Sunday, May 25, 2008

Like a Weaned Child

“But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.”
—Psalm 131: 2

I have twice heard men preach on this verse and twice they have gotten it wrong. They take the image to be one of God’s nurturing care for us, and both used the metaphor of the nursing mother to talk about God’s provision for creation. But they missed the most important word in this verse, the word that any woman who has nursed a child would notice almost instantly—weaned.

A child that is weaned is no longer drinking at its mother’s breast. Unlike the nursing child, whose hunger becomes intensified, whose need is all-consuming the minute it detects its mother’s scent, the weaned child is still. The weaned child in its father’s arms is much as it ever was. The true test comes when the child is in its mother’s arms again—the place with primal associations for survival and sustenance, the place where longings have been met and needs satisfied. In that place, will all the old passions be stirred up, or will the child trust in its ability to find comfort elsewhere?

With God, I still and quiet my soul like a weaned child. Though the fretful infant within me cries out for God to end the pain of hunger, my soul is quiet like a weaned child, a child with safety and warmth enough to trust not in the breast or the milk that comes after, but the closeness, only the closeness, with the one who gave so much and in whose loving arms I have never stopped being held.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Staying By

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
—James 1:4

Some translations use “patience” for this verse instead of “perseverance.” And though my working knowledge of Greek is fading fast, I looked up the word to see what the original says. And the word is a combination of two words, which together could mean something like “to stay by,” or “to remain under.”

So often I think it’s the great acts of selfless love or moments of pure faith that get God’s attention. But as much as that he may be simply wishing for me to stay by, to remain around him in and through the dullness and boredom as much as the moments of great passion and excitement.

It’s the consistent pressure of a light hand that changes the pot. Too much jabbing and the whole thing collapses. Not enough pressure and it stays exactly the same. So while I wish for dramatic evidence of God’s presence, I ask instead for perseverance to content myself with the everyday moments—talking with people, making dinner, doing laundry, feeding the dog, going for walks, praying with the same dull and ineffective repetition of words. To remain under the light touch of God’s hand and be changed by him. Hoping that in the determined effort of simply staying by God, I will come to realize the length of his efforts to stay by me.

Monday, May 5, 2008


“Now the body is not made of one part, but many.” 1 Corinthians 12:14

We have a new fish tank at our house. Although adding to the ridiculously large number of pets we have was not my plan, I have nonetheless found them interesting to watch. The whole process of acclimating the fish to their new environment was carefully orchestrated: first their bags are placed (closed) into the new tank so the water temperature can equalize. Then the bags are opened (at the top only) so they can get used to the new air. And only after a good stretch of time has passed are they ready to have a bit of the new water added to the inside of their bags. Bit by bit, more new water is mixed in, until it’s about half old and half new. And at the end of this long process they are finally, finally dumped out into the tank.

It’s a community, the sales lady told us. Everything depends on everything else. These fish will bring their own bacteria (good and bad) to the tank and each plant and rock in the tank will also bring its own unique bacteria to this carefully balanced system. It’s not just about the individual fish—it’s about all of the fish interacting together, it’s about the air and the water and the plants and even the algae forming on the walls of the tank.

Maybe if I gave myself as much time for long and gradual adjustment as we gave our fish, I wouldn’t be so worn out by living in a new place. But after being scooped up and dumped out in one swift motion, I find one tank so different from another I scarcely know myself to be a fish anymore. And that is the danger point—forgetting who I am, and simply taking on all the characteristics of my new tank as if they were my own. Some of that is good, but it also means the new tank loses out on what is different about me. I need to know how to be who I am in a new place. And my new place needs to get used to a new fish.

Acclimation is not easy. It’s definitely not fast. And it may never be finished, because things are always changing. But still, we’re working on it. Because in a community, everything depends on everything else.