I dropped Carolyn off at the airport in Roanoke this afternoon for quick trip to Little Rock (more on that in a moment). On the way home, the spring sun successfully heated the interior of the car so I was insulated from the abnormal chill outside (it was 24 in Blacksburg last night, and the temperature gauge on the dashboard showed 53).
With brilliant blue skies and sprays of pinkish-purple blossoms on the trees everywhere between Roanoke and the New River Valley, I drove in silence. Life has truly been a whirlwind in the past few months. Moments on the road like that are precious mental and spiritual real estate. Particularly today.
We’ve not told many people simply because we’re not in the know ourselves. However, Carolyn’s trip to Little Rock is a medical one. She will have a biopsy tomorrow on a lymph node that has grown in size since last year. Without it being a long story (if you desire one, you can begin here), her medical history dictates that we pursue this rogue node with a vengeance to discover just what in the world it thinks it’s doing.
Interstate 81 is pretty congested, and its drivers are regular provocateurs of my temper, so on a whim, I took the Ironto exit and drove the back roads home.
This stretch of Virginia is stunningly beautiful at any time of year, but never more so than in the spring with flowers budding everywhere. So I drove slowly in awe of God’s handiwork. Dogwoods blossoming beside a burbling Roanoke River are natural worship leaders, and before long, I felt tension and previously unadmitted angst just melt away.
I felt bad for Carolyn, whom I knew would be just boarding her flight for the trip about the time I was gazing in wonder and gratitude at what God had laid out in this little corner of southwest Virginia. For her, the trip is a necessity. It’s certainly not a spiritual retreat like the one I was surprised to discover myself in the middle of on North Fork Road on a Wednesday afternoon.
And so I prayed for her and for us. On this windy road from Ironto, I simply told the Lord that I loved Him. We’ve been in positions of uncertainty before. He has always been faithful. And, in truth, He’s never been uncertain about what He’s up to in our lives. The angst we experience is simply our momentary struggles to adjust our thinking from confusion to trust. From being out of control to being in His hands.
You probably know this road as well as we do. Yours may not be bordered by sun-dappled waters and blooming flowers, but it’s a road off the beaten track. It’s a surprise detour. It’s not where you planned to be, and somewhere along that road of uncertainty, God surprises you with quiet beauty in spite of your inability to understand.
It’s in those moments that we learn that we don’t need clarity of vision as much as we need trust. I’ve found that the more spiritually mature we become, the less clarity we actually need.
“When John Kavanaugh, the noted and famous ethicist, went to Calcutta, he was seeking Mother Teresa … and more. He went for three months to work at “the house of the dying” to find out how best he could spend the rest of his life.
When he met Mother Teresa, he asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she replied. He then uttered the request he had carried thousands of miles: “Clarity. Pray that I have clarity.”
“No,” Mother Teresa answered, “I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind of clarity he was looking for, Mother Teresa laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
I’m home now. The view from over the top of the Macbook screen into the back yard is not nearly as compelling as that of the Ironto road. And that’s the thing. It’s usually harder to hear God speak when you’re in your routine. Burning bushes, floating ax heads, arks, Philistine giants or empty tombs don’t typically show up in our living rooms. We’re led to them through unusual, and many times, trying circumstances.
Perhaps that’s why the apostle James counseled us to:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds..” (James 1.2)
Uncertainty? Count it all joy. Anxiety? Count it all joy.
“…for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1.2-4)
What God is producing in us along our Ironto roads is even more beautiful than what He has done in our universe. This act of intricate, loving creation may not produce clarity on this side of heaven, but when we count it all joy, it produces steadfastness, trust.
The most difficult thing for most of us about “counting it all joy” is that we simply resist counting on God. That’s why He sometimes leads us down roads of unexpected beauty. It’s a clever reminder that while we’ve been busy about life (little “L”), a more expansive Life -outside of our own experience and routine – has been busy without our help at all.
As we’re learning to trust in new ways in these moments, we’d appreciate your prayers. Just pray.. that we will trust Him.