There is a popular sermon illustration that went around by email a while back that goes like this:
There was a man who was asleep one night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and the Savior appeared. The Lord told the man there was work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. This the man did, day after day.
For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.
After awhile the man became very discouraged at his lack of progress. He became disheartened and he asked himself, “Why kill myself over this?" he thought. "I'll just put in my time, giving just the minimum of effort and that will be good enough."
And that he planned to do until one day he decided to make it a matter of Prayer and take his troubled thoughts to the Lord. "Lord" he said, "I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock a half an inch. What is wrong? Why am I failing?"
To this the Lord responded compassionately, "My friend, when long ago I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push. And now you come to me, your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so?
Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back brown, your hands are callused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven't moved the rock. BUT YOUR CALLING WAS TO BE OBEDIENT, TO PUSH AND TO EXERCISE YOUR FAITH AND TRUST IN MY WISDOM.
This you have done. I, my friend, will now move the rock."
If you are standing in an awesome place with the Lord right now and in your life, even if you are in Ordinary Time, you can probably hear this message. But if you are in a personal Lent, this message may plummet from helpful to downright cruel.
We have all spent time pushing against that rock – some are in the midst of it right now. Truth is as pithy and clever as that story is, most of us don’t want to be strong and muscled with our backs brown. “Guess what Lord, we are happy with pale and flabby and we just want to stop hurting. We do not want to be obedient. We do not want to exercise our faith and trust in God’s wisdom. So Lord, if you can move the rock, then by all means save us all some trouble and please do so.”
The Boy 'graduated' from preschool on Wednesday. There were no cap and gowns. They performed a few songs and received hugs from their teachers.
Leading up to the event I had wondered if I would cry. I should have known that I wouldn't - I never do at the appointed time. I cry during a touching beer commercial, but only if I am at a restaurant catching it out of the corner of my eye on a screen hanging over the bar. I cry while leading worship 3-4 months after the event, meaning that most feel uncomfortable while maybe 5% recognize why those tears are there.
But this isn't a post about those kind of tears.
It took me awhile to land on the emotion I was feeling as I watched The Boy sing his songs, standing proudly amongst his friends, pointing out his Dad to the little girl standing next to him. And that gesture was what helped me figure it out.
It is more than gratitude I feel as I watch him excitedly point out his father, not having to wonder if that will upset his mother.
He was just himself up there, not worried about having to be too perfect for one parent or the other. He was just himself, not burdened with worry that one parent didn't love him even though we sat in two different parts of the Sanctuary. More than half of his life has been spent with his parents separated, but he doesn't feel it or know it.
He just knows he is loved, which is a victory for all of us. Because even those who betrayed me, have worked to make this so.
There are far more journeys to embark upon, but at that moment, at that graduation, I finally felt like that particular race had been won.
And so although gratitude is in the mix, the emotion I feel is 'exhale'.
And with exhale comes confidence and trust in the gifts God has given me. With exhale comes a willingness to trust the joy to be found in this new community. With exhale comes a hope and a trust in the plans the Holy Spirit has in store for me and the ones I love.
With exhale comes the rhythm of normal breathing and it sure feels nice to be doing that again.
On the first night The Boy and I stayed in our new home I had him stand up against his bedroom door so I could mark his height on the frame. For me it was an intimate way to mark the house as our home. Already, in less than a year we have marked the frame again and seen how much he has grown.
As adults most of us don't mark our growth on the wall. Makes sense, since most adults I know have no desire to see that line start to move lower (or worse, outward!). Adults have other ways of marking their growth.
Recently I spent two weeks on continuing education that mirrored the continuing education I took two years ago. One was the revgalblogpals Big Event 3.0. The second is my lectionary study group that meets annually.
The environment and the participants at both events mirrored two years ago, allowing me to see the mark of where I had been and just how far I've grown. Two years ago I arrived on the aft deck of the BE 1.0 exhausted and beat up from feeling betrayed by my husband, my friend (and congregation member) and part of my congregation. The story has been told and doesn't need to be repeated; suffice to say the shock of betrayal had worn off and so ironically enough I was standing on a boat, yet drowning in grief.
Two years later I was met by a lot of the same women who prayed for me and propped me back up and let me know that I was not alone. It felt good to be so significantly better. It felt great to share in that victory with them and thank them for being the safe place where I can remember kicking off rock bottom. Next I moved on to my lectionary group and worshiped with them without weeping and no longer compulsively needed to show off my deep wounds.
I am grateful to no longer be looking back at what might have been; instead looking forward to whatever plans may be in store. And I am glad I took the opportunity to take note of the marks on the wall and give thanks to God for growth.