Thursday, November 6, 2008

And The Leaves Have Fallen

The fencepost trunk of a maple whose limbs only days ago were roosters crowing scarlet red across a bluebird sky now stands bare--all of it's glory scattered and blown by autumn's wind. I have admired this particular maple from my window for over a week now and I'm sorry to see it's leaves flitter and fall. Soon they will be nothing more than the very soil out of which they first grew. How quickly--only a matter of seasons, less than a year--that tree went from being adorned by hundreds of peridot and then garnet leaves to nakedness. Aren't our lives so similar? On Monday a woman is surrounded by her husband and children and on Friday her husband has left for another. In Summer business was booming and in winter the driveway stands empty of the truck he could no longer pay for because business was dead. The sun shone high, retirement in sight and the stock market fell like bricks from the open bed of a truck. Now he is seventy and will take a part time job as a grocery bagger to pay for his living expenses. Yesterday they were married and today she buries him--only a few seasons of love and family spanned the distance between their bands of gold and the shovels of soil on his coffin. How in the midst of lives where people and possessions shift transiently through like crimson leaves do we continue to stand as the trunk of that maple outside my kitchen window? Tell me how we continue to love when God allows loss? Tell me how we continue to hope when God allows terminal diseases to wrestle the life out of a sweet child's body? Tell me how we have faith when we find ourselves standing alone with hands whose only contents are the flesh that glove them? When everything we thought was ours is now a pile of leaves in which others play and we are left staring at God alone, then tell me is that enough? Naomi met the autumn and winter seasons of the soul early in life. A desperate famine and the inevitable urge to provide for his family drove her husband to take Ruth and her sons to a land far from her family. I too have lived many miles from the family where I grew up. I know the ache she felt for her sisters and her parents--intense at first like a hammering on her chest cavity and then as the years passed only a dull weight woven into the strands of her heart within where others couldn't see. Only days ago I hugged the neck of a dear friend who would lock the doors of her own home and drive hundreds of miles south with her family to a place where work was more plentiful. Naomi's family may have moved because the wheat and barely no longer grew in her region but our families move too--because the work has ceased to exist. Famine. We know that name, don't we? We call it a declining economy; unemployment. We know what it's like to leave people and places we love. The Bible tells us that some time later her husband died leaving she and her two sons alone. Alone. We lose those we love in this life. It is the nature of life that death befalls and inevitably someone is left to mourn the soul who has shifted to the wind of eternity. Within ten years Naomi laid soil on the carcasses of her only two sons. God, please forbid the day that I would ever bury my own two sons. No mother should have to bury her children. That's not the order of things, is it? Yet that is exactly where I found Naomi this morning when I was studying one of the names of God--El Shaddai. The name, first introduced in Genesis 17:1 means all sufficient one or the God who is enough. Often, especially in the King James version it is translated God Almighty. It's meaning is probably more accurate when it includes the sufficient nature of God in its translation. When Naomi uses this name for God I can't help but wonder if there is sarcasm, a deep sense of irony in her words or if she has simply learned that though she has lost everything God remains enough. Whatever the case, upon return to her native home Naomi is greeted with excitement by her village. She says to them, "Don't call me Naomi! (pleasant) Call me Mara (bitter) because The Sovereign One (The All Sufficient El-Shaddai) has treated me very harshly. I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed. Why do you call me Naomi seeing that the Lord has opposed me and the Sovereign One (All Sufficient God) has caused me to suffer?" (Ruth 1:20,21) Can you see her standing at the center of her village--feet brown with dust and hands empty? "Don't call me by the name you once knew me. I am no longer that woman. The Great Sufficient God has made my life very bitter. I left here with heart and arms full and I return an empty woman. I have been humbled by the very God who is All Sufficient and I now know and call him by that name." Do you know what it is like to feel that the God you sing praises to has treated you harshly? Can you relate to Naomi when she says that this God who she worships has humbled her to the point of emptiness? I am captivated by her use of this name--El Shaddai--for a God who allowed such incredible tragedy in her life. The Hebrew word carries with it the tone of a mother who nurses her babe at her breast--that perfect sufficiency of a mother's milk superior to any other form of sustenance. Would I, in God alone find perfect sufficiency? Would I, in Him find all I want or need or thirst for? If material things were taken from me I am certain I'd feel humbled, but I think I'd still cling to God and call Him good. But if my husband and children were taken? Then still, would I call Him good? When God promises in His Word that He will supply all of our needs