Recovering Sainthood

by susan on November 1, 2016

Words for the Journey – – Sunday, October 30, 2016

Loneliness

1-2 Listen to this prayer of mine, God;
    pay attention to what I’m asking.
Answer me—you’re famous for your answers!
    Do what’s right for me.
But don’t, please don’t, haul me into court;
    not a person alive would be acquitted there.

3-6 The enemy hunted me down;
    he kicked me and stomped me within an inch of my life.
He put me in a black hole,
    buried me like a corpse in that dungeon.
I sat there in despair, my spirit draining away,
    my heart heavy, like lead.
I remembered the old days,
    went over all you’ve done, pondered the ways you’ve worked,
Stretched out my hands to you,
    as thirsty for you as a desert thirsty for rain.

7-10 Hurry with your answer, God!
    I’m nearly at the end of my rope.
Don’t turn away; don’t ignore me!
    That would be certain death.
If you wake me each morning with the sound of your loving voice,
    I’ll go to sleep each night trusting in you.
Point out the road I must travel;
    I’m all ears, all eyes before you.
Save me from my enemies, God
    you’re my only hope!
Teach me how to live to please you,
    because you’re my God.
Lead me by your blessed Spirit
    into cleared and level pastureland.

– Psalm 143:1-10, MSG

What do you do when you have no idea what to do?
Where do you turn when the road ahead is unclear,
when you struggle to find any answers,
when God’s face seems hidden?

That was the crisis facing the writer of this Psalm whom we are told is King David. At a very young age, David received some very clear directions: He would become king. Not such great news for the current king, Saul, but promising news for David. He was commended & chosen for being “a man after God’s own heart”. God had a plan for his life & a purpose for his steps.

It wasn’t long, though, before things began to shift dramatically.

He was hunted down by his predecessor, Saul.
He allowed his daughter to be raped by his son.
He stole Bathsheba, his neighbor Uriah’s wife.
And, he had Uriah killed when he couldn’t come up with a better way to cover up his adultery.

David’s well-paved path was full of challenges, diversions & failures. What started as a clear calling unraveled into chaos. It’s no wonder he was crying out for help.

our-planHave you experienced this kind of shift?  The kind where you imagine your life heading in one direction, only to turn around and find that you are somewhere completely different?

Your plan was smooth sailing. Life though, looks different.

Diversions happen. Enemies were David’s diversion.

The enemy hunted me down;
he kicked me and stomped me within an inch of my life…

I sat there in despair, my spirit draining away,
my heart heavy, like lead.

Whether they were internal or external,
David’s enemies made God feel absent & the path ahead uncertain.

The Psalms, we have been learning tell us what it’s like to be human. If this is true, then we haven’t done ourselves many favors by making biblical characters like David into “heroes of faith” & by rushing past their messier moments:
moments of feeling completely cut off from God,
moments of being unclear of where to go or what to do,
moments of seeking, but not finding, of asking, but not receiving an answer.

This is part of being human. These moments will come.

To her surprise, they came for a theology professor named Lauren Winner. In her book Still, she reflects on what she calls her mid-faith crisis. Her five year marriage failed and her faith (which was very much intertwined with having a successful marriage) unraveled. Most of the book talks about her struggle, but near the end she describes how she began to see herself & her faith differently as she emerged from this most difficult season.

The faith that was emerging was less about being a hero & more about being a saint. She remembered the words of ethicist Samuel Wells:

“Stories…told with…heroes at the center of them…are told to laud the virtues of the heroes – for if their hero failed all would be lost. By contrast, a saint can fail in a way that the hero can’t because the failure of the saint reveals the forgiveness and new possibilities made in God, and the saint is just a small character in a story that’s always fundamentally about God.”

While David may not be a hero in many ways,
he reminds us of what it means to be human,
of what it means to be part of God’s story.

What made David a man after God’s own heart was not that he always got it right, but that he kept showing up. Even when he screwed up royally, even when God seemed absent, even when nothing seemed clear, there was David on his knees begging for connection & direction.

The God-centered life is not about always hearing & knowing for certain that we are at the center of God’s will but continuing to look, to listen & to ask for help. David’s story reminds us that no matter how far we wander, it’s NEVER too late to return & to recover our place as saints, not heroes of faith.

Every other month, The Well’s vision team gathers to talk about our next steps in our church’s life together. In a recent vision team meeting, I was forced to say what no leader ever wants to say: “I don’t know.” It was in response to some questions about things for which I did not have clarity & it was the absolute truth. While I’d like to claim that I always know, that I have a direct line to God who whispers in my ear the right next steps for our community, that just isn’t the case.

Admitting my lack of clarity did something important. Not only did it open the way for important conversation, but it helped to correct my posture. It reminded me that I am always in need – that I am not called to have all the answers, but to keep showing up – to keep asking & praying & listening & being ready to respond when direction comes. And, it will come.

For me, it comes less often in burning bushes and flashy billboards & more often through quiet walks, over coffee with a friend, while reading a book, through a still small voice or in feelings of peace that wash over me out of nowhere.

My moments of unknowing have been reminders that it’s not about me – it’s about God – it’s about God’s kingdom coming, not my great ideas.

I can’t be a hero, but I can be a saint.  Saints know they need God and while they do not always have clarity and certainty, they are ready to receive it when it comes.

begging-bowlA couple of years ago I was given a gift that practice a saintly posture versus a heroic one. I was gifted with a begging bowl and it came with these instructions:

Begging Bowl

beg:

1. To ask for as charity or as a gift.
2. To ask for earnestly as a kindness or favor.
3. To ask humbly; entreat, to pray.

It is tradition for a Zen monk to go out with an empty bowl each morning in his hands; whatever is placed in it will be his nourishment for the day. In the same manner, Jesus instructed his disciples to go and spread the good news, taking nothing with them and living through the charity of others.

The translation of the word for begging bowl means just enough.

David’s story reminded me of this practice. His posture of need challenges our own desire to be heroes who have everything figured out. We are not called to be heroes, but saints – participants in God’s story who are always aware of our need for help.

David’s help would come, his restoration would come in a way he could never have predicted. His royal lineage would lead straight to Jesus, the promised Messiah. This imperfect person, like all the others included in that long lineage, would prepare the way for the Savior of the world.

Everyday saints – people like you and like me – have been & continue to be part of God’s story of love and forgiveness, healing & salvation.

Now, that is good news! Thanks be to God.

Previous post:

Next post: