“Abba, Father… Daddy…, with you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”
A person came to the church this week to speak with a priest; a woman about fifty years old, I will call her Joan. She was distraught. Her husband works with a crew of rough men who travel up and down the east coast doing specialized work in factories. They put in long hours and her husband is addicted to methamphetamins. Although he treats her well, it appears he is having an affair with a woman at the factory. For her part, Joan has been clean and sober for over 20 years. She loves her husband dearly, but the substance abuse and the affair have deeply hurt her. Through her sobs she told me she does not know what to do.
I suspect each of us has had a time or two in life when we felt paralyzed; when we faced something so hard, so traumatic, so difficult we simply did not know what to do. In my experience, at times like these it is easy for other people to give us advice, but they are not the person paralyzed. They are not the one carrying the emotional load. When you are the one with the load to bear, the easy answers others offer with such clarity are neither easy nor clear to you.
I think of the time when God’s people are standing before the vast waters of the Red Sea as Pharaoh’s mighty army closes in from behind. The situation seems utterly hopeless. They cry to Moses, “Why did you bring us all the way out here to die? Where there not enough graves in Egypt? We would be better off as slaves in Egypt than to be slaughtered in the desert.” Moses tells the people to “stand firm” and they will see the deliverance of God. The Lord then says to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward! Lift up your staff, raise out your hand over the sea, and divide it.” Tell the people to go forward?
When you think about people you know who have great faith, who comes to mind? Perhaps you think of a person with deeply held religious convictions. Maybe think of a person who is rock sure certain about God’s will and God’s activities in the world. But faith has nothing to do with certainty or conviction. Faith is about moving forward in the face of uncertainty.
As Jesus prays in the garden he is terrified by what he is about to face. He will be isolated, abandoned, and betrayed. He will be tortured beyond imagining. He will be humiliated. He will be executed in the most excruciatingly painful way possible. No wonder Jesus prays for any other possibility. But in the face of uncertainty, he tells his Father he is ready to move forward. It is the only way for him to go.
In her book, The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold weaves theology throughout her work to drive the plot. At one point her main character, Lupe dy Cazaril, says this:
“This wasn’t prayer anyway, it was just argument with the gods. Prayer, he suspected as he hoisted himself up and turned for the door, was putting one foot in front of the other. Moving all the same.”
Prayer is putting one foot in front of the other. Faith is moving forward in the midst of uncertainty.
Elizabeth Lesser writes this in her book Broken Open: how difficult times can help us grow:
You can either break down and stay broken down and eventually shut down, or you can break open. It’s a decision you make. It’s a commitment. I am going through a very hard time. I am not going to waste this precious experience, this opportunity to become the best me.
Through the experience of getting divorced and becoming a single mother, I lost everything – my financial security, my self-image, my support, my home. Everything changed for me. In the depths of that loss, I found out who I really was. I began to trust who I was. I began to find a genuine me that could withstand anything. And if we fight those times and fight the bud opening, we live half a life. But when we open into our brokenness, that’s when we blossom.
Right now, perhaps no one broken open is blossoming more beautify than the students of Parkland, Florida. Their faith and ability to go forward is truly remarkable. Who could have imagined over the span of this holy season of Lent a group of students could go from the horrors of having their school under attack to inspiring global marches calling for change? Go forward into an unknown future! Their faith is breathtaking.
The prophet Isaiah spoke these words to God’s people in exile:
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… Fear not, for I am with you.”
God promises to be with us as we move forward in the face of uncertainty.
There are times in our life when, like Joan, we feel paralyzed by the moment. There are times when, like Jesus, we kneel in the garden and, praying things could be different, resolve to accept things as they are. There are times when, like Elizabeth Lesser, our brokenness leads to blossoming. But there is never a time – never – God is not with us in the uncertainty, walking with us as we move forward.
Dear people of God, today I have a word from the Lord for you: Go Forward! Go forward in faith.