according to His riches, when He insists that He came to give us life to the fullest, when He declares I am with you always I am tempted, I believe, to confuse my own perspective with His. When He says He'll supply my needs can I conclude that means He will always feed my empty stomach? Ask the child in a remote village in Africa if God has failed to meet his hunger-swollen belly's needs. And when He says He came to give us life am I to assume that means that somehow that life embodies some form of ease throughout our earthly sojourn? Ask the families members of those who saw the waters of hurricane Katrina or the Tsunami about abundant life. What then do I believe about these promises? Do I come to believe that God's word isn't true or is in some way conditional? I have often quoted that verse about God supplying all our needs. I believe that God is who He says He is when He calls Himself Jehovah-Jireh, but I don't think we always understand the reality that only God knows what we need according to His plan and will. I only need sustenance in physical form if I am to remain on earth for a time longer. My greatest need has been met some time ago when Christ died and rose again--salvation. If the time appointed by God for me to return to Himself has arrived, then it could be possible that my physical needs would no longer be met because in fact, they would no longer be needs. The soul does not need sustenance for it's time in eternity. I must learn to measure my needs not through the filter of my human perspective but rather through the filter of God's divine plan. I hope you can hear my heart--I'd never say God would choose to neglect children who are starving. Never. His original plan included a perfect garden where we would never want for any physical thing, but we messed that up. What has happened since is a result of the reality of sin in our world. His first intention was NEVER for the pain or suffering of those He created. But it is reality now. And in that reality God has promised to meet our needs. That said, I believe it is necessary to take a long hard critical look at what we believe about our lives here on earth. If I believe that my every need as I see it is to be met then if it is not I will face a crisis of belief and a great disillusionment with a God who disappointed me. If however I can see the world through a lens not my own--that vantage point that is divine and therefore given me only in occasional glimpses--then perhaps when tragedy and loss in this life occurs I will accept it differently. Naomi could never have seen what God saw--she needed to leave her family and travel with her husband to the land of Moab because it is there that one of her sons married Ruth. Ruth, you will remember, is in the very lineage of our Savior, Jesus Christ. She needed to lose her husband and sons so that she would return to her village and there find Boaz for Ruth to marry thus continuing the lineage leading to Jesus. Like a scarlet thread the weaving of Christ's lineage began centuries before and not one of those families knew how the ordering of their lives would someday result in the salvation of mankind. Their tragedies, pains and losses were not explained but they still believed in a God who somehow remained sufficient. Hebrews says it well, "Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12:1,2a) It is true that we cannot always see the sufficiency of God with our human eyes. "But faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) I cannot always see how God alone would be enough were I to lose everything and everyone I loved. But His word I know to be true and if God calls Himself The All Sufficient One then may I root myself in that name no matter what the winds of life may take from my branches. I can't help but consider again the naked tree outside my window. Christ too knew about the leafless body of a tree. It became His death cross, but it bridged the gap to The Life for all humanity. While on this earthly parenthesis in the eternity of my soul I pray that my eyes would be fixed on the person of Jesus Christ who found His Father sufficient even as he hung on a cross bleeding, naked and alone. It is in Jesus that I know I find the abundant life promised me. After all He claimed without hesitation, "I am the way, the truth and THE LIFE." (John 14:6) May we discover that the very life for which we hunger exists not in any earthly person or thing but in the eternal and divine person of Jesus Christ whom we possess always because He possesses us. Amen. Listen with me: Give Me Jesus--Fernando Ortega


Nichole said...

You never fail to amaze me. Thanks for this.. It has encouraged me during these times.

Love you lots!

Anonymous said...

WOW! Thank you for adjusting the lens of my life and bringing into focus a clearer image of my El Shaddai along with a different perspective of the tree out side my own window.
Jackie C

Julie said...

Sarah, I think this was my favorite one that you have written. It was beautifully written!


Stonefox (otherwise known as Heidi) said...

This post is amazing. There are no easy answers when it comes to questions like these, situations like these. One verse I have found regarding the name El Shaddai is Ps. 91:1. It actually uses 2 names of God and tells us that the one who experiences the All Sufficiency of El Shaddai is the one who rests under the covering of El Elyon (The Sovereign, Almighty God). A very interesting study and one that really blessed my heart when the Lord opened my eyes to the treasures in this one verse.

God bless you, dear sister! Thank you for your hunger and thirst for Him.