followed the path along the mountainside. We were in the Swiss Alps for my daughter’s church camp, and we decided that we would stay and vacation in the area with our two younger sons.
I was not in the best place spiritually. As I prepared for the trip in the mountains, I remembered how Moses met God on Mount Sinai. He came back with a clear idea of what constituted the basic guidelines for godly conduct for his people. And then Elijah went to Mount Horeb, and he came back comforted, and with a renewed sense of purpose. I want to meet God on the mountain, I thought.
The day we arrived in Switzerland, there was a double rainbow outside our chalet – an auspicious sign. I want direction. I want comfort, I prayed. But with it – a small caveat that God wouldn’t come to me in a mighty wind, or an earthquake, or a fire. I prayed he would come to me in a gentle whisper. I was feeling fragile.
I stomped along the path feeling irritated. A week earlier, we had invited our trusted friends, José and Alberte, for some help in our marriage. After listening awhile, Alberte – who loved me – told me I was spoiled. Although I recognized its truth at the time, my heart remained untouched.
I could only think about how my hopes and desires were being thwarted. I wanted to write full time and not have to teach English to make ends meet. I wanted to do more as a couple in church, but was stuck with the amount of hours my husband worked. I wanted us to be better parents – more available for our kids now, while our presence was still vital to them. I wanted to lose weight and stop getting stuck in the same vicious whirlwind that was the 4PM sugar blues. I wanted to do something – to change something, to have a life that wasn’t so mired in mundaneness.
I recognized Rachel in myself as I vented my frustration on my husband. “Give me children or I’ll die!” Except it wasn’t children. It was … financial peace? Spiritual fervor? Acclaim? Some other situation than what I’d been given?
I recognized the fairness in Jacob’s answer. “Am I in the place of God?”
There were small urgent cries coming from higher up on the hillside. “Do you hear that?” my husband asked.
“Those are marmots,” he said. “They’re warning each other of our coming.” We stepped into the clearing and he looked around, trying to spot one.
“Oh!” he said again. “Hawks! They weren’t warning each other of us – they were warning each other of them!” Sure enough, two hawks circled the area where the cries were coming from.
Just then, all four of us gave out a collective gasp, because from the other side of the mountain came an enormous golden eagle – hugely majestic in comparison. The hawks tried to chase him from their intended prey, but he circled the hillside, swooping and soaring. We watched as he landed.
In a short time, he was rewarded with a skinny animal in his claws, and his powerful wings took flight. The hawks came back to renew their protest, but he disappeared into a copse of trees.
Impressed, my husband and I and our two sons, moved on, picking our way down the path, which was becoming increasingly muddy – the deep grooves from some mountain vehicle making it impossible for us to find sure footing. Two cows munched, shaded by the canopy of green, as they blocked our path at the entrance to the forest. We decided to leave the path and trek down the hillside at an angle.
The path was too slippery, and eight-year old Gabriel fell in the mud. I slipped trying to get to him, my sneakers absorbing pools of water which were hidden by the long grass. I was frustrated, but my son was inconsolable. One sneaker had flown off, and he was sitting directly in the wet mud, sobbing, with one sock soaked through. At this point, my thoughts were no longer on the hope of meeting God, but rather on the rage I was feeling at being wet, muddy, and at risk of not being on time to catch the bus back to our chalet.
I stayed in the living room area of the chalet that night, clean and dry, while my husband went to read in bed. To distract myself, I watched podcasts and read articles on blogging and publishing, trying to figure out how to be more successful in these areas. But the more I read, the more my heart sank.
Finally, I walked into our room and sat down on the bed.
“Honey, can I tell you something?” I asked, a lump in my throat. My husband put his book down and looked at me expectantly.
“I was watching this video on the top ten mistakes bloggers make, and I realized that I make every single one. I’m too preachy, I don’t give enough back to the community. I don’t open dialogues for other people to give their opinions.”
I plucked a feather, whose sharp end was sticking out of the pillow, and continued. “And then I read about getting a foreign rights agent, and realized that I will probably never get an agent because I self-published. And since God has made it clear that he wants me to focus on teaching, and not writing, I’m pretty sure I have vastly overestimated my talent.”
My husband’s mouth turned up in a half-smile as I started to cry, his own eyes shiny with sympathy tears.
I went on. “And then I realized that Alberte was right. I am spoiled, and I don’t want to have to give up things we can’t afford. And I’m proud because I said I only wanted to do the cooking at the pre-teen camp if I could be in charge.” I was crying openly now.
“I refuse to give in to self-pity,” I sniffed (feeling a little sorry for myself). “I just feel so ashamed that I’ve gotten to this point.”
My husband looked at me tenderly, and said, “Well honey, you know what I think? … I think you just met God.”
I choked out a laugh, but I couldn’t stop crying. I felt so raw.
“Remember? He showed you an eagle today!” he said, grinning broadly. “What is that scripture? So that your youth is renewed like an eagle? Or is it your strength?”
“Oh my gosh. It’s your youth,” I started crying and laughing at the same time. “It’s in Psalm 103!”
As my husband flipped through the pages of the Bible, I said. “Did you know that I’ve been praying that scripture for years now? I feel so fat, middle-aged, and unsuccessful; I’m afraid that my chances at beauty and youth are flying away. So I pray for youth like an eagle’s. I can’t believe he actually showed me one!”
I was bawling now.
Later, as I was falling asleep, and again the next morning when I woke up, I still felt raw and fragile, but I felt clean. It was as if the storehouses of my heart that were so filled with junk – pride, greed, dissatisfaction … it was as if God had taken a sharp-bristled brush and sudsy water, and had scrubbed them clean. Now in their place, there were open, airy shelves, in which to store gratitude and joy.
I had wanted to meet God on the mountain because I didn’t like where I was at in my life. He gave me all the signs that He was there, but I didn’t piece it together right away.
If I was lost and needing direction, He showed me a double rainbow, reminding me of his part of the covenant. I will never leave you, nor forsake you.
If I was weary and struck down by repeated personal and professional failure – unable to pray with faith – He sent a golden eagle to swoop and soar and remind me of his promise of renewal.
If I was clamoring and clawing for self-exaltation – knowing that nothing good could come out of building a foundation on myself – He showed me how very little I could do on my own strength.
I demanded to see God, but instead He held up a mirror for me to see myself:
broken, loved, weary, renewed, dejected, redeemed. The eyes of my heart were filled with the Almighty Majesty of a God that could truly love a wretch like me.
And I saw Him – just like I had prayed I would.