by Beth Anderson, DM, Synod Ministry Coordinator – 5/14/2015
As I watch much needed rain fall outside my window, I’m reminded of a God moment I experienced a few years ago while taking part in a 24-hour silent retreat. I decided to focus my time on words from Isaiah 43. I studied and prayed over the chapter for hours. Read the words aloud and in quiet. Sat with them in the chapel with others in prayer and on my own silently in that holy space. I wanted so deeply to make those words come alive. To hear something new in them. To hear them as a promise from God to me. And I worked and worked and worked at it. But I got nothing. Nothing more than the sense that they were beautiful words that a community in exile centuries ago dearly needed to hear, and at some level, I also knew God meant them for me and for each and every child of God as well. But that was it; I couldn’t make the text speak to me in that moment so eventually I gave up.
I remember walking out of the chapel after sitting with those words for so long and feeling a bit disappointed that no new insight had come. It had begun to rain outside and as I walked back to the main building from the chapel, I lifted my face to the rain. As the drops ran down over my forehead and cheeks, I heard the words I had been dwelling on for so long echo in my mind . . .
Do not fear, 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 . . .
For I am the Lord your God;
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior . .
you are precious in my sight,
and honored and I love you.” Isaiah 43:1-4
As the rain washed my face clean, I was gently reminded of my baptism – of being washed clean by Christ, and claimed by God in the presence of the community. Knowing that, no matter what, I had been marked with the cross of Christ, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and claimed as a child of God forever. A deep joy and peace settled on me, a confidence in my identity as ‘Child of God.’ I gave thanks for that moment, for the rain, for the forgiveness of sin, for the reminder that God does speak to us in scripture, but not always in the timeframe or the ways we want God to.
I had worked so hard with that text, yet it was when I let go and released it to God, that there was room for the Holy Spirit to touch me and offer me that moment of pure gift. As I look back on that experience, I wonder . . .
How often do we attempt to dictate the when and the where and the how God should work in our personal lives and in our life together in community? As we fulfill obligations and duties, do we attempt to force God’s blessing? In the striving and fulfilling of expectations, do we become disappointed in God because nothing is happening as we think it should? Do we sometimes become so wrapped up in the work of ministry, that we forget to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work among us, for God’s grace to bless us, for celebrating the holy moments of grace that do occur among us?
And yet, I also wonder if I would have experienced God’s grace so profoundly if I hadn’t steeped in those words of Isaiah for all those hours before? Maybe the key is to soak ourselves in the Word, in prayer, in worship, in service, in the things that connect us to God and the Holy Spirit, but then to offer our work back to God, to let go of the end result. In releasing ourselves and our efforts to God, we give responsibility back to God, allowing the Holy Spirit to shape what we offer up into a blessing for the world. In the release, we might experience moments of doubt, or moments when we wonder what God is up to, but then again, God might also surprise us with blessings and grace that we hadn’t imagined.