Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Down the Long Road

When life got frustrating, my father used to quip, "I know God won't let my troubles get worse than I can cope with [cf. 1 Cor. 10:13]; I just wish He didn't have so much confidence in me."

True to heritage, I frequently say the same thing--often directly to God. Then I feel guilty because the majority of my prayers resemble "complaining psalms" more than thanksgiving or praise. (Sometimes I wonder if God allows me to be tempted to bad moods so often because that's the only time I give Him much attention!) My fortieth birthday is tomorrow--but at the rate I'm going, I'll need another forty years to achieve much maturity beyond the physical.

Keeping us waiting is such a typical way of working for God--and so contrary to human logic. It's relatively easy to understand (in principle at least) how delay in receiving material blessings builds Christian character by developing patience, maturity, and faith. What's harder to figure out is why prayer for those qualities themselves is usually the slowest to be answered. Is it beyond even God's power to give us "patience right now"? Why is our own willingness for instant and total change rarely enough? Doesn't God care about the bad decisions we make, the damage we inflict on ourselves, the pain we cause others, as we make our way along the "slow and steady" path?

Maybe He cares even more about our willingness to stay on that path. As a top-level member of the "everything is all about results" club, I'm only gradually (there's that concept again) coming to understand that with God, the journey itself counts for plenty. Small wonder, perhaps, that we have trouble understanding that in an era when long-distance train and even car travel has been all but crowded out in favor of making better time by air--never mind that the latter makes for a generally grumpy atmosphere with its long security checks, delayed flights, crowded quarters, and you've-seen-one-shopping-mall-you've-seen-them-all airports. Yes, ground-level travel has its own boredom headaches--as any parent who has driven a carload of children across five states can attest--but it also offers more interesting scenery, more freedom of movement and/or choice, and more opportunities for bonding with fellow travelers.

Therein may lie the clue to why our spiritual journeys are so long and hard. That may in fact be the only way to build true, deep bonds with our neighbors--and with our God.

Which is really "what it's all about."

My God must have considerably
A greater depth of faith in me
Than I myself hope to attain--
What other way can I explain
(Considering He gave His Word
That every prayer is always heard
And no temptation brings us down)
The stress within me and around?

Not that my problems are so great
That I can at my worst relate
To some that others have to bear--
Still, hard knocks greet me everywhere.
Some say small doses of "tough breaks"
Build up our strength for deeper aches--
There's little comfort there for me:
I'd rather pass on both, you see!

And yet I know, through every trial,
Or every plodding, weary mile,
My God will walk along with me,
And slowly turn my heart to see
Life's not about pure "happiness,"
Nor living free from strain and stress,
Nor even quick maturity--
But all about my God with me!

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