Today looks to be another bright day filled with sunshine, topping out at 85 degrees. But a dense fog lies over bridges and coastline this morning, muffling sound and motion so that even the mammoth Washington State Ferry creeps in to the dock “on little cat feet” (a nod to Carl Sandburg, who is not my favorite poet).
In some ways this fog paints a picture of my heart these last few weeks. I have been carrying around with me a sense of bitterness and disappointment in the way that God is managing my life, and it cuts me off from a lot of the joy of living as one of His children, just as a thick fog prevents us from enjoying the beauty of the world around us. At the risk of over-extending a shaky metaphor, there may be a parallel between the limitations that fog can impose on speedy travel and the limitations that distrust in God may place on our rate of travel on our spiritual journey.
A large contributor of the shadow in my heart is lack of sleep. I am a night person, and waking up weekdays at 5:42 am is a significant hardship for me. Even after more than 100 days on this schedule, I cannot seem to get used to it. Everything seems gloomy to a person who is tired.
We were delayed in boarding the ferry this morning for several minutes after the west-bound passengers had disembarked. Finally a woman staggered up the ramp, slowly threading her way between the packed and indifferent Seattle-bound passengers. A moment before she passed me she lost her balance and staggered into a large man a few feet in front of me. I got a good look at her face as she passed me … her weary expression spoke of despair and hopelessness. Apparently she had fallen asleep on the ferry and was belatedly awakened and ejected by the crew, who are responsible to clear the ferry of passengers between voyages. Her clothes and figure suggested a woman in her late 20′s, but her face looked at least 20 years older.
I hope that my face doesn’t look quite that bad as I make my tedious commute. In the interests of upholding the standards of photographic art, I will not be posting a picture.
I am disappointed with the loss of my high-salaried work-from-home situation, and am not as grateful as I should be for my new job in Seattle, even after 17 months of semi-unemployment. I feel betrayed by the way that the conflict with our former church played out and by God’s apparent unwillingness to uphold His Word and discipline His Church. Imagine my surprise, then, as I read from I Peter and discovered that it is not all about me!
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. I Peter 4:12-14
I think that is exactly how I feel … I continue to be surprised that (for example) my firm stance on a literal interpretation of the Bible would result in shunning and insult from other believers. And yet these verses indicate (as do so many) that life, even ‘my’ life, is not about me, not about my rights or prerogatives or comfort. Instead, it is all about the soon-to-be-fully-revealed glory of God.
Peter goes on to talk about the difference between suffering for our own crimes and suffering for the name of Jesus … it makes me wonder how much of my loss in privilege and compensation was a result of my own lack of diligence, and how much of it is caused by factors outside my control? These are not comfortable thoughts … I would much rather think of myself as a victim than as the architect of my own misfortune.
The last time I was this tired on a consistent basis was during Basic Training when I enlisted in the Army as a private (first class). As the summer of 1986 faded, I routinely faced days of grueling physical training on less than four hours of sleep. In that circumstance, I had deprived myself of considerable privilege and compensation (a four-year college scholarship through the Army ROTC program) through my own lack of diligence, yet I would very much have preferred to think of myself as a victim and spent many entertaining hours blaming the Army and my professors. Is my history repeating itself?
I suppose I could ask my former boss how it came about that I was selected to be laid off, among the other 20-25% of the people in my department. I had received a good performance review at the beginning of the year, but things can change quickly in a corporate environment. As I think of it, though, the point may be moot. It matters much less what my boss thought and it is all about what God thought. The summer before I was laid off, I took a lot of time off from work, some of it associated with the birth of Sarah, but much of it connected to the construction of my deck. I would not be surprised to discover that God was displeased by my lack of diligence in my work, even if my former boss was unaware of the extent my attention was focused elsewhere. There is no doubt in my mind that I could (and should) have worked harder, especially considering the salary I was earning and the privilege I enjoyed of working from home, four days a week.
The long and short of it is that I seem to have betrayed myself, at least in the matter of my work. If, because of my own untrustworthiness, I am now required to work on-site for less pay and with more tedium, I have no one to blame. Rather, I ought to be thankful for a second chance and an opportunity to redeem my career and relearn a proper work ethic. It is perhaps time for me to stop complaining about my job and its associated commute, a topic that has perhaps been over-featured in this blog.
As usual, it depends on how you look at the situation. From one perspective, I am being punished by God, from another, I am being given a chance (as in Basic Training) to learn (or re-learn) diligence in a job that is frequently tedious, not always fun, and that requires me to be away from my family for a large portion of the week. I guess the question is, do I want to be a well-trained servant, able and ready to work for the Master, or would I rather sit around & drink blends? (That was a rhetorical question, no answer is necessary or desired. And of course, there is no higher calling than making blends, if not drinking them.)
So, what about the trouble with my former church? Did God, in fact, let me down? The prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 28:16 indicates that I am the one who let God down, by failing to trust in Him fully:
So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.”
Is it reasonable that I would be vindicated by God according to my timetable? Is it proper that He allow my opponents in this situation to apparently or at least temporarily go unpunished?
Again, it seems that it is not all about me. Much of my motivation in desiring justice in this matter is so that I may be vindicated … so that those who have insulted me would be humbled and forced to admit that I was right, for the greater glory of Tim. If God chooses to defer judgment in this matter or even to entirely forgive, isn’t that His prerogative, and doesn’t that mercy accrue to His glory? I find myself in the place of the wicked servant illustrated in Matthew 18:23-35, when I refuse to forgive my brother for a small debt, having been forgiven millions myself.
How do I go about forgiving those who have wronged God, and have wronged me in passing? I have tried repeatedly in my own strength and yet I continue to feel bitterness toward several in this category. The only answer I can think of is that I can pray … starting today I can pray and ask God each day to give me a spirit of forgiveness.
At some point I hope to remember that I am a servant of God, not the Master. It is appropriate for me to suffer, and that I should consider it joy to be allowed to suffer in the interests of His glory. Admittedly, it will take some effort to clear away this fog of self-pity and self-importance. I need to continue to study the scriptures that point to Christ, and get my mind off my own desires and comforts.
Although the middle of the Puget Sound was heavily covered in thick fog, we eventually crept our way to the docks of Seattle, where the sun blazed through, slashing the dense mists into ribbons of insubstantial vapor. I think perhaps God is not intimidated by the fog over my soul, either; His truth can incinerate my clouded thinking in much the same way.
It looks to be another beautiful day, dominated by blues and greens and golden sunshine … how delightful to be able to look around and enjoy it!