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Friday, May 26, 2017

Come Thou Fount

It was one of those days. A day when you just barely caught up to your breath and there was no time for thinking. Processing. A day when you smiled but the smile didn't reach the crinkles in the corner of your eye. A day when you were thankful for the small things because suddenly they became the big things. A day when you asked for that little bit extra grace to help you walk those extra five miles in aching feet. A day when you shook your heart's fist at a Father Who lived in the invisible. A day when you dug your finger deep into your palm to keep the tears still, frustrated that the pain from too-short nails wasn't stronger than the silent keening.

It was one of those nights. Except this night was a little more intense than the others. He'd had nights like this before. When He'd escaped the crowds that had pushed around Him, jostling for a chance to be close but not knowing why, though they felt the inescapable attraction that drew them near. He loved each person dearly, whether they knew Who He was or simply saw Him as another novelty to gawk at. Yet He needed to find strength to meet their needs and having limited His power by choice, He retreated in the blackness to reconnect with the One Who freely filled His heart. 

His friends didn't understand why He chose to spend a night praying instead of sleeping. "Don't You feel tired in the morning?" they queried, confused as to His priorities. Long trudges through village after village, or standing in the desert heat, wearied them physically and at night their eyes often closed before their bodies relaxed in sleep. Yet He treasured those quiet hours when He would pour out His heart and feel the power revive His body that was not wearied physically as much as emotionally. 

See, He was an emotional Person. That was another part of His being that His friends couldn't quite connect with. Most of them were simple fishermen whose experiences were set in a night on a boat. Sure, they felt emotion, but they weren't emotional. He cried when Lazarus was in the tomb. He cried when He saw Jerusalem and envisioned its destruction. Now He cried again. Yet this grief was of such intensity it was almost hard to breathe. And as He cried, His friends slept. 

It didn't matter as much the other nights. He preferred to be alone with His Father so, as His friends snored deeply, He knelt under the stars and lifted His hands and eyes up to heaven in a gesture to connect closer to the One He desperately needed and quietly missed. Tonight, though. Tonight He felt a deep need for their prayers. For their presence. Yes, He was God but He was also Man. Vulnerable in sorrow. Aching in grief. Questioning in loneliness. He knew rationally that His Father was close by but in this moment He could not see and longed for reassurance through those who knew Him best here on this earth. 

Even His three closest friends were oblivious to His pain. The three He'd brought into more confidences, spent more time counseling with, and entrusted with responsibility succumbed to sleep not once but twice. He faced the future-altering decision alone. Anguish, distress, and grief pressed down heavily on One Who had done no wrong but now must assume all the wrongs every committed or still to tear His Father's heart through thousands of years. 

In His time of deepest need, Jesus turned to find all had failed Him. When He looked for support, there was none. Though we know the end of the story, and that an angel came from heaven to give Him strength, this part of the story is one that isn't often spoken of. Jesus needed community. He needed to be close to those who could speak encouragement to His heart.

Somehow this is encouraging to me, particularly on days like today. I am finding myself in that limbo-land once again as I prepare emotionally for my soon-departure. Unlike the four we had a farewell for today, I plan to return within the month so it is not a goodbye of finality. Yet each time I step onto a plane that takes me from my heart-home, I shiver inside at the thought that something unexpected could happen and I would not be able to return. Just like before. Except before it was planned and I was supposed to be happy about it.

As I process the tension of emotions, from grief that I must leave to relief that I can have a long vacation to longing for my family to unresolved bitterness with the place my mother still lives at, I think about how very much I identify with Jesus' experience in those oppressive hours. I don't mean the decision to take our place. I mean the very real need to be with loved ones who He could see.

I sat alone in vespers tonight. The closing song, #626, brought a flood of memories back as the congregation sang In a Little While We're Going Home. I was back in my Opa and Oma's previous apartment, my Opa jubilantly pedaling away on the organ as he played and sang while we provided the accompaniment to his enthusiastic singing. It was 2004 and we didn't know if we'd be going back home, to the home we now knew in the US. Ironic, then, that now I was singing it and preparing to return to the US for holiday whilst once again pleading silently with my Father to let me come back again. Same song, different stanza.

My friends left after vespers, their little ones ready to go to sleep, and I texted them saying I was going to bed early. I was tired and it had been a long day. It was true but I was missing out on Friday evening tea with snacks, laughing around the dining room table. Instead I retreated to my room, then slipped into comfortable clothes, black suede flip flops that exposed my freshly painted black-red toenails, and headed to the parking lot to walk.

I was texting a friend, having a casual conversation about the day, when I invited them to join me walking. They fell silent and I didn't ask again. Pushing the ear buds further into my ears, I listened to a favourite mix from Women of Faith even as I wondered whether I would always feel this way. Then a young man walking by stopped me.

He was one of the students on campus, a quiet guy, who faithfully did his work and went to classes but didn't draw much attention to himself. He'd asked me to pray for him several months ago, and I had for that week, but figuring his prayer was answered, I'd moved on to pray for other items on my list. Tonight, though, after small talk, he asked again for prayer. With some emotion, he shared his need for daily prayer as he tried his best to follow God. I reassured him I would keep him in my prayers and then I asked if I could pray for him right there. He quickly agreed.

I never thought of myself as much of a praying type of person. Yes, I pray privately, but whenever I was asked to pray in public or with a friend or two, my prayers tended to feel canned and lifeless, as if I was reciting one from a prayer book. I hated being second or even last in a prayer group because by the time it got to me, the others would have already covered all the highlights and I would be fumbling to find something of substance to pray for. Yet in the last couple of weeks, God has been drawing me into prayer as, whether praying for friends or being prayed for, I am beginning to see the community found in prayer is as precious as the community in every day connection.

After I finished praying for my friend and he carried on his way, I realized that God had answered a previous prayer in a very meaningful way. I had asked Him to clearly show me that He had a long-term plan for me here. I needed some sort of indication that my life had purpose, meaning, and a mission. Otherwise, I figured, I might as well return to the US and sink into a life devoid of joy but following the responsible career path that a single woman as the eldest daughter of a single parent should do.

In asking for prayer, my friend showed me that I was someone he trusted enough that he could ask for prayer from. And in those couple of minutes, as our heads were bowed and we earnestly approached God, I realized that prayer was a ministry I could embrace and engage in with my whole heart. I had a purpose--to be available when someone needed prayer. I had meaning--to intercede with sincerity and conviction. I had a mission--to pray.

Yes, it was one of those days. A day when God hid behind the thick fog of the morning, peeking out in a stunning sunset, then withdrawing once more as the melancholy of solitude swept in. Yet it was also a day when God turned all my expectations upside down and replaced them with a knowing that surpasses man's greatest intellect of today. He brought someone to me who was struggling to see Him, and in prayer we both saw the heart of One who cares immeasurably for us. Thank God for one of those days.

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