Evergreen Day 1: A Better Question
I am prone to wallowing but especially wallowing in catastrophe. I’m easily overwhelmed. Sensitive to the grief of the world. Distracted by the inconveniences of living, so much so that when extraordinary things happen, I’m surprised and confused, if not just waiting for some other shoe to drop. And then my check engine light burns my eyes while I drive through the pouring rain with a screaming baby in the backseat and I think, “Ah yes, there it is. My normal, regular, hard life.”
I read something by J.I. Packer once that completely turned my attitude on its head. He encourages us to interrupt our doom and gloom with another question: “If you ask, ‘Why is this happening?’ no light may come, but if you ask, ‘How am I to glorify God now?’ there will always be an answer.” Goodness, how true.
This is not a pious, little thing that sounds good to Christian ears. It does not minimize our current circumstance, but rather gives us a chance to put ourselves directly in the way of beauty in the midst of whatever else. It turns the heaping pity into an edifying reflection of goodness. If we ask how we can posture our hearts towards worship, an answer will come every time. A heart of praise illuminates and guides us with a fresh reassurance just as a thirsty plant cranes and yearns and reaches for the sun that feeds it.
Have you heard of St. Julian of Norwich? She was an incredible woman, an anchoress of the Middle Ages—meaning she lived her second half of life as a sort of religious hermit, withdrawing herself from secular society to lead an intensely prayer-driven life in a small, enclosed cell just off her church. She wrote prayers and revelations in a time of great suffering and uncertainty—in the middle of an ongoing pandemic, actually. At 30, she was struck down with a terrible illness and continued in isolation to speak about God in such a relational way. She recognized suffering as a shared human language but also love as a shared human language, and she held fast in her belief that our solidarity comes from the person of Christ who endured both perfectly. She commiserates: “While we are in this life, [we] have in ourselves a marvelous mixture of both happiness and sorrow…We remain in this mixed state all the days of our life. But [Christ] wants us to trust that He is perpetually with us.”
Divorce. Debt. Loss. Anxiety. Cancer. A dashed dream. We all know our own separate versions. But beauty is patient and unhurried; its presence welcomes us in. Flowers spring up from the cold earth, and we feast on friendship and art and tasty food and sunshine. Do not grow weary in doing good, for good is a harvest that never ends.
“God wants us to know that He keeps us equally safe in joy and in sorrow, and loves as much in sorrow as in joy.” This is to say that there will be ease. There will be no ease. There will be comfort. There will be what feels like no comfort. But a generous Spirit permeates it all. Can I still glorify? We ask and ask and ask and ask, and He keeps us safe in the question until our answer comes.
Verses to Read
Galatians 6:9–10 — The New International Version (NIV)
9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah.
1 You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
6 On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
7 Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
8 I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me.
9 Those who want to kill me will be destroyed;
they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10 They will be given over to the sword
and become food for jackals.
11 But the king will rejoice in God;
all who swear by God will glory in him,
while the mouths of liars will be silenced